Sunday, April 13, 2014

Almost a Trip Down Memory Lane

6029 Westheimer, between Fountain View and Voss

There used to be a Christie's restaurant on Broadway, in San Antonio. I only went there a couple of times, and it's been gone for many, many years; but everybody seems to remember it fondly.  It has the distinction of being like the Alamo: a well-loved place that people seldom went to. 

The Christie's restaurant in Houston, last survivor of a once-thriving chain, embodies everything that made the old S.A. location so popular: a clean, large, traditional dining room, with cloth table coverings, a menu full of long-time favorite dishes, and a swarm of staff keeping each customer supplied with everything they expect in a good restaurant and each place unobtrusively cleared. It's nice, I think, that a restaurant doesn't cut staff in order to save a few bucks. The quality of service is well worth the relatively slight premium in prices.

We chose this place mostly from a sense of nostalgia, and were rewarded with a pleasant meal at a reasonable price in a comfortable setting. I had the beluche, a snapper fillet topped with mushrooms, shrimp and crab in a light wine sauce. Rick chose the shrimp combination, a dish of fried and stuffed shrimp, with french fries and onion rings. 

Both meals were introduced by unremarkable dinner salads of fresh lettuce with a few classic additions: a little shredded carrot, a wedge of tomato, a handful of croutons; and bread, meaning a couple of hot crusty rolls with butter. This portion of the meal could stand some improvement: I think, for example, that an interesting selection of breads puts a diner in a receptive and mellow mood; and the bit of extra labour that would be needed to compile a more interesting salad would pay as many dividends as the smartly-staffed dining room. But Christie's hesitates to do too much updating, lest they upset their base of regular customers. Maybe a wise choice; I don't know.

The beluche was excellent. The fillet was perfectly cooked, a mark of some artistry in the kitchen (one that I can only achieve myself when the microwave is working properly, which it hasn't been for some time). Christie's kitchen manages it on an old-fashioned grill; I doubt there is a microwave in their kitchen at all. The sauce over it was, as I said, subtle. Rick, who had been noshing on his shrimp, thought it bland, while I thought it was extraordinary. After trying his shrimp, I could see why he couldn't appreciate the beluche without a thorough cleansing of the palate. 

What's that mean?
His shrimp were nicely done, though the light batters used on both the fried and stuffed shrimp seemed unusually sweet. These morsels, cooked in a traditional manner, couldn't compare for interest with the fried shrimp he had eaten the previous night at a nearby Thai restaurant, but they were masterpieces of their type. The stuffed shrimp were particularly impressive, with a nice mix of seafood in a pleasantly textured cornmeal coat. The fries were mere filler, having no merit to speak of, and the onion rings were a tremendous disappointment, being large and crunchy-looking but soft and mealy in the actual consumption.

My sides were steamed broccoli (ordered as an add-on) and a baked potato. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the broccoli was just steamed, not coated with some unnecessary oil or other fat for the table. It was a reasonably large serving of good-quality fresh broccoli, one large stem and a second bunch of florets, a genuine "serving." The potato (cooked in a real oven, not the microwave) was evenly done, large enough to satisfy without being one of those steroidal creations found at more au courant restaurants. The generosity of toppings was extraordinary as well, and included fresh-cut green onion in lieu of a sprinkle of bottled chives; a large dollop of fresh butter, an equally large dollop of sour cream, and an even larger portion of fancy-shredded cheddar cheese.  I don't usually let such toppings go to waste, but there was just so much that I had to leave some behind.

All in all,  a good place for seafood.
Christie's Seafood & Steaks on Urbanspoon

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