By this time, most Houstonians know that August 1 through September 7, 2015 is Houston Restaurant Weeks — a month-long celebration of food and charitable giving benefiting the Houston Food Bank. The 200+ participating restaurants listed on the Houston Restaurant Weeks website offer special Houston Restaurant Weeks prix fixe menus — lunch menus are priced at $20, and dinner menus are $35 or $45 — with a portion of the proceeds donated to the Houston Food Bank, the nation’s largest food bank.
ABOUT THE HOUSTON FOOD BANK
Each year the Houston Food Bank feeds 800,000 people, distributing food to nearly 600 hunger relief organizations in 18 southeast Texas counties. Through the Backpack Buddy program, the Houston Food Bank provides weekend food sacks to more than 10,000 children in 500 schools. The organization’s Keegan Kitchen prepares meals for school-aged children that are served at after-school and summer program locations. Additional community services include nutrition education, school-based programs, food stamp applications, and hands-on job training.
ABOUT HOUSTON RESTAURANT WEEKS
Houston Restaurant Weeks (“HRW”) was established in 2003 by radio and television personality Cleverley Stone. (Cleverley hosts “The Cleverley Show,” a food talk radio program on CBS Sports Radio 650/KIKK-AM, and is a food segment contributor to Houston’s Fox 26 Morning News. She is also the administrator of the active Facebook group “Houston Foodie Friends.”). HRW is the largest annual fundraiser for the Houston Food Bank, and to date has raised nearly $6 million, enabling the Houston Food Bank to provide almost 18 million meals to those in need. HRW volunteers donate their time and resources so that all of the donations raised go directly to the Houston Food Bank.
My family has been participating in HRW since its inception. In the beginning, there were only a handful of participating restaurants, and the menus were often not terribly interesting. As the event has grown, so has Houston diners’ interest in it, to the point where it is practically sport, combing through the mouth-watering menus and trying to secure reservations for a month of delicious and charitable dining. I believe the participating restaurants benefit from the extensive publicity and increased sales during a month that can be slow for Houston restaurants. It’s a great time to try a new restaurant or visit one of your favorites — in the name of charity, of course. In the words of the organizers, “Dine Out and Do Good.”
CARACOL’S HRW MENU
We were out of town the first week in August, and I felt really left out as my Facebook newsfeed blew up with photos of HRW meals and raves for the creative menus. Now that we’re back, we’ve got some catching up to do, and our first much-anticipated HRW meal was last night at Caracol — the Mexican Coastal Kitchen from 4-time James Beard Best Chef Southwest Nominee Hugo Ortega and Tracy Vaught, located at 2200 Post Oak Blvd. #160. If you don’t know the story of Hugo and Tracy, take a minute to read it. It is one of my favorite success/love stories.
We brought our daughter, who was as enamored with the beautiful restaurant and the art of Charley Harper gracing the walls as we are.
We started off with an agave cocktail and a mock blackberry mojito:
For HRW, the restaurant offered a choice of 4 menus. (It’s a little confusing if you view the menus on the HRW website. You choose one of the 4 menus — not mix and match.)
We each chose a different menu — Vegetarian, On Dry Land, and Our Style. The meal began with colorful amuse:
Coctel de Fruta (Vegetarian and On Dry Land menu)
Ceviche Tropical — tuna, avocado, mango, papaya, roasted pineapple (Our Style menu)
We thoroughly enjoyed the appetizers that followed:
Tostada de Aguacate Frito — fried avocado, pico de gallo, cabbage, radish, crema (Vegetarian menu)
Garnacha de Pato con Mole de Higo — duck confit in fig mole on masa pancake and mixed green salad (On Dry Land menu)
Pozole de Almeja — clam soup with hominy, tomatillo, hoja santa (Our Style menu)
Everyone declared their main course the best:
Canita de Puerco con Mole Manchamanteles — pork shank, Mexican sweet potato puree, tropical mole with chiles, plantains, and pineapple (Our Style Menu)
Birria Mascota — bone-in short rib, roasted tomato salsa, cocoa nib, roasted potatoes (On Dry Land menu)
Coliflor a la Talla — oven-roasted ancho and guajillo pepper rubbed cauliflower and cauliflower puree (Vegetarian menu)
Although at this point we didn’t have room for dessert, we nevertheless managed to polish them off, and declared it a three-way tie as to which was the favorite:
Flan de Coco — coconut flan, toasted coconut flakes, mango crema (Our Style menu)
Churros Rellenos — stone fruit filled crullers, pistachio ice cream (On Dry Land menu)
El Coco — chocolate coconut shell, coconut buttercream, coconut ganache, coconut streusel, whipped coconut (Vegetarian menu)
Caracol, under the direction of Sean Beck, Sommelier and Beverage Director for Caracol, Backstreet Café, and Hugo’s, earned the Wine Spectator 2015 Best of Award of Excellence, and we enjoyed a great wine with our meal:
If you haven’t been to Caracol — and even if you have — consider visiting it during HRW. We can enthusiastically recommend any of the three menus we had, and in fact, my husband wants to go back for the Between the Waves menu.
A NOTE OF CAUTION
Not every restaurant can or wants to participate in HRW. For some, particularly those that focus on family-style or sharing meals (which includes some of my favorite restaurants), the HRW structure of a prix fixe meal just doesn’t work. Others may have their own reasons, financial or otherwise, for not participating. I don’t question their decision not to participate. But a slight controversy has arisen over some non-participating restaurants offering their own prix fixe menus during the month of August, with proceeds going to charities other than the Houston Food Bank. Although I personally disagree with this practice, which takes advantage of the millions of dollars of publicity that HRW has received over the years, there is a prevailing sentiment that getting diners and restaurants together to “Dine Out and Do Good” is meritorious, regardless of the charity. Unfortunately, there have been reports of confusion — diners thinking they were supporting the Houston Food Bank, only to belatedly discover the restaurant was supporting a different charity. If it’s your intent to support the Houston Food Bank this month, be sure to check the HRW website to make sure the restaurant is, in fact, participating and donating to the Houston Food Bank.
So what are you waiting for? Check the website, make reservations, and “Dine Out and Do Good” this month!