What’s with all the hype about these pimento cheese fritters? Very quickly we discovered that it’s not just the light, crunchy outer shell and the oozy, creamy, cheesy center. It’s that sticky, sweet and spicy pool of goodness they’re bathing in.
Field & Tides is only a little more than three months old, but has already made a name for itself in the Heights as the latest chef-driven, chic, Southern cooking place to be. Chef/owner Travis Lenig, a native Houstonian who honed his skills at Ragin’ Cajun, Ibiza, Mark’s and most recently as executive chef at Liberty Kitchen, teamed up with Christopher “Chico” Ramirez (co-owner of the Boot) to open FTRB (Field & Tides Restaurant and Bar) in the space of former Zelko Bistro at 705 East 11th.
Collaborating with Chico’s wife, Wyndy Ramirez of Wynne Design Works, they have transformed the space into a clean, simple dining area and bar that exudes an oddly chic hunting lodge charm. The dining room seats 54, with outdoor seating for an additional 24, but it appears they’ve already outgrown this space.
The Southern, new American menu offers a half dozen starters and sides, a dozen or so items in the soups, salads and sandwiches section, ten entrées, four desserts and options for kids. At such an affordable MKT price, we indulged in the raw Gulf oysters, which were $1 per bivalve. The cane vinegar mignonette made for a wonderfully tart and slightly sweet accompaniment for the oysters. The “field” in Field & Tides covers locally sourced meat and wild game, produce and vegetables, and “tides” encompasses Lenig’s love of seafood, more specifically local Gulf seafood.
As at many other Heights-area restaurants, parking is a full-grown bear. FTRB has two private lots that are both dedicated for valet parking only. The restaurant doesn’t accept reservations for parties of fewer than six. At 6 p.m. on a Thursday, the dining room, bar and patio are full, so we’re given the opportunity to sit at one of the two six-person tables, which two gals are currently occupying. Community dining is fine; it’s actually preferred in most cases.
The antler-engulfed Edison lightbulbs above are strangely mesmerizing. The wooden tables are cool to the touch and for a moment, when you look around, the warmth and welcoming nature of the furniture and fixtures make you smile, but before you can ease back into your seat, you realize you're talking very loudly to the person across from you, screaming almost.
[Pointing down at my phone] “I’ll just text you!”
Dinner continued. The server recommended the fritters and she-crab soup (which had already been on my mind). Both arrived piping hot. We are still attempting to speak to each other in vain.
Loved the fritters and more so the Asian-inspired sweet-and-sour sauce paired with it. The she-crab soup was not what I expected. This South Carolina-based low country bisque is made with cream, seafood stock, sherry, blue crab and crab roe (found only in female crabs). I’m a diehard female-blue-crab fan, and have been since I was a little Mississippi coast girl. Blue crab roe is a delicacy that I’ve grown up appreciating.
The menu did list boiled eggs and jumbo lump crab as ingredients in this soup, so I shouldn’t have been too surprised, but it was very disappointing to find that the boiled egg bits meant there would be no real crab roe in the mix. I broke my “eat it the way the chef intended” rule and asked for tabasco to top off the salt and pepper that already came to the rescue in my bowl.
The scallops, pork loin and side of collard greens arrived simultaneously. The scallops were exquisitely seared and cooked to a perfect medium-rare temperature. This dish was truly a melt-in-your-mouth experience. The scallops rested on a bed of creamy, rich risotto delightfully littered with shrimp and bouncy lumps of crabmeat and a drizzle of light beurre blanc. The texture of the risotto was a bit off, but I couldn’t figure out why. At the moment, I was too distracted by the noisy chatter around us; I found it difficult to focus.
The bacon-wrapped pork loin was beautifully presented, standing up on a soft mound of mashed potatoes surrounded by a thick, yellowish puddle of grainy mustard. Was this supposed to be the gravy for the potatoes or a dipping sauce for the pork, or both? The outer parts of the loin, complemented by the salty bacon and a dab in the IPA mustard, were delicious. I wanted the bite of potatoes and mustard to taste like a deconstructed German potato salad, but it just didn’t.
The parts of the loin untouched by the magic of bacon were plain and slightly undercooked toward the center. I like my pork on the medium side, but this piece crossed into medium-rareness.
The side of collard greens smelled divine and the caramelized pieces of bacon hiding in the greens were brilliant. There was a barbecue flavor that I didn’t enjoy, but my date loved every bite.
The beverage program, led by Monique Hernandez (also from Liberty Kitchen), is outstanding, offering a wide variety of wines, local craft beers and spirits. The crafted cocktails are thoughtfully designed and gorgeously presented. The El Vaquero with mezcal, agave and lime juice was finished with an egg white foam and green chartreuse mist that made it a deep and smoky yet refreshing thirst quencher. I was whisked away by playful elegance at the sight of the cocktail presented in a traditional champagne glass. (I really wish it had whisked me away from this dining room.)
We gave up on dessert at this point. I hadn’t felt this despondent since our visit to an upscale River Oaks steak restaurant where multiple servers and a neighboring diner kept bumping into my chair throughout the egregiously expensive and unbelievably loud dinner.
A follow-up visit placed us in a nearly empty dining room at 2 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, with only two other parties in the space. I expected to find that initial fleeting warmth from before the noise, but this time it just felt a bit cold.
We ordered the F&T burger with french fries and the pan-seared snapper with lemon herb risotto.
The patty was cooked nicely to a medium temperature, served on an untoasted challah bun with pork belly bacon, lettuce, tomato, onion and IPA mustard. The challah bread was big and bountiful, but I would’ve preferred to have it toasted. The burger was plain-Jane fine, but the fries were super-tasty, crispy, light and salted.
The snapper was incredibly fluffy and flavorful and the lemon herb risotto was very satisfying; a pinch of lemon wedge would’ve been sublime. I remembered what I had been thinking about the texture of the risotto from before. It wasn’t quite al dente, but the grains seemed to be more separate than cohesive as in a typical risotto. I had wondered what type of rice was actually used. Nonetheless, it was delicious both times.
We chose a Southern classic, the pineapple upside-down cake with caramel sauce and whipped cream, for dessert. The cake was moist where the caramel sauce had softened it.
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On our initial visit, I did ask the server if it seemed “extra loud” in the room the night we were there for dinner, but he lowered his head in sad agreement and acknowledged that the restaurant was looking for ways to improve the acoustics in the space.
Lenig’s seafood dishes are remarkable and outshone the meat items that were tried. The concept is inspiring, the space charming and the menu simplistic yet full, but we just didn’t enjoy the experience.
The neighborhood already loves Field & Tides; I would definitely come back for those fritters and an ice cold beer and enjoy them with friends on the patio.
Field & Tides Restaurant & Bar (FTRB)
705 East 11th, 713-861-6143, Fieldandtides.com
Hours: Monday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Weekend Brunch 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Happy Hour, Monday through Friday, 3 to 6 p.m.
Oysters on the halfshell (dozen) $12
Pimento Cheese Fritters $7
She-crab soup $11
F&T Burger $14
Gulf Snapper $29
Pork Loin $21
Collard Greens $5
Pineapple upside down cake $7
El Vaquero (cocktail) $13