My family and I have rarely gone out to restaurants since the pandemic began. My husband and I have braved a favorite Mexican restaurant for margaritas a couple of times and the tasting menu at Brennan's for our anniversary. Still, we hadn't gone out to dinner with friends for the past eight months, though we've had a couple of limited get togethers in our backyard. Now, as coronavirus cases continue to trend upward and experts warn of a "dark winter" Americans are once again evaluating the risk to pleasure factor.
As a freelance food writer in a city whose restaurant scene is considered one of the most diverse and plentiful, I have plenty of material about struggling restaurants and local businesses due to the pandemic. As shutdown restrictions relaxed, people began to venture forth for patio dining and dinners at plexi-glassed booths. For some restaurants, it has been successful but for others, the occupancy restrictions do not allow for enough profit to bring back employees or keep the doors open. While some have easily transitioned to take-away, fine dining restaurants find that particular form of service just another obstacle. And, to be frank, many of us would like to return to our favorite eateries but economic concerns have hit everyone, not just the hospitality industry.
However, Houstonians have become more complacent about the virus as the months have dragged on, ready to leave their homes, no matter how much DIY has been done or how pretty the backyard looks from the daily gardening.
Our friends suggested we go to Marais in Dickinson, near their home. We made plans to celebrate not only their anniversary but the husbands' October birthdays.
The last time we were at Marais with these friends, it was after our two families spent the day sifting through their Hurricane Harvey flooded home for items that could be salvaged and packed so that repairs could begin on their water-ravaged house. We sat outside on the terrace by the bayou, the same one that had turned Dickinson into a debris-filled town that looked more like a war-torn country. Though we were sweaty and their family's faces still bore the weariness of their lives being upended, we enjoyed some delicious food that day and some dark-humored laughter.
This time was different but still in a time of crisis. My husband and I made the trek from Cypress and met up with our friends. We headed to Marais, a New Orleans-inspired restaurant located in a beautiful brick chateau-style building nestled between the bayou and Dickinson Bar-be-cue and Steakhouse, which is also owned by Keith and Holly Lilley, the owners of Marais.
We walked through the back terrace, hoping to have drinks at the Plank Bar which has a nice patio facing the water. Unfortunately, the Plank Bar was only open on the weekends. We were at Marais on a Tuesday. Instead, we sat upstairs in another bar area, Benson's, at a high-top table next to the windows overlooking Benson's Gully.
Our service was a little uneven but our server became more engaging over time. I did wish she wouldn't pull her mask away from her face as she talked to us. It was still in front of her mouth so that was somewhat helpful. For myself, I cannot imagine having to wear a mask all day as many employees have to do now. I almost pass out after an extra-long trip to the grocery store. I have empathy for those who have to endure them for long stretches at a time.
We noshed on an appetizer of deviled eggs in the bar. There were six (don't get me started on the odd number served at most restaurants) which meant each couple could share three, each with a different topping. One had candied bacon and another smoked trout and caviar. My favorite was the egg with a perfectly fried shrimp on top. The shrimp was sweet and gave me an idea of what I might want to have for an entree later.
We soon made our way into the restaurant for our 7 p.m. reservation and were sat at a table near the open kitchen with chandeliers gently lighting the brick walls and gas lanterns flickering overhead. Our friends were somewhat regulars, usually choosing Marais as their go-to special occasion restaurant or happy hour getaway. They wanted us to try a certain Pinot Noir but unfortunately, the restaurant did not have it in stock that day. Instead, the server offered a comparable bottle, Buena Vista North Coast Pinot Noir 2018. It was smooth and light, easily drinkable with everyone's various meals.
The fish itself was just a bit overcooked but the dirty rice had a nice subtle heat. The creamy sauce was just the right balance for the Cajun spice.
We ended our evening with some complimentary prosecco proffered by the manager, who also sprinkled our table with silk rose petals. We were happy to be social creatures once more. Even for a few precious hours.
2015 FM 517 E.
Dickinson, Texas 77539