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Best Restaurant Houston 2006 - Cafe Annie

Readers' Choice: Mark's American Cuisine
Nobody's opening Southwestern cuisine restaurants anymore, yet Houston's best chef, Robert Del Grande, is still hanging on to the Southwestern label. Sure, he made upscale enchiladas, tortilla soup and black bean terrine famous a decade and a half ago, but those dishes are so dated now they're beginning to look retro. But Cafe Annie hasn't lost any of its highbrow audience. On the contrary, its elegant dining room is the classiest dinner destination in the city, former sommelier Paul Roberts left behind a wine collection of astonishing depth, and the food still tastes wonderful. Thankfully, Del Grande is too big a talent to stay strictly within the Southwestern niche. Sometimes, when he comes up with something truly brilliant -- like his new appetizer of barely seared yellowfin tuna with shaved roasted beets, toasted pecans and aromatic black truffle vinaigrette -- he doesn't bother trying to make it sound Southwestern. Cafe Annie is scheduled to move into bigger digs across the parking lot soon, and Del Grande promises a modernized menu. Hopefully the expansion will give him some conceptual room to move.
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Wade Johnson
Wade Johnson

This is the kind of writing that pisses me off. To begin with, I was plating that "new appetizer" as far back as '98. We had a number of items that did not fit the Southwestern mold-- you are correct, however, to note Robert's depth of talent. But why do food writers praise some restaurants for their unwillingness to get caught up in every whim-trend and whine about others that won't? I'm glad Robert didn't do the Asian-fusion deconstructed towers of food that his peers yielded to. He's the real deal and helped forge a genre. Why should he sell-out? His food isn't "still wonderful", it's legendary. And just guess how many people would complain if he took the black bean terrine off the menu. I'm all for updating, but I appreciate the real thing when I taste it.