A birthday lunch is a precarious situation. You don't want to overdo it and spoil your appetite, but a deli sandwich isn't going to cut it either. So I consider myself lucky that my birthday falls during Houston Restaurant Weeks — two light courses at a comfortable restaurant sounded perfect.
Ever since I discovered the Texas peach salad at Relish, I've become slightly addicted to it. While I flirted with going for the strawberry salad with goat cheese and honey vinaigrette at Gravitas, in the end the siren call of the peach salad with baby arugula, candied pecans and goat cheese crostini at Haven won me over.
Well, that was the plan, at least. Before I had even fully checked out the Houston Restaurant Weeks menu on the table, my dining buddy was ordering an extra-spicy bloody mary, and my server was recommending the (peachy) Madeira cobbler as a sweeter alternative. Light, fruity and refreshing it was the perfect summer drink. Had I been sitting on the patio I might have had to order three more.
With my peach craving sated, the waitress' description of the pureed corn soup as one of the best that the restaurant makes swayed my decision. Haven, after all, is known for its perfectly simple yet delicious soups. I wasn't disappointed — the warm soup was just the right texture, viscous without being thick, with just a few lighted toasted kernels thrown in for a touch of crunch. My partner ordered the wild boar chili (meaty and full of flavor without being dense) and the pair of us sat there eating our rich, cozy soups as if it wasn't August outside.
For the entrees, I was choosing between the chicken and the chateau loin of beef when the server mentioned that the loin had been replaced on the lunch menu by a flatiron steak stuffed with brie. I was sold before she let me know that this would probably be the last time the dish appeared on the lunch menu this month.
My partner ordered the wild boar chili (meaty and full of flavor without being dense) and the pair of us sat there eating our rich, cozy soups as if it wasn't August outside.
Did I mention how great our waitress was? Honestly, while I've generally had good experiences with the food during Houston Restaurant Weeks, one issue that always seems to crop up is disinterested service. The dining rooms are busy, to be sure, but to me it seems like servers sometimes think the total (and the tip) is a finite number and phone it in a little.
So to have a server who was incredibly competent and knowledgeable as well as friendly and fun to talk to was a fun surprise not because I expect any less from Haven (I don't) but because I've seen how easy it is to be less than enthusiastic, and how it negatively affects the HRW experience. Even if I wasn't already a fan of Haven, I would want to return for more meals from her. That's half the point of Houston Restaurant Weeks, and chef Randy Evans and his staff understand that.
My enthusiasm for the entree was somewhat dampened when the chateau loin arrived instead of the flatiron steak. I'm not sure if there was a switch in the kitchen, and since there was an even likelihood that I would have ordered the loin in the first place, it wasn't a big deal. However, your second-pick food can never really equal how amazing you imagine the first pick was going to taste. The beef medallions were tender, and my friend's shrimp were plump and sweet.
It was good, but not great. Sometimes the first course outdoes the entree, and this was just one of those times.
The plan might have been a lunch of peach salad and chicken, but it's nice to surprise yourself every once in a while. That's what birthdays are for, right?
Houston Restaurant Weeks run through Aug. 31 with $3 of every lunch and $5 of every dinner going to the Houston Food Bank.