Diner's Notebook

Among the Tangleweenies
Ethnic chills and cutting-edge thrills are all well and good, but sometimes the soul craves the bourgeois comforts of old-fashioned substance. I have in mind the clubby kind of place where prosperous burghers dine on food that neither excites nor alarms, but quietly pleases; where table-hopping and familiar greetings reign; where life seems charmed, and the status quo reassuringly (if deceptively) golden.

A place exactly like the Post Oak Grill. To dine there is to inhabit, however briefly, a sort of upscale Houston theme park where the oil bust never happened and George Bush (who lives right up the street) is still president. Indeed, one is surrounded by denizens of nearby Tanglewood, that blue-chip, flat-shoe neighborhood where money calls less attention to itself than it does in River Oaks. "Tangleweenies," a friend of mine likes to call the natives of this blessed realm, and the Post Oak Grill is full of them.

Truth to tell, I don't dine here so much as bask: in the rosy glow, beneath the high bower of twigs twined in little white lights, amid a crowd whose lives seem to be well under control -- a condition that for an hour or so, I can pretend to share. I can lunch, as they do, on a delicately crunchy platter of wispy onion rings, followed by a woeful green salad with scarcely any dressing and then one of the house pastas.

These noodles dishes are of the modern American stripe without offering the slightest challenge to the flat-shoe palate -- which doesn't mean that they can't be perfectly nice. Co-owner Ethel Fisher is good at light, graceful creams invested with the clear, fresh flavors of various peppers; her fettuccine with grilled chicken and garlic cream hums with the taste of roasted red bells, and earthier green poblanos inform the sauce on linguini showered with ribbons of fresh spinach. Alas, the trio of grilled shrimp meant as the main attraction of this latter dish succumbs to an overdose of iodine, a problem so common I'm beginning to sound like a broken record on the subject.

No matter. If the day's special of linguini with grilled chicken that has been stuffed with proscuitto and provolone cheese never quite ignites, it remains creamy and soothing, and that chicken is damn good. So's the bread: it's so crusty and moist and -- yes -- substantial, that it's tempting to eat way too much of the stuff.

In the end, though, I always savor the Post Oak cocoon more than the food. I love to watch co-owner Manfred Jachmich, that hardy Houston perennial, schmooze judges and bidnessmen and pretty women in expensive suits. Or to catch up on former secretary of state Jack Rains, who's traded a Tangleweenie lifestyle for that of "an inner-city rat" who whizzes around his Camp Logan neighborhood on rollerblades "like a 270-pound unguided missile," as he puts it. If that image of the onetime gubernatorial hopeful seems improbable, the sight of Rains working the room at the Post Oak Grill assuredly does not. It's what the place is all about.

-- Alison Cook

Post Oak Grill, 1415 S. Post Oak Lane, 993-9966.


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