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Farm-to-Table-Light: Embrace Dish Society For What it is, Not What it Could Be

Dish Society touts its farm-to-table mentality and offers good food, albeit with a few detours.

I was particularly impressed with the salad options, which are fully realized main courses. At many restaurants, the salads seem like afterthoughts, but here, they truly shine. In spite of lacking any protein, the citrus beet salad is a filling meal, thanks to the amount of produce packed onto the plate. A massive portion of arugula (with just a tad too much citrus vinaigrette dressing) is topped with bright, fresh avocado chunks; juicy pink grapefruit wedges; thin slices of jewel-toned beets; and a smattering of goat cheese from Houston Dairymaids.

A pork tenderloin demonstrates well the goal of using local ingredients. The pork comes from Black Hill Ranch, and the coffee crusting the outside of the juicy tenderloin is sourced from small producers and roasted and ground locally by Greenway Coffee Company. It's drizzled with a tart cherry and port reduction and paired with finely chopped collard greens that miraculously were not overcooked.

Seafood also gets respect at Dish Society, where each piece of fish I've had has been cooked perfectly until it's flaky but not tough. Gulf redfish is pan-seared until there's a crisp brown crust on the outside, and citrus-glazed salmon (I know that ain't local) arrives steaming hot and melts like butter in your mouth. Each is paired with something I couldn't expect — roasted carrot and lemongrass purée with the redfish and citrus avocado quinoa with the salmon.

Dish Society has a modern design with cheery yellow accents throughout the space.
Troy Fields
Dish Society has a modern design with cheery yellow accents throughout the space.
Every effort is made to source ingredients from as close to Houston as possible to maintain freshness and help the local economy and environment.
Troy Fields
Every effort is made to source ingredients from as close to Houston as possible to maintain freshness and help the local economy and environment.

Location Info

Map

Dish Society

5740 San Felipe, 100
Houston, TX 77057

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Galleria

Details

Hours: Monday through Saturday, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Pork belly barbecue sandwich: $12

Steak sandwich: $12

Shrimp tacos: $12

Citrus beet salad: $11

Farm-to-salad: $11

Shrimp and grits: $15

Pork tenderloin: $15

Gulf redfish: $20

Citrus-glazed salmon: $14

Bread pudding: $5

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The carrot and lemongrass purée doesn't quite pair with the more Italian roasted vegetable orzo served with the fish, but it's a generous portion packed with (mostly) local ingredients for $20. The salmon and filling quinoa is also a great value at $14.

As at most restaurants that fall into the mid-priced, fast-casual category, the food at Dish Society is comforting, hearty and largely unchallenging. Chef and author Dan Barber recently made an argument in The New York Times that the farm-to-table movement is failing because "[i]n celebrating the All-Stars of the farmers' market — asparagus, heirloom tomatoes, Emmer wheat — farm-to-table advocates are often guilty of ignoring a whole class of humbler crops that are required to produce the most delicious food." Dish Society is as guilty of this as anyone else. You won't find the same unique and unusual vegetables on the menu here as you might at restaurants like Oxheart just north of downtown Houston or FT33 in Dallas, where the chef forages for much of what he serves. Think of Dish Society as farm-to-table light and embrace it for what it is, not what it could be.
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I don't mean to harp on Dish Society for picking a theme and only partially committing. It has made a valiant effort, and it's certainly succeeding more than any local chains and probably more than most other local restaurants. I merely want to point out a flaw in a trend has received far too much buzz and seen far too few results. In order to truly do farm-to-table well, a restaurant has to completely embrace the concept. In order to make good food with an eye on sustainability and not alienate potential customers with local food that's too obscure, follow the Dish Society model.

It's not a bad model at all. Lyons hopes to open several more restaurants by 2015, and I can see them doing very well in a city eager (but not too eager) for healthy, environmentally friendly options. The food is dependably good, the prices are reasonable, and the chic interior is warm and inviting, in spite of being deafeningly loud due to a lack of insulation.

Still, I find myself going back to Barber's primary assertion in his manifesto about farm-to-table dining: "Imagining the food chain as a field on one end and a plate of food at the other is not only reductive, it also puts us in the position of end users. It's a passive system — a grocery-aisle mentality — when really, as cooks and eaters, we need to engage in the nuts and bolts of true agricultural sustainability. Flavor can be our guide to reshaping our diets, and our landscapes, from the ground up."

Maybe I'm overanalyzing what should be a simple, useful restaurant. Maybe I'm standing on a soapbox when there's no crowd around to listen or even care. Maybe next month Dish Society will prove me wrong by incorporating bycatch, millet and mustard greens.

And maybe I should go to Kroger and bring the chef some cocoa powder. I really want to try the chocolate pretzel bread pudding with caramel ice cream — regardless of which mega-corporation or local producer ground the damn beans.

kaitlin.steinberg@houstonpress.com

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1 comments
ekhilton
ekhilton

Thoughtful, spot-on review.  I live down the street and have only been for dinner (pork tenderloin - delish), but it sounds like the salads are where its at and will make for excellent take-out (cuz you're right -- it's so dang loud in there!)

 
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