Recession Lunching at Rainbow Lodge

It's becoming more affordable than ever to dine in our city's finest restaurants, and Rainbow Lodge is no exception to that rule.

Three years ago, the long-time Houston institution moved from its original location into a charming rambler on White Oak Bayou just off Ella and is now under the expert guidance of Chef Randy Rucker, arguably one of Houston's best chefs.

Since taking the reins at Rainbow Lodge only six short months ago, Rucker has put his creative stamp on the traditional menu, featuring items such as roasted Bryan Farms chicken with cornbread gnocchi and a Third Coast bouillabaisse.

Lunch is the best time to catch a meal at Rainbow Lodge and experience both the warm ambience and Chef Rucker's inspired creations for just a song.  For less than $15, you can enjoy their business lunch special with three courses: a soup or salad, a fish or meat entree and dessert.  I tried it out myself yesterday with spectacular results.

For my three courses, I decided on the soup of the day -- a crab and corn chowder -- and the Berkshire pork chop, which seemed to offer more of the signature Rucker creativity I know and love.

The soup came -- in typical Rucker style -- disassembled, the corn and crab separate from the actual chowder itself.  I enjoyed watching the ingredients enveloped in the thick, silky chowder as the waitress poured it slowly into the bowl of crab, corn, potatoes and peppers.  Although the potatoes were cold, it made for a lovely dish.  I used the crusty bread on the table to sop up the last of the creamy chowder, savoring its smooth texture and slight kick.

The pork chop was perfectly cooked, the maple brining lending it a plump, juicy texture.  With peppery watercress on top and a smoky, deep barbeque sauce underneath (made with espresso grounds), it was an enjoyable trio of tastes.  The potato salad -- like the chowder -- had an unexpected kick, but the sweet cucumbers served on the side were an ideal counterbalance.

Dessert was soft chocolate sandwiched between two Breton cookies.  The soft, shortbread texture of the cookies and the sharply sweet chocolate was good enough on its own, but it was the homemade milk jam that brought it all together.  Swiping my cookies through the milk jam until there was none left on the plate, I was stunned that this entire meal was only $14.95.

Words of caution: Because the lunch crowd is a bit small, don't be surprised to find yourself shoved into one tiny room along with all the other diners.  This isn't a romantic lunch date unless you find businessmen jawing about filing SEC extensions less than two feet away from you romantic. Also, there is no parking other than valet. Come prepared with a couple of dollar bills.

Considering that Rainbow Lodge is one of, if not the, best restaurants in town, valet and a crowded dining room is a small price to pay for a steal of a lunch at a restaurant where the herbs and vegetables come from the chef's own garden, the meat is fresh and local and the talent is undeniable.

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