My Personal Top 5 Favorite Restaurant Dishes of 2010

Having a young child, a spouse with a crazy work schedule, and no family in town to baby-sit can certainly put a damper on one's culinary pursuits in a city blossoming with delicious dishes. However, when I do get to sit down to a nice dinner that doesn't involve wiping vegetables off the walls or soaking up spilled juice, along with a little adult conversation (and hopefully some adult beverages), it is the perfect escape for an hour or two. These are the most memorable dishes I had the pleasure of eating in this wonderful food town over the last year, and you can bet they were all infinitely appreciated by this food-lovin' mama.

5. Farkus Eye Soup - Alamo Drafthouse, West Oaks This one came out of left field, when I was least expecting a knock-out dish. Served at a beer dinner during a special showing of A Christmas Story and an appearance by Ralphie himself (Peter Billingsley) just this last month, the third course, aptly titled to match the color of bully Scut Farkus's "yellow eyes, so help me God," blew me away with flavor.

The yellow soup, although we couldn't really tell the color in the dark, was a butternut squash and apple soup topped with a pecan, cilantro pesto that unexpectedly brought a touch of freshness to the heavy, but satisfying soup. I hope they'll give out the recipe, or add it to their winter menu, because I'm craving more right this very moment.

4. CFNY Steak & Eggs - Beaver's Brunch Love 'em or hate 'em, Beaver's knows how to make chicken-fried steak - and with a prime cut of beef, at that, smothered in the most amazing gravy, flecked with bacon and mushrooms. By the power vested in me, it's the tastiest of its kind in Houston. Top that bad boy with an egg, add some greens and sweet potatoes, and you've got a brunch that keeps you full until the next morning. Needless to say, the combination of good things on this plate brought me lots of cholesterol and even more happiness.

3. Steamed Mussels - Caffe Bello Fennel, balsamic vinegar and orange were a perfect complement to these rich little shell-dwellers. While the pizza there also impressed me, it was the mussels that left me wanting more.

It's a combination so simple, with such immense flavor, that it rivals the famed steamed bivalves at the former Café Montrose... Congratulations on achieving the impossible, Caffe Bello.

2. Shrimp Shooters - Third Bar at Reef I'm a big fan of appetizers and happy hours. And an impromptu stop at Reef's Third Bar between the hours of 5 and 7 p.m. proved a lucky break for my taste buds and my wallet. Alongside a tasty, cheap martini, these little shrimp shooters were so full of flavor that I'm still thinking about them six months later. The shrimp were bathed in a glass of cocktail consommé and a few floating cucumbers. With plenty of punch, they were a pleasure to an unassuming palate. Apparently, Caswell is pretty confident of the little buggers himself, using a variation of the little dish on his Next Iron Chef stint.

1. Butternut Squash Risotto with Chicken Livers - Vinoteca Poscol One date night spent driving around, contemplating where to spend our precious few hours of adult freedom, we finally got fed up and ended up at Poscol, only because there were parking spaces available sans valet and our bellies were growling. To our pleasant and happy surprise, we found a place with dishes perfectly suited to our culinary mood that evening, a romantic, dimly lit, cozy setting and a bartender that gave great service without hovering.

After eating one of the best pizzas we've ever experienced (with mushrooms, fontina and arugula on the thinnest, crispest crust on earth), we were skeptical that anything following could top our opening number. However, when the sweet, perfectly al dente risotto arrived, flanked by several fried chicken livers, it was, to quote one of the worst movie titles ever, "love at first bite." The earthy, mineral-heavy, rich chicken livers provided a great counterpoint to the sweet risotto, and a crisp white wine suggested by the bartender brought it full circle. I had a fantastic date night and my favorite restaurant dish of 2010, all by accident.

Honorable mentions: agedashi tofu at Kata Robata, shrimp etouffee at Treebeards, escargot at Café Moustache, fish taco at Berryhill (my first time trying one since moving here four years ago), shrimp corndogs at Haven.

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Amber Ambrose