This Week's Cafe Review: CRISP Falls Flat

Everyone eating and drinking at CRISP seems to genuinely want to be there. Everyone seems happy and well-fed and properly boozed. Everyone is enjoying a night out and several glasses of wine or beer, and everyone is exactly where he or she wants to be at that moment.

Everyone except me.

I wanted to love CRISP. I really wanted it to be my new neighborhood Heights hangout. I wanted to be chic and throw back my head in laughter over a glass of rosé with my friends in celebration of a workday successfully completed. And I'm sure every now and then, I still will do that. But it probably won't be at CRISP.

CRISP, the subject of this week's cafe review, has so much going for it that I'm actually kind of mad at it for not meeting my expectations. I feel let down by the swanky wine bar that was supposed to serve so-good-I'm-giddy wine from the enomatic dispenser and tickle my palate with pizza baked on a hot stone. The wine is decent but not wonderful, and the food -- particularly the Italian food -- left a lot to be desired. Perhaps it's because I'm more critical than others that I can't look past the many glaring errors and enjoy the spot for its atmosphere and utility as a place to unwind. I just can't though. I can't get past all the unnecessary nutmeg and fried food. And that just makes me sad.

Because I'm somewhat new to Houston and to this job, I feel like I should explain a bit about my reviewing process. I go in to every restaurant expecting it to be great and assuming that I'll leave with everything I need to write a glowing review. I mentally note small errors or things I would have preferred to be done differently, but in general, I'm kind. I love food. I love restaurants. I have family in the biz, and I want restaurateurs and chefs to be successful. It is never my intention to bash a restaurant because I'm on some sort of misguided power trip. If I say something is less than pleasant, I do so grudgingly, not with glee.

Which is why my experience at CRISP makes me so distressed. I just want to grab it and shake it, in the way one might grab a misguided friend, and tell it to shape up. I want to hold an intervention in which I gently break it to CRISP that it has a nutmeg problem, and beyond that, some of its menu choices are bewildering and poorly constructed. I want to write CRISP a letter and tell it that, while we had some nice moments together, I just can't see our relationship going anywhere unless it agrees to put a glass or two of wine on the menu that will really make my tastebuds dance. I want to tell CRISP that I'll give more in return, if only it will try just a little harder.

I'm not ready to give up on CRISP entirely, but I don't think I'll be back any time soon. Maybe it's still in its awkward teenage years. Maybe it's experiencing a growth spurt and the kitchen hasn't had time to catch up to the rest of the operation. Maybe this is as good as it gets, but I'm not willing to let CRISP go without a little bit of a fight.

CRISP, baby, when you're ready to talk again, you let me know. I'll be waiting.

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