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HOU – “Feast” Report

b
bishopsbitter Jan 11, 2009 05:16 AM

My wife and I visited Feast (200 block Westheimer) for the first time for Saturday lunch. I must say I had long seen their menu posted online (and indeed the Houston CH chapter had reported good things happening there) and I liked the sound of “Rustic European Cuisine.”

For a start their building is very nice location. Sort of Arts and Crafts old house with lots of wood pillars, nooks, crannies, alcoves and creaking stairs with portraits. You overlook (on the highway side) an equally old and eclectic part of a downtown Houston thoroughfare.

So the meal. Nice to have le menu du jour as well as their standard favorites. It always makes one want to (as the Michelin people used to say) “encourager le chef” by ordering those specials, but as it happened we both tended towards the standard items for whatever reason. I ordered the “black pudding, fried egg, peas & mint” appetizer followed by braised oxtail. My wife ordered fish soup followed by cassoulet.

The wine and spirit list was extensive but a tad pricey. A ½ or full carafe option for their house red/white would be a huge improvement as buying by the glass always sucks imo as you are perpetually and immediately worried about refills. This was the case here. I did not want a full bottle, but ordering three separate glasses disturbed the flow of the meal a bit when they needed refilling.

Bread and butter were presented (good bread) but no amuse. We should probably have ordered some olives (which are listed as extras) or some such amuse of our own accord as we arrived late and hungry.

Fish soup was proclaimed a bit poor by my wife. Lukewarm and without the expected (as per in France) option for a refill from a mini-tureen. It was one bowl, and not a huge bowl for $9. The rouille was fine and with plenty of tangy garlic bite however.

My black pudding, egg etc was OK. Can’t miss with peas and mint flavor combination of course. I could have used the egg being more runny as egg yolk and black pudding is another match made in heaven a la peas and mint. But the yolk was rather solid and I missed that. The black pudding was apparently sliced from a 1” sausage of it from where I did not have the chance to ask the chef or waitress. I have not seen “black pud” sold in the likes of Central Market or HEB+ so I wonder the source. That said, thin-bore link black pudding is not the same as the 2-3” round fat ones one gets in the UK. More prone to dryness which was a slight drawback of mine yesterday.

My wife’s cassoulet was disappointing. I tasted it and found it dry and lacking the essential “cooked-downness” (and seasoning and depth of flavor in general) which may be a function of making in small batches I don’t know. More goose grease would have been (always is) welcome to moisten it up.

My main course was a truly outstanding braised oxtail. A large end of the tail and the tip  served with perfect mashed potatoes and a single deliciously and perfectly cooked top-quality carrot. This was a standout. The broth was good too. Here at last one can see why this is on the list of standard items.

Curiously there was no espresso available for afterwards but a pressed coffee was, which was nice but I just happen to like to end a meal with espresso and a spirit. Another outstanding item was the sticky toffee and date pudding. With clotted cream, albeit a pretty small dab of clotted cream. The pudding was the kind British schoolboys dream of and I loved it as did my wife. It would have been better with scuds of cream or custard or something but was perfectly AOK all the same.

No cheese appeared to be an option, again, a shame.

I had an Armagnac which was quite generously portioned and went well with the pudding. $14 per glass.

The Spanish Tempranillo ($7.50) wine was adequate and actually was a good choice with what I had. The wine list looks nice but as I said, did not seem to have many budget options which (for what it’s worth) I find encourage me to buy the next up from budget bottles. But if the “entry level” bottles are pricey I don’t move up which is a shame.

Overall my wife loved the fixtures and fittings, the table placements and such but we did not leave (oxtail and sticky pudding excepted) completely wowed either. The price for the meal was fair enough. $118 + tip. I did not feel gouged for the quality and ambience at all. Something was just missing that could have pushed this into a rush-back-immediately column but it’s hard to quantify what it was. Maybe, it is that curious feeling of being cosseted and pampered I think. As a solo diner across France I am almost always aware of this as a factor without which the patron or his wife judged the meal a failure (for them and me both). Just mentioned for what it is worth. Service was perfectly good and capable. But I did not feel “cosseted”~a strange and archaic word, but lack thereof is I think why so often meals can leave one rather flat feeling.

There were some interesting diversions when we observed what seemed to be an itinerant fish salesman show up with a pickup loaded with coolers which the owners/chefs came out to peruse his fishy wares and I think bought some eventually. That was a nice demonstration of this being supplied from varied and interesting sources nto some big corporate delivery truck.

Also diverting throughout the 2 hour plus meal was a mobile car detailing service cleaning a red panel truck across the street. I wish I had jotted down their number as they are surely THE MOST comprehensive car detailing service in existence. And that red panel truck (they had started already before we sat down and still had not finished when we left 2.5 hours later!) the cleanest one in the city by a large margin. Roof, wheel wells, not a square inch was missed. Even Feast’s parking valet (like myself) was very impressed at their thoroughness.

As to the meal then. This is a very nice room. I like the UK butcher aprons on the waitresses which telegraphs good vibes from that revered trade. The presentation is nice. Perhaps even though doing a brisk enough trade the menu extends beyond the ability to have every dish at its absolute peak.

My wife glumly reminisced of a cassoulet at Toulouse Bus Station (literally a little café there) that is her benchmark.

This is one of the better meals I’ve had in Houston but it left me with just a little vacuum which will probably prevent me romping back and becoming a regular. Sorry to say.

Incidentally they are open today for Sunday Roast lunch which I expect will be a really nice rendition of roast lamb with all the trimmings (was there Yorkshire pudding?). Normally they have been closed Sundays so I do not know if this is a regular thing or one-off but they are open today Jan 11 for lunch.

Thanks for reading.

bb

219 Westheimer Road, Houston, TX 77006 713-529-7788
http://feasthouston.googlepages.com/home

  1. b
    bishopsbitter Jan 12, 2009 05:23 AM

    I forgot to mention one outstanding feature at Feast:

    Blessedly, no-one pounced on us in mid mouthful to ask "How is it tasting?"

    That rates an extra star just for the lack of aggravation.

    I am still thinking about the meal which itself is a good sign. If they had a half carafe of house red @ $13-15 and had not rationed the clotted cream I think they could have had a budding regular on their hands.

    13 Replies
    1. re: bishopsbitter
      LewisvilleHounder Jan 12, 2009 05:55 AM

      So bishop from what I gather the decor was nice and the food less than stellar? I was hoping to go on my return visit to Houston but this summed it up for me. I am sure it is a great restaurant but for those of us who have been to Europe and had the rustic cuisine then nothing compares.

      I will stick to my adventures in ehnic cuisines again.....next time a revisit to Vieng Thai and Singapore Cafe on Bellaire almost to Dairy Ashford.

      1. re: LewisvilleHounder
        b
        bishopsbitter Jan 12, 2009 06:08 AM

        Yes. Oxtail and clotted-cream-challenged sticky pudding aside, it did miss the bar.
        Not by much, but it missed.

        You are right about "nothing compares" and yet *quality of ingredients aside, yes a big aside) there is no real reason Toulouse Bus Station's cassoulet and that bistro's other various delights could not be recreated in Houston. They'd need to invest in an espresso machine and a cheese board. Not huge expenses (and tax deductible). :-) Large tins of confit-d'ail would fix the dryness of that cassoulet right up. On my last stay in France I cooked a cassoulet from scratch (except for the confit which I cheated by using a large tin of confit d'ail) and it was a fun escapade. Shopping in the markets for just the right quality beans, the bacon, the herbs, the toulouse sausages. A day and half's work. But what emerged from the Le Creuset pot at the end of it did not make me ashamed. Nor, I think, would have been outrightly rejected by bus riders waiting for the number dix-neuf bus in Toulouse.

        1. re: LewisvilleHounder
          danhole Jan 12, 2009 02:06 PM

          I have only been once, with the Chowhound group for a special tasting menu, and I think since since they were informed that we were adventurous eaters we may have gotten a bit over the top menu. They did NOT know we were CH's but knew we weren't your average diners. Saying that may be that the best bet is to get the tasting menu. When I went there were some things I really like and some I really didn't care for. I haven't been back, but the menu changes so much that it is hard to find a time to go. Not to mention that I couldn't drag my DH in there to save his life. No burgers, no wings, no steaks - no way! LOL! My loss, as I really want to give it another try.

          Lewisville ... Next time you come try Thai Lanna to compare to Vieng Thai. Hopefully I can try Vieng Thai in the men time so we can compare notes. Sorry I missed you last vist. See this thread:

          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/549730

          1. re: danhole
            b
            bishopsbitter Jan 12, 2009 02:59 PM

            Yes good point. A Croque Monsieur would be a good idea for them to add for people who "don't eat tails" etc. And a classic Steak Frites would not kill either. Most similar places aross Europe also cater to those with either simple tastes, limited time, or organ meat aversions.

            1. re: bishopsbitter
              m
              mgovshteyn Jan 12, 2009 03:53 PM

              I am not sure why Feast has to become a French restaurant to be a great restaurant. I go there for British food in the Fergus Henderson tradition and it delivers almost every time. Their version of the cassoulet is poor, but then again so is every other restaurant made cassoulet in Houston. Countless dishes they serve are outstanding.

              I am also not at all certain why Feast needs a swarm of waiters replacing your silverware and catering to your every wish. You can get that in plenty of restaurants that will serve you fairly tedious food at a much higher price point, while treating you as a royalty. You can also get that at Textile where you will get excellent food and be treated like a royalty, and pay at least 3 times as much as you did at Feast.

              And finally, when did the amuse before a required part of every meal? You may get one at chef's discretion at a "haute" restaurant. Feast doesn't pretend to be such a place.

              Seems very strange to me to expect Michelin star trappings at a bib gourmand place.

              1. re: mgovshteyn
                b
                Bulldozer Jan 12, 2009 05:46 PM

                I could not agree more.

                Give me that pork belly and sticky toffee pudding with a room temp Fullers and I'm as happy as can be.

                1. re: mgovshteyn
                  b
                  bishopsbitter Jan 13, 2009 03:07 AM

                  Sorry if I mismade the point. But surely you partially made mine. If they are not a French place why do they offer the quintessential French benchmark dish cassoulet as a standard item and flub it? As I was generally trying to point out you take too wide a target and you are bound to miss with too many arrows. I agree if they decided to become a British place they'd be more in focus, but perhaps put people off. These are the tough decisions in the business I know. I am not suggesting it's easy.

                  And I certainly never want to be treated as royalty, but yes I do want to be viewed as a little more than a faceless cover to obligingly eat my grub and sign the credit card stub to meet next week's bills. There is a subtle difference and European chef-owner restaurants tend to observe it and this place purports to be emulating that in their food, and I suggest the overall experience would improve if they emulated the European tradition of making their patrons stagger out with a feeling of "all-around well being" (a combination of being satiated, needs met, feeling appreciated, --- a sort of exchange of karma two-way between chef/owner/and customer "Thanks for a great meal, no THANK YOU for driving 70 miles to come here. no THANK YOU for that sticky pudding, no thank you etc.").

                  I could not care less about amuses generally but the observant BA graduate of Waiter/ress U. would have noticed "must eat soon" flashing red signage :-) and provided one for us in case we ate the tablecloth.

                  Look I think you are being defensive against a place I rated a near wow "as one of the better meals I've had in Houston." As I said, the nearer it gets to a really quality experience the more irksome are the little things that keep it from achieving that critical mass that makes a meal truly memorable and not jsut another meal. Joe's Crab Shack who cares, but this is another kettle of fish and my observations are meant to contribute to its success as I see it not to diss it needlessly.

                  1. re: bishopsbitter
                    danhole Jan 13, 2009 12:53 PM

                    Have you ever tried Charivari? It is European Cuisine near downtown Houston. The Chef is from Transylvania. It is NOT "rustic" so you do get the amuse bouche and elegant touches between courses, along with some delightful bread with a butter/onion spread, if I remember. The chef will come out and visit at the end of your meal, and the timing is very good as far as the spacing between items. Now this is more german/romanian than what Feast prepares, but it was like comfort food for me. The garlic soup was delicious and the spaetzle was like my grandma used to make. So much more to say but instead I will just guide you here. Here is a link that led to another link about this place. You may like it bb, but I would do more research on the internet before trekking the many miles into town,. since I know you have higher expectations than this lowly american does. LOL! I only get to go to nice places once in awhile, and don't travel that much, so I don't have as much to compare to as you do.

                    1. re: danhole
                      b
                      bishopsbitter Jan 14, 2009 02:57 AM

                      Thanks for the tip. It is a bit of a haul to d/t although I too have read about the place and thought it sounded interesting.

                      Next Tuesday (on the rustic front) I am going to try the Polonia place (organized by the Houston CH chapter) I perused photos (I am always too self-conscious to snap away at my din-dins but it can be helpful, no doubt) from a previous visit and thought it looked to have possibilities. Polish I have found a bit of a heavy cuisine in the past but we'll give it a go. .

                    2. re: bishopsbitter
                      m
                      mgovshteyn Jan 13, 2009 09:04 PM

                      Fair enough. Their faux European focus is a little annoying. I wish they would come clean with the whole thing, admit they are Brits and be proud of it. You and I both know that would last a few good weeks before they went out of business, though.

                      For one reason or another people still believe British food is terrible, which is ironic. I thought the bad food in Paris was far worse than the bad food in London.

                      On the other hand, Feast does a nice job with vegetarian dishes. Go figure.

                      1. re: mgovshteyn
                        b
                        bishopsbitter Jan 14, 2009 04:47 AM

                        For what it's worth I have a lot of sympathy with them. (I have never worked in the industry but it's one that very much interests me in its mechanics.)

                        I can see how morale and standards could slip given that essentially if they succeed in what they truly want to do (which I think is what would please us, like the superb oxtail) they alienate those for whom "European Rustic Fare" is a "neat" change and diversion but is not going to be judged with as much rigor as it should.

                        To clarify, my perennial favorite topic of Scotch Egg. Its novelty factor keeps it popping out on menus at every faux british place in town. "What is Scotch Egg"? "Oh that sounds kind funnky, I'll try it." But the point is missed that the hot Scotch Eggs sold are anathema to what a real Scotch egg should be. viz an easy to keep on hand snack food served cold maybe with a few pickled onions and a dab of pickle. Therefore the real Scotch Egg afficionado can't find one worth diddly that he wants to chow on. I suspect Mexican places in London and Paris similarly would frustrate real Mexicans.

                        I wonder how many oxtails they serve at Feast versus cassoulets and soupe de poissons. That oxtail was to die for. You could tell the chef put "something extra" into that plate he didn't the rest. Ditto the pudding.

                        So yes, in THEORY I think they should go for the jugular and do what they are passionate about. I think if I were them I would attempt to replicate not only the food but the "dining experience" as well. They are on there way in terms of style of service. Efficient, but slightly formal and not effusive and definitely not "Hello guys! my name is... and I'll be serving you tonight." Add some jugs of wine, a few decent cheeses, maybe the occasional complimentary grappa . . . you're onto something.

                        I think ironically you have to be willing to risk alienating the less schooled patron (without being snobby about it) and aim for your own star and have people come around to your vision. Here I found too much desire to please perhaps the lowest common denominator or perhaps unwillingness to honestly dump some dishes that don't work in favor of fewer that do. In other words, while vastly superior to most Houston places I've been to that's one thing. But as a realization of a European Rustic Restaurant it's like "no one will notice" the missing 10% except some people do.

                        The fact this place is still bouncing around my thoughts is in itself remarkable. Few places have done that in living memory.

                        1. re: bishopsbitter
                          m
                          mgovshteyn Jan 14, 2009 02:24 PM

                          They do replicate the dining experience on a really special restaurant and do it very well, in my opinion. If you ever have a chance to stop by St John in London, its a very similar atmosphere. St John is even less interested in coddling service than Feast, though. It almost seems like a family run butcher shop with a kitchen.

                          Get the aspic at Polonia and make sure to stop by the deli next door. Best selection of sausage in town.

                          1. re: mgovshteyn
                            b
                            bishopsbitter Jan 15, 2009 03:31 AM

                            Aspic - check. Thanks for the tip.

          2. t
            tcavanau Jan 14, 2009 08:20 PM

            I have eaten at Feast and, I'm afraid, I cannot agree with parts of your review. I understand things may change on a night-to-night basis but I would like to recount my experiences to provide an alternate viewpoint.

            Starters: Chicken liver pate and the olives.

            Pate was delicious, just like my mother makes it. When we ran out of toast points but had pate left? No problem, they brought more without us even asking. Olives were massive, green delights. Still have yet to find a way to discreetly eat an unpitted olive in public though.

            Entrees: Pork belly and Cassoulet. Pork belly was texturally pleasing and full of flavor. I am shocked by the reception to the cassoulet on here, as mine was simply one of the most satisfying dishes I can recall ordering out. The duck leg confit was simply shredding itself off the bone, and the rest of the dish was extremely rich and the complete opposite of dry. The whole dish contained an incredible amount of flavor, in layers I found myself straining to place.

            Dessert: Sticky toffee pudding and ginger-pear crumble. Pudding was absolutely excellent. Not one crumb remained on that plate. Crumble was good, particularly with the warm custard sauce poured over it, but definitely the weaker of the two.

            Beverages. Partner had a wine, I am afraid I cannot recall which. Only snag of the evening in that we were accidentally billed for a whole bottle when she only ordered a glass. this was rectified easily. I had multiple Fuller's, served room temp.

            Overall experience was just excellent, and the service was almost European in that they provided the necessary services without being overbearing and/or hustling you through your meal.

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