Food for Thought

Dad’s Dining Diary: Turning the old man into an adventurous Houston foodie

Dad’s Dining Diary: Turning the old man into an adventurous Houston foodie

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Lunch at Phil & Derek’s Restaurant and Wine Bar is always a treat and I love the chicken Cobb salad. Photo by Marene Gustin
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Although I was smitten with my lobster BLT from Tony's. I mean, lobster and bacon? What could be better? Photo by Marene Gustin
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And then at Tony's came the slice of Elizabeth’s Praline Cheesecake with a candle and Happy Father’s Day written in chocolate on the plate. Photo by Marene Gustin
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Breaking bread with our loved ones is one of life’s most treasured events.
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At Mai's came the garlic beef made with filet mignon. Photo by Marene Gustin
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“This is the best restaurant we’ve been to,” he declared of Tony's. “We need to come back at least once a month.” Photo by James Dean
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In this week’s episode of Dining with Dad ...

OK, shoot me. I’ve had enough of Tex-Mex and burgers. I know those are my Dad’s favorite foods but how much can a girl take?

Oh, by the way, my octogenarian pops is moving into my high-rise, next door to my apartment. We already eat lunch together most every day, and my new Chihuahua puppy does need a babysitter so it’s cool. But can we just get a little healthier diet going here?

Breaking bread with our loved ones is one of life’s most treasured events. I love my father and I love dining with him, we have a great time and some of the most interesting conversations and I am so grateful that he is in Houston now so that we can spend time together. But I think a little expansion in our restaurant choice is in order.

So, I decided to experiment a little last week.

Monday: “Dad, there’s a really popular seafood place right around the corner from my building, how about we check it out?” Dad says OK so we head over to Tony Mandola’s Miracle Gulf Coast Kitchen.

Which is always packed but we get a booth and superb service and Dad discovers the menu has more than seafood. He orders the spaghetti and meatballs and marvels at the giant meatballs.

“This is wonderful!” he exclaims. “I love the food and the way they wait on us. We’ll have to come here all the time when I move in.”

Uh, #mistake. Mandola’s is getting ready to move into its new building anytime now so no, we won’t be walking over here anymore. Here’s hoping that dad is equally taken with Eloise Jones Adams’ The Bird & Bear when it opens in this Westheimer Road space next fall.

Tuesday: A tasting at Mai’s Restaurant. Our last Asian outing didn’t go too well, but I suck it up and invite him along anyway.

Him: “It’s not raw again, is it?”

Me: “No, it’s Vietnamese food. It’s cooked.”

“I’m not using these chop sticks,” he says eyeing them suspiciously as we are seated. Have I made a serious mistake here?

Conclusion: He loved it! Before I could even tuck into the pork spring rolls with peanut sauce he had devoured his. Then came the banh xeo, a crepe stuffed with pork, shrimp, bean sprouts and onions that you wrap in a lettuce leaf and eat with your hands. As PR gal Kim Park and I struggled to make our wraps he woofed his down, lettuce and all. Amazing.

Then it was on to ginger chicken, a delicious chicken in curry coconut sauce with veggies and a wonderful garlic beef made with filet mignon that just melted in the mouth. He ate it all and even finished with a thick, sweet Vietnamese coffee.

He smiled as we left and agreed we had had two great days of dining. And then he said we needed a Tex-Mex fix, because it had been, like, three whole days since we had any chili con queso.

So, Wednesday: Lunch is at Maria Selma, which he calls Orange because that’s the name of the sports bar next door and both buildings are painted orange. Margaritas, queso and chips, chicken tacos. Just your usual diet food.

Thursday: “I really need a salad.”

“Great, let’s go across the street for that one we split,” says Dad.

Oh, that sounds great, doesn’t it? But not exactly.

Actually, lunch at Phil & Derek’s Restaurant and Wine Bar is always a treat and I love the chicken Cobb salad. And it’s a thrill to see Dad eat some greens. But the let’s face it, a Cobb salad with fried chicken bites, blue cheese and bacon isn’t exactly waist friendly. But it’s darn good. And you could almost drink Phil’s housemade honey mustard dressing.

Friday: OK, here’s the real test. For a Father’s Day treat I took Dad to Tony’s for lunch. I told him it was the most famous restaurant in Houston and likely the best. Oh, and it’s kinda fancy. He wore his guayabera shirt and left his fishing hat in the car.

I was a little concerned that he might not like Tony’s, that he might feel out of place since our regular hangouts are Tex-Mex joints and Blanco’s Bar & Grill. You know, low rent places where you can just be yourself and chill.

But I really shouldn’t have worried a bit; Dad loved it. The food, the service, the ambiance. Mr. Vallone came over to say hello and chef Grant Gordon sent out a sample of the new caramelle pasta: hand twisted little pillows of delight stuffed with Reggiano, fresh sage and truffle essence. If we hadn’t already ordered I would have ordered that dish. Next time I will.

Although I was smitten with my lobster BLT. I mean, lobster and bacon? What could be better? It’s an open-faced sandwich you eat with a knife and fork. And we’re not talking little bits of lobster here, no these are big, thick pieces atop crispy bacon on toasted ciabatta with just a touch of Dijon mustard. And it comes with a cone of crispy sweet potato fries.

Dad had the pasta with a meaty Bolognese sauce that he declared excellent. I also ordered him a glass of Prosecco, something he had never had before. And then came the slice of Elizabeth’s Praline Cheesecake with a candle, Happy Father’s Day written in chocolate on the plate and Tony’s famous glass of pink cotton candy. Oh, and espressos, which my coffee loving father downed in one swig.

“This is the best restaurant we’ve been to,” he declared. “We need to come back at least once a month.”

And what loving daughter would refuse that kind of invitation?