As thousands of Jewish Houstonians stood at Yom Kippur services and asked to be sealed into the Book of Life for another year, a different sort of ritual took place in downtown's Hilton Americas hotel.
Rather than seeking penance from the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Houston's restaurant community gathered to learn their fates at the hands of Chronicle restaurant critic Alison Cook, as reflected in the fifth edition of her Top 100 Restaurants list.
While the paper lost the element of surprise at the event by publishing the entire list and companion articles online at approximately 5 pm, the crowd, many of whom had paid $100 or $150 to attend the festivities, found that many things about Cook's list had changed over the last year.
Most prominently, one and two had flip-flopped with The Pass & Provisions taking the top spot for the first time from Oxheart. Pax Americana (up from 12), Killen's Barbecue (three in 2014) and Tony's (27 in 2014) round out the new top five.
Oxheart seems to be taken its slight demotion in stride, tweeting "Congrats to @PASSPROVISIONS on the one spot. No one deserves it more."
For her part, Cook makes no apologies for the list's subjectivity. "It is written from four decades' worth of professional perspective on Houston's ever-evolving food scene, but in the end, the reality is that everybody's version of the city's Top 100 restaurants would be different,"she writes in a companion essay. "If my version is a jumping-off place for dialogue about what is good and what matters in our restaurant world, it will have done its job."
During the research for the list, Cook ceased writing formal restaurant reviews from June until this week, when she awarded one star to upscale Tex-Mex restaurant Anejo. While the criteria can be inscrutable, the results are discussed widely both within the restaurant community and the dining public at large. Ronnie Killen cited his steakhouse's dip out of the top 10 in 2014 as one of the reasons he hired Joe Cervantez to be executive chef. Even before it moves to a new, larger space, Killen's Steakhouse is back up to 14.
Killen joins chef Marco Wiles (Dolce Vita, 21; Da Marco, 22) and chef Hugo Ortega and Tracy Vaught (Hugo's, 6; Caracol, 10) as the only restaurateurs with two restaurants each in the top 25.
BCN leads the 17 newcomers that found spots on the list. Overall, the class of 2015 acquitted itself well with new arrivals like Radio Milano (17), Kuu (19, one behind Uchi), Kitchen 713 (29) and Oporto Fooding House & Wine (30) all doing well. Izakaya, Weights + Measures, Amalfi, SaltAir Seafood Kitchen and Helen Greek Food & Wine all made the top 50.
On the losing side, Underbelly (23), MF Sushi (27) and Indika all fell out of the top 10. Common Bond tumbled from four to 69, and Melange Creperie went from 10 to 50; the crepe stand's "freewheeling combos, borrowed from Houston's grab-bag of international cuisines, are less in evidence these days," Cook writes by way of explanation.
Similar falls occurred for Roost (52), Bernie's Burger Bus (78) and Brennan's (81), which each declined more than 30 spots.
Some of the past year's arrivals that might have made the list and didn't include Prohibition Supperclub & Bar, Main Kitchen, Jackson Street Barbecue, B&B Butchers and Bramble. Better luck next year.
Still, better to have never been on the list than to have been on it and fallen off, but that's the fate that befell Ciao Bello (52 in 2014), El Tiempo (72), Goode Co Seafood (89) and a few others.
Of course, next year's newcomers will make the 2016 list even more difficult to compile. That turnover is just part of what makes Houston such an exciting city to eat in. Whether one agrees or disagrees with Cook's list, that's good news for everyone who loves dining.