There have been a few significant changes to this year's Houston Restaurant Week, the annual fundraising-through-dining event that benefits the Houston Food Bank. Most noticeably, the event will run throughout the entire month of August (making it "Houston Restaurant Month," technically, but let's not get into that again), with an accompanying name change that's barely perceptible at first glance: Houston Restaurant Weeks.
Less noticeably, but far more useful, is a tool on HRW's website that allows you to search the menus of the more than 100 restaurants which are participating this year. And, like last year, two-course lunches are included at many of the restaurants for $20 a person. Dinners are still $35 for three courses, with $5 of each dinner (and $3 of each lunch) going to the Food Bank.
And although you could probably dine at every single participating restaurant (albeit not every location) throughout the month, let's face it: You're on the hunt for the restaurants that will offer the biggest bang for your dining buck.
Here are my picks.
Voice is still one of the more creative and criminally underappreciated restaurants in town. Rectify that last part by visiting during its HRW dinner service, when Chef Greg Lowry will be serving dishes like a beet terrine with whipped chevre or Berkshire pork belly with herbed cereal and lavender celery root flan. And that's just for starters. My eyes are set on this main course: local yellow corn grits smoked with hickory and served with fried Brussels sprouts, apple barbecue and kimchi leaves.
Soma Sushi is already scoring points in my book for its fabulous ramen, and now it has another point in its favor: The restaurant is offering four courses on its HRW dinner menu. I'd be hard-pressed to choose between the salmon crudo with apricot salt or the paper-thin tuna pesce with shiso and citrus for the first course, but the Akaushi short ribs are a no-brainer for the third. And at $35 for this much food, Soma's menu is one of the better deals of the bunch. Chef Jason Hauck is even offering an HRW Roll with truffled tuna, shrimp tempura, unagi, scallions and yuzu zest.
Speaking of great deals, Tony's turned in an exceptionally strong and value-driven dinner menu from Chef Grant Gordon that showcases the restaurant's refreshingly modern direction these days. Witness a dish called "Ribbons & Squares" of tuna, avocado and soy-lime vinaigrette or crisp roast duckling in its own reduction. It wouldn't be Tony's without Elizabeth's praline cheesecake, though; that's on the menu, too.
The lunch menu at RDG + Bar Annie sounds dreadfully pedestrian, but its HRW dinner menu shines with four courses, just like Soma's: I'd choose the house-smoked trout for the first course, the chilled grapefruit soup with avocado and jicama second, grilled skirt steak (because it's skirt steak!) third and the coffee ice cream sandwich for dessert. Even better, RDG is also offering its HRW menu at brunch.
Like RDG, Haven is also offering lunch, dinner and brunch menus. And Haven deserves your support and patience even more during the month of August: It's participating in both HRW and the annual Go Texan! Roundup at the same time. Check out the country-fried chicken livers with andouille cream gravy during lunch and dinner and the wild, head-on shrimp with Cresenza grits. And don't forget to eat those tasty shrimp heads, too.
Stella Sola is offering some of its most popular dishes on its HRW dinner menu, including its signature bone marrow as an option for the first course. For your main course, look no further than the suckling pig-stuffed quail over roasted salsify salad. If there's one thing Stella does better than any other restaurant in town, it's stuff things full of pork. (I know; that's what she said.)
August might be a good time to try Rainbow Lodge if you haven't yet. The HRW dinner menu will give you a broad taste of Chef Mark Schdmit's talent: crispy rabbit boudin bites, grilled peach and Texas feta salad and pan-roasted duck leg are just a few of the items.
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Hugo's is doing something different this year, and I like it. For an extra $25, you can have a cocktail pairing or wine pairing with each course of your dinner. This optimizes sommelier Sean Beck's pairing expertise at the same time as it does your dining dollar.
And I'll drink (and eat) to that.