Return to Backstreet Café

A few years ago, I tried being vegan. Then, I swapped to a vegetarian diet, and finally, pescetarian. I found it extremely educational. (For example, I learned that I don't want to live the rest of my life without cheeseburgers.) It also sent me on a quest to find restaurants that could accommodate my diet.

Part of this quest included trying to find the best vegetable plates in town. I discovered that Hugo's had an awesome one, and in time, my sweetheart and I wanted to see what was available at its sibling restaurant, Backstreet Café. Theirs was even more impressive; a long, white plate that included seven items that changed with the seasons.

Then, on one fateful day, an inattentive waiter who was much more interested in his cell phone than our needs cooled my enthusiasm like a Minnesota winter. The food just didn't seem as good we remembered, either. Then again, I've found that poor service makes food less appealing. We never returned; at least, not until recently.

The reason I returned is "wine badass" Marc Borel. I met Marc while he was working at 13 Celsius and was impressed with his passion for wine. He seemed to have as much fun recommending things to try as we had trying them. Coincidentally, it was also the first time we had delightful cupcakes from Jody "Jodycakes" Stevens. The cupcake and wine pairing is one of my favorite things I've ever had at a wine bar.

Soon after, Marc moved on to Samba Grille, stocked it with Brazilian sparklers and introduced me to Bandol. Regrettably, Samba made some changes after being open for a several months, and they and Marc parted ways.

Marc was retained as Backstreet Café's General Manager. Now that he has been there for a few months, I wanted to see if the place had improved. I also was curious. You see, Sean Beck is the Beverage Director for most of the "Tracy Vaught-John Watt-Hugo Ortega family" of restaurants (all except Prego, where Rafael Espinal handles that duty).

I could go on about the multiple honors Sean has earned, such as the two back-to-back Iron Sommelier wins, or about earlier this year when Star Chefs named him Houston's 2011 Rising Star Sommelier (although I think "rising" isn't the right descriptor; he's pretty much risen). I could even say he was the Houston Press 2011 pick for Best Restaurant Sommelier, but, look, just Google the guy for yourself, okay?

How does it work when two "wine guys" work together at the same place? Is there head butting? "Not at all," laughed Sean. "Marc's got enough on his plate with the General Manager duties." Marc agreed; they both seemed to be happy working with someone else who has a passion for wine.

As for me, I got the best of both worlds: wine recommendations from both of them. And I'm really, really sorry I haven't tried to be more familiar with Sean's selections. I don't think I will walk into any of the restaurants he's affiliated with again and NOT order wine. I was absolutely blown away by one of Sean's picks of the month: a 2009 Jean Louis Chave Celeste St. Joseph Blanc. It's 100 percent Roussanne. It is vivacious and seems to dance in the mouth while hitting every taste bud. Sean's tasting notes indicate pear, tea leaf, stone fruit pit and white flower. Best of all, it was available by the taste, glass, and bottle, making it financially accessible for diners to try. Personally, I'd order a whole bottle next time.

Marc had us try a 2009 Domaine Richou Anjou Chauvigné, a French Chenin Blanc. It was a less complex but food-friendly wine with green apple notes. The wine, paired with the amazingly succulent and meaty Saint Arnold Braised Rabbit with wild mushrooms, made for a perfect starter.

From the lunch menu, I had the Piadina. When it came out, I briefly thought I'd made my first misstep. It looked kind of like a folded over tortilla with a bunch of stuff in it. Well, it did have a bunch of stuff in it--prosciutto, arugula, tomato, grilled radicchio, pesto, shaved Parmesan -- and it was delicious. Not actually a tortilla, this was a light flatbread, slightly blistered on the outside. The contents all came together like a light, flavorful sandwich.

Backstreet Café has won my business back, and I think that's a good thing for both of us. I'm fortunate that I know Marc Borel, and that I'm getting to know Sean Beck through his wines.

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Phaedra Cook
Contact: Phaedra Cook