This year, leading up to our annual Menu of Menus issue, Kaitlin Steinberg counts down her 100 favorite dishes as she eats her way through Houston. Just as Katharine Shilcutt did before her, and Robb Walsh before that, Kaitlin will eat and learn as she goes, compiling a list of the 100 dishes she thinks are the most awesome, most creative and, of course, most delicious in Houston. It's a list of her personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that seem particularly indicative of the ever-changing Houston food-scape. It's a list to drool over.
I originally went to Connie's Seafood Market & Restaurant for a michelada. I stayed for the seafood.
When I sat down at the bar, I was the only female in a sea of older gentlemen, each nursing a beer and glued to the Spanish language soccer report on the television behind the counter. Some of the men were eating shrimp fried rice, some fried fish and some had full plates of raw oysters in front of them. I started sipping my michelada and turned to the gentleman next to me.
"What's good here?" I asked.
"I've been coming here since 1979," he replied. "Everything's good."
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He suggested I try the vuelve a la vida soup. The menu lists camaron, pescado, ostion and pulpo as ingredients in the soup, and even with my limited Spanish, I knew that translates to "just about everything from the ocean." Plus potatoes and carrots.
My new friend got his soup order before me, and I watched as he stirred the broth and different types of seafood rose to the surface. There was tender purple crab; flaky white fish; plump, juicy oysters and tiny curled shrimp, all of which swirled around a white, skinless potato in the middle of the bowl. It was dotted with cilantro and slices of carrot, and my buddy added a generous helping of hot sauce, which turned the broth an interesting shade of pink.
By the time my soup arrived, I was pretty hungry. Once I'd tasted the first spoonful, I had to remind myself not to inhale the soup, but to savor it. Each of the different types of seafood brought a unique flavor to the mix, but together, they created a briny both that was both soothing and exotic, hearty and light.
It was as if the chefs at Connie's had managed to scoop up a giant bowl of Gulf coast water (critters and all), boil it with some vegetables, add some seasoning and dish it out to hungry diners. It tasted that fresh and that... gloriously oceany.