New York Times food critic Pete Wells recently issued a warning against over-ambitious restaurants serving tasting menus that feature double-digit courses, comparing the experience of a marathon dinner served in 20 fussy courses to being "nibbled to death." In an interview just yesterday with Anthony Bourdain, the chef called Wells's article a "shot across the bow."
"I read it as a warning and as a statement of future policy," Bourdain continued. "If I was a chef or a restaurant doing a 22-course tasting menu, I'd take notice."
Interestingly enough, chef Scott Tycer has already taken notice -- he's packed up his expensive degustation menus and now concentrates entirely on running a commercial bakery and a storefront operation, Kraftsmen Cafe, which specializes in straightforward soups, sandwiches and breakfasts -- and is the subject of this week's cafe review.
In the same space which was once home to Tycer's ultra-ambitious Textile and $85 tasting menus, you can now get a humble but delicious deli sandwich made with Kraftsmen's fresh-baked bread or a boisterous, chorizo-stuffed Honey Badger omelet for breakfast -- with most dishes hovering around the $9 range.
It couldn't be more different from what Tycer was attempting to do with Textile (or with his other restaurants: Aries, Pic, Gravitas or the unnamed project that was meant to replace Textile after it closed). This new focus seems to fall right in line with what Wells wrote last week of multi-course tasting menus: "This is a challenge no chef should saunter into casually. A restaurant whose sole product is an expensive, lengthy, take-it-or-leave-it meal sets a dauntingly high bar for itself." If you can't clear that bar -- and Textile never quite could, despite its many talents -- find something you can do well instead. And Tycer has.
Then again, Tycer has always been prescient in this way.
It can be argued that Textile was ahead of its time. You can see its influence in places such as Triniti (run by Tycer's former sous chef, Ryan Hildebrand) and Oxheart, although the latter has dispensed with a la carte items entirely and only serves five- or seven-course tasting menus.
And even Tycer's concept to replace Textile predicted the two-in-one restaurant which opened in his old Gravitas space: The Pass & Provisions, which pairs a high-end chef's table-style restaurant with a far more casual, almost pub-like concept in the same space, sharing the same kitchen.
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And while restaurants such as Triniti, Oxheart and The Pass & Provisions are all equally important for elevating Houston's culinary scene to ever-higher levels with each new dish, there's just as much to be said for the simplicity and comfort of sinking into a plush chair with a warm latte and a stack of hot, maple syrup-drenched griddle cakes on a crisp autumn day. The best thing about Houston, after all, is being able to find good food on all levels. Scott Tycer has found his niche in the simpler side of things, which is often just as difficult to execute as a tasting menu -- and often much more appreciated.