People say prison changes you. People say pregnancy changes you. Now I know exactly what they mean— both of them.
That’s not to say this 30 day no caffeine, no alcohol prison has been all unsolicited shower visits. No, 30 days without matcha and whisky meant 30 nights of restful sleep with vivid dream visits from friends near and far. Thirty days of pure, non-stimulant induced joy where I could just be happy in my work and the people around me. Maybe I want more of that. Maybe this was a story about change.
Anyway, moving on it’s almost wheels up on this party plane and in preparation for that I put away $10 every shift I worked into a mason jar labeled, “that dope Burgundy,” and $190 later that’s exactly where it’s going. Because it’s 2019 and not 2007, this coming of age celebration is going to be a little more vintage, a little less sake-bomb, though no promises it won’t end up with Jell-O shots and the Jukebox at George Country Sports Bar.
Here are some moments leading up to the moment:
Day 21: Amidst a Gucci-sunglass wearing hairdresser, two businessmen with Hermès ties flapped over their shoulders, and an aqua tennis skirt forty-something, a Houston Press reporter patiently waited for a pick-up order of assorted dumplings, egg rolls, and scallion pancakes while silently mouthing wrong answers at the daytime Jeopardy on the television screen above. The Dumpling King on Westheimer has been open for 32 years and still feels like a special treat on a day home sick from school.
The Dumpling King, 6515 Westheimer, is open Monday to Friday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Day 22: Power lunch at Tony’s with Cappelletti, Porcini specked Gnocchi, and Hamachi “Toast” on Brioche with lime-scented lardo. Whole roasted 14-day aged Crescent Island duckling—the most flavorful duck in all the land—crusted with Piedmontese honey, fennel seeds and pink peppercorns. A velvety sauce made from roasted vegetables and plump organs a la duck press enhanced with a rich jus and finished with flaming cognac. Crusty Pugliese, butter from Vermont, lava salt. Morels all over the place, Umbrian truffles all over the place. A tiny sip of T’s Negroni and two Shirley Temples— damnit.
Tony’s, 3755 Richmond, is open Monday to Thursday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday 11 a.m. to midnight, and Saturday 6 p.m. to midnight.
Day 23: The intoxicating scent of fresh-ground roast and a warm raspberry and cheese pastry accompanied by cold Mill-King milk that's squeezed from honest cow’s teets was a mid-afternoon snack that fell from the heavens. Striking origami flower decorations were in the process of being seasonally changed from spring to summer as I exited for home to rest my peepers.
Dandelion Café, 5405 Bellaire, is open Sunday 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Monday to Saturday 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Day 24: Another stop at Duck Donuts before work for six sprinkled made-to-order-crisp doughnuts, and though the plan at 4 p.m. was to grab Pho Binh by Night for dinner, I couldn’t make it past the witching hour of 8- 9 p.m.
Server hunger is real. Every day hundreds of thousands of servers go hungry during the lunch and dinner hours. And when the witching hour hits, enough is enough, you have to find something— anything to cram into your pie hole. Sometimes it’s a mistake order. Sometimes it’s a slice of pizza on the way to the dish pit that you’re 94 percent sure the guest did not touch.
This witching hour in particular, my boss Brian Brossa and I decided to treat ourselves to the new selection of northern Italian cheeses from the Houston Dairymaids as well as paper-thin slices of Soppressata, Prosciutto di Parma and Calabrese. Stracapra, a soft-ripened goat cheese similar to Tallegio, is the same creamy texture but with subdued grassy-goat flavors. Liteggio is a raw buffalo milk’s cheese that’s firm from age— the watery, clean buffalo milk flavor is matured and ever present. Mountain Gorgonzola is aged longer than Gorgonzola Dolce and is creamy and strong. With truffle honey squirts here and there and hazelnuts crammed into every other bite, it was like a Ketosis celebration except kind of not really.
Duck Donuts, 3157 W Holcombe, is open every day 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Pho Binh by Night, 12148 Bellaire, is open Sundays and Tuesday to Thursday 4 p.m. to 12 a.m. Friday and Saturday 4 p.m. to 3 a.m.
Houston Dairymaids, 2201 Airline, is open Tuesday to Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
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Day 28: One word: Moon Milk. Summer Moon Coffee in Austin serves up that secret frothed elixir on top of one shot, two shot espresso, but in my case it was a pure launch to the moon. The secret recipe is fiercely guarded but if I had to guess it's sweetened with white sugar and dehydrated marshmallows like the ones in Lucky Charms sans food coloring. Ayyyy.
Summer Moon, 2301 W Anderson, is open Sunday 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Friday 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Day 30: And now for the main event...
First order of business, the porch sipper: A G & T made from Hendrick’s Midsummer Solstice Gin and Fever-Tree Mediterranean Tonic Water. Distilled in Scotland, Hendrick’s gin is heralded for its essence of cucumber and Bulgarian rose, and for this limited release—the addition of “aromatic intensity of a midsummer’s day.” I even attempted the double-boiled, clear ice cubes in an effort to knock off Jerry Argüelles’ Mediterranean G & T from BCN Taste + Tradition.
Speaking of—today is the opening of their second concept, MAD, located in the River Oaks District. Think of MAD as another of the few bright stars in Houston’s sky helping to light the way with gastronomical technique and textures. Between the craftsmanship on the plate and the striking, interior designs imported from all over the world—MAD is an experience not to miss.
BCN Taste & Tradition, 4210 Roseland, is open Tuesday to Thursday 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.
MAD, 4444 Westheimer, is open for business y'all.
Next up, a spot to BYOB crash some swag Burgundy—the Press consulted Houston’s wine professionals on the matter:
Vanessa Treviño Boyd, wine and spirits director for TRIBUTE at the Houstonian: “Huynh Restaurant. Vietnamese. Sooooooo good.”
Steven McDonald, master sommelier, Pappas Bros. Steakhouse: "Tan Tan Restaurant on Westheimer, Mala Sichuan, Himalaya— and he advises to bring wines that will balance with those flavor-packed cuisines."
Guy Stout, master sommelier, director of wine education at Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits: "Lucio’s BYOB on Taft, Collina’s Italian Café on Richmond."
David Keck, master sommelier, partner Goodnight Hospitality: "I'd say Pepper Twins!"
Nate Rose, consultant and wine director for Avondale Food & Wine: "Old Riesling and bubbles at Himalaya."
Antonio Gianola, wine buyer and store manager at Houston Wine Merchant: "Huynh Restaurant and Himalaya are my favorite places depending on wine style and mood."
Chris Poldoian, general manager and wine director at Camerata: “Himalaya, Huynh Restaurant and Pepper Twins— after the Houston marathon this year we crushed some Peking duck and dumplings at Fung’s with a magnum of André Clouet No. 3 Brut Rosé. Best post-race hydration!”
Adele Corrigan, general manager of 13 Celsius : “Huynh Restaurant, few bottles of Ottella (a northern Italian producer located on the southern tip of Lake Garda specializing in the trebbiano grape), with their duck salad and ginger dressing paired perfectly with the fresh, crispy white wine.”
Justin Vann, beverage director and owner of Public Services Wine & Whisky: "My favorite place to BYOB is at the best restaurant in Houston: Himalaya. Especially sparkling wines, high acid whites, and occasionally fortified wine if the group I'm with likes to party."
With our spot picked out and a 2015 Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru on my right and a 2008 Domaine Jacques-Frederic Mugnier Clos de la Marechale, Nuits-Saint-Georges Premier Cru on my left and who even knows what other bottles are going to show up, looking back, it was totally worth it.