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Would You Pay $19 for a Plate of Figs?

They're lovely figs, to be sure. All two-and-a-half of them. But $19? For the plate you see on the left there, next to a $12 plate of tomatoes, yes. $19.

But as lovely as they are, when my parents and I ordered the $19 fig plate at Roots Bistro (the subject of this week's cafe review) a few Sundays ago for brunch, we were expecting something -- shall we say -- a bit more substantial. The menu described the dish as "Celeste Fig, Golden Fig, Radish Sprout, Purple Pepper & Idiazabal," all of which were certainly present on the plate we received. If only in terribly small portions.

There was a celeste fig, split in half. And a golden fig, also split in half. And about a third of another golden fig accompanied by half of a tomato. And there, at the end, a wedge of crumbly, salty sheep's milk Idiazabal cheese. The plating itself was impeccable, but I regarded the overall portion size with despair.

Was it my Texas showing? Or was this a reasonable amount of food for $19?

Figs and goat cheese at Underbelly.
Figs and goat cheese at Underbelly.

For comparison's sake, I paid $9 for a fig tart at Underbelly -- another restaurant which, like Roots, sources all of its produce and other ingredients from local producers or farmers markets -- earlier this week. It also contained celeste figs, along with sugar figs, goat cheese, pecans and honey. But unlike the brunch dish at Roots, it was large enough to split between two people for dessert.

So where does that extra $10 at Roots for a very similar dish come in? That's what I'm still trying to figure out, as the pricing at the new, veggie-centric Montrose bistro can be all over the board.

It couldn't have been the slim wedge cheese, which is roughly $17 a pound at places like Spec's. And I'm fairly sure it wasn't the sprinkling of radish sprouts underneath the figs, which did give the dish a spicy, earthy crunch. And I know how much two figs cost at the store -- not anywhere close to $19.

I really like the new Roots Bistro; I just wish its prices wouldn't fluctuate so much.
I really like the new Roots Bistro; I just wish its prices wouldn't fluctuate so much.
Photo by Troy Fields

This is the most frustrating thing about Roots Bistro, a restaurant which I otherwise adore. I love its charming, inviting dining room and open kitchen with warmly glowing pizza oven. I love its daily rotating menu of local, seasonal produce, with most dishes centered firmly around vegetables if not entirely composed of them. I love its inexpensive wine list (which, to be fair, is inexpensive for a reason -- the wines here are pretty staunchly low-key bottles).

But the pricing is all out of whack. One night, you can pay $12 for a huge mound of emerald-colored Swiss chard glistening in a lemon vinaigrette that's enough for three people (and $12 is still a little pricey, but on the reasonable end of that spectrum) or $15 for a pizza topped with ruddy, beefy slices of coppa that will also feed two. I've even seen a beautiful lamb flank steak with wild porcinis for only $14.

Then again, you'll pay $19 for that same coppa pizza at brunch. Or $20 for a gristly, undercooked veal breast served with two eggs -- and nothing else. Even the peach biscuits were $2.50 each that day at lunch, but at least they were quite good (and served with a pot of warm maple syrup).

Chef German Mosquera and his team are doing great things with garden-fresh produce, if you can afford it.
Chef German Mosquera and his team are doing great things with garden-fresh produce, if you can afford it.
Photo by Troy Fields

It crossed my mind at brunch that perhaps the prices were much higher than normal because the mimosas and sangrias were free that day and the restaurant was taking a loss on the liquor. However, we only got one of each -- not quite enough to pad our bills for $20 veal breasts or $19 fig plates. And when my editor returned later that week for dinner, the $19 fig plate was still obstinately there on the menu.

If and when Roots Bistro gets its prices in line, I'll happily become a regular in the cozy space, tucked over a few plates of chef German Mosquera's fine, veggie-friendly food. But for now, it's only a restaurant I can recommend with reservations -- or with a fat pocketbook.

For more on Roots Bistro, read this week's cafe review.


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Underbelly

1100 Westheimer Road
Houston, TX 77006

713-528-9800

www.underbellyhouston.com


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