The food at Fielding’s Local Kitchen + Bar is thoughtful without being needlessly complicated. A good example of the presiding aesthetic is the pulpo, or octopus. The only companions for two long, curvy tendrils are frilly roasted green onions and a vast smear of orange romesco sauce. That is all that’s needed. The classic sauce of ground nuts, garlic and sweet, mild red peppers is a beautiful accompaniment that still allows the pulpo to remain the star. Thanks to some sufficiently aggressive wood-grilling, the tendrils are beautifully charred, which makes the narrow tips delightfully crunchy.
Fielding’s Local Kitchen is the second endeavor from the owners of Fielding’s Wood Grill. Ask the staff what the differences are between the two, and they will explain that while Fielding’s Wood Grill is like a backyard barbecue, Fielding’s Local Kitchen aims for a mesh of Italian food with French influences. (Really, that description underplays Fielding’s Wood Grill. It is, in fact, quite excellent and much nicer than a backyard barbecue.)
Honestly, the food at Fielding’s Local Kitchen could be half as good and the restaurant would still be charming thanks to the great service. On a Sunday evening, co-owner Cary Attar appeared at the crowded host stand. “Have you been greeted? Have you been greeted?” he asked each waiting group. Indeed, everyone had been greeted, and his concern gave way to a smile. “Good, I just wanted to make sure.”
Considering how good the servers are, there’s not much for Attar to worry about. Our personable waiter had a deep understanding of the wine list and is working on his Court of Master Sommeliers certifications. An enthusiastic conversation about the breadth of the wine list ensued, and he seemed thrilled to discuss something other than a California Cabernet (of which there are plenty).
He aptly steered us to an absolute steal — the 2012 True Grit Petite Sirah from Mendocino Valley. It was full of toasty cocoa notes and blackberries without ever being too fruit-forward. The incredibly food-friendly selection was a mere $33. There are restaurants that have been in business in the area for years that could learn a thing or two from this fledgling establishment.
Fielding’s Local Kitchen is like a culinary oasis in a newly developed area on the border of Tomball and The Woodlands. The beautiful, brightly lit space is the centerpiece of the Creekside Village center. The main dining room is divided roughly in half by the host counter, the bar and a tall wine tower. There are tall windows all around the dining areas (a detriment only when the sun is actively beating down at midday) that give the space a lovely, airy feel. The design is energy-efficient, with LED lighting and a wood-fired grill. Reclaimed wood was used in many areas, including the whitewashed wood of the bar, but everything feels modern and new.
Behind the host stand are shelves with some of the same products for sale that are used in the restaurant. There are bottled shrubs (tart and sweet vinegar-based mixtures used in cocktails), real grenadine made with pomegranate (not the cheap stuff infused with red dye) and clever piston-shaped salt and pepper grinders that work with the push of a button. These are indicators that diners are in for a good and interesting time.
In the back is the open kitchen, as well as a special cooling cabinet for aging the meats featured in Fielding’s charcuterie and steak program. The meat quality here is quite high. Beef is sourced from 44 Farms ranch near Cameron, Texas, and other cured meats denote more than a little ambition. One recent charcuterie platter featured saucisson sec, a French-style dry pork sausage, and another made with ibérico de bellota, the prized Spanish ham from pigs raised on acorns. The duck confit pâté that came with it was utterly luscious, and was gone too soon. A dish of goat milk caramel was so tasty that we grabbed it off the platter and held it back just in case we found something else to use it on.
Disappointingly, a dry-aged rib eye — at the not-inexpensive price of $49 — had utterly no seasoning, as if the cook had simply forgot. There wasn’t even a wisp of salt or pepper. That was a real shame, for it was a fine piece of beef. The presentation didn’t inspire confidence, either. The steak was on a white plate with no garnish or trim, as if to say, “There’s nothing to see here. Move along.” The side order of tempura asparagus, with long spears enrobed in a wispy batter, was actually more interesting and flavorful.
The wood-fired grill in the back has plenty of other good uses, though. Fish at Fielding’s Kitchen is especially good thanks to the hot-and-fast firing that barely sears the top and leaves the inside moist. The skin side is left to sear until it becomes deeply crisped. It was an especially good effect for a nice slab of flounder gently laid across smashed fingerling potato. The fish was doused in an outstanding hollandaise so creamy and silken that it seems as if this old classic sauce is overdue for a comeback. Verdant, spaghetti-like strands of zucchini added a touch of fresh texture and color.
Despite the stated Italian and French influences, sometimes Fielding’s reaches all the way to Asia for inspiration. Such was the case with a narrow slab of king salmon. It was prepared every bit as adeptly as the flounder, with the same crispy bottom and lightly seared top. A neat round of inky black “forbidden rice” alongside was garnished with a few blistered shishito peppers. A little dish of shiitake, red bell pepper and cucumber salad was a fresh, tart show stealer. The only complaint was that the Chinese black bean sauce underneath the fish was too mild, too bland and too far removed from its origins. It seemed like normal black beans, not the fermented kind used in Chinese cuisine.
The pecan strudel was an unexpected dash of brilliance. Rather than being simply constructed of pastry layers, it’s made of flaky phyllo wrapped around wedges of almond flour pastry stuffed with pecans. It’s light, airy and lovely to gaze upon. A pale scoop of maple gelato alongside, with a cross-section of dried apple jutting skyward out of it, is an appropriately theatrical touch.
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There’s a competent cocktail program here as well. We were intrigued by a drink called Dragon’s Breath, but the restaurant was out of one of the ingredients needed to make it (probably the smoked ice cubes). While that was disappointing, the selected alternative, an Agave Manhattan, was anything but. Three-ingredient cocktails can be charming in their simplicity and such was the case with this combination of Herradura Reposado tequila, Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth and cherry bitters. The same went for the Mr. Jensen’s gimlet, another simple but astute concoction of Jensen’s Old Tom gin, INNA Bearss lime shrub and powdered sugar.
Fielding’s Local Kitchen + Bar could have set up shop almost anywhere and been successful. Instead, it has boldly established itself in unlikely territory, which makes its mission to bring fine fare to Tomball and The Woodlands even more endearing somehow. As time wears on, it’s nearly certain that the minor bobbles will subside and the charms will grow stronger. Either way, patrons who pop into Fielding’s Local Kitchen are likely in for an unexpectedly good and interesting meal.
Fielding's Local Kitchen + Bar
26400 Kuykendahl, 281-351-2225. Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays; 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturdays; 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays.
Tempura asparagus $5
Chicken and corn gumbo $6
Dry-aged rib eye $49
Ivory bread pudding $4
Pecan strudel $4
Mr. Jensen’s gimlet $10
Agave Manhattan $12
True Grit Petite Sirah $33