On this week's episode of "What's Eric Eating," CultureMap food editor Eric Sandler is joined by four of his regular co-hosts to look back at the year in dining. Together, the group discusses the highs and lows of Houston bars and restaurants in 2021.
They conversation begins with a discussion of their favorite new restaurants of the year. After citing places such as Urbe, Da Gama, and Winnie's, they quintet debate whether Neo, the Japanese-inspired omakase pop-up, should be considered a "restaurant" or a "dining experience."
From there, they move on to their favorite dishes of the year. Nominations include small plates at Tiny Champion's, the Angie's Pizza pop-up, and the housemade sausages at Brett's Barbecue Shop in Katy.
Sandler asks the group about their top trends of the year. Rather than discuss a specific food item, co-host Michael Fulmer shares thoughts from his experience working in restaurants.
"Restaurants are starting to, because of the shortage in labor, I'm seeing a lot of restaurants taking care of their staff," Fulmer says. "They're taking care of them so much better. The respect they're getting for back of the house, front of the house, the expansion of benefits. Treating people like this is a job; there are people who did this for a living. We're starting to see institutions as well as small operators treat them as such. They want to hold onto their staff. They want to create this culture. That's moving in the right direction. I'm a big fan."
Later, the group discusses the restaurants that closed this year that they'll miss the most. In particular, panelists praise UB Preserv and express optimism for chef Nick Wong's new position at Georgia James Tavern.
The episode concludes with each person touting some of their most eagerly anticipated new restaurants of 2022. They mention Loro, the Austin-based Asian smokehouse; Andiron, a steakhouse from Candente owner Michael Sambrooks; and Cafe Louie, the eclectic, all-day cafe led by chef Angelo Emiliani.