The Skinny: Not bad if you dig fugitive fare.
The Fat: I live in Montrose. That little fact affords me the luxury of riding my bike or walking to many of my favorite spots. So many restaurants, shops, coffee houses and bars are mere paces away from my humble abode.
After a long day at work, a much needed jog and a good long shower, my friend called and asked me if I wanted to grab a bite to eat. "Heck yeah," I said. I was hungry. Being the blossoming food critic (and unavoidable control freak) that I am, he "allowed" me to pick the place. I suggested that we walk to a destination. The only time Houston is good for a stroll in the summer is after the sun goes down and I was in the mood for a stroll.
I recently put up a poll on my blog asking readers to "vote" on which Mediterranean restaurant they'd like to read about next. However, we were dining well before the poll had expired. Nonetheless, Mediterranean food was on my mind. My friend suggested we go to the place that had accumulated the least number of votes so that when the election was over I could still go to the place that "won." That brings us to La Fendee; a low score and a slow walk from my house.
Before we left, I looked the restaurant up on-line to see what time they closed. You never want to walk to a place on an empty stomach only to find out that you have to walk somewhere else! We arrived at 9:10. They closed at 10pm, perfect!
As usual I had a hard time trying to figure out what to order. It was my first time and I wanted to peruse the menu a bit. While I'm tossing around the standard Mediterranean selections, I noticed that two of the three tables next to us had hookahs. They were sipping and puffing away, laughing and having a ball... I was hungry, but mostly I was jealous. I ordered a hookah. My friend wanted to order it after the meal, but we just figured if we ordered it first we could smoke it before and after. Good idea, right?
La Fendee fills their hookahs with flavored tobacco - you can choose from strawberry, cherry, apple or mint. While I wasn't fond of any but the mint (but too afraid to get a menthol hookah), I asked for a mix of strawberry and mint. I figured that would somehow make it alright.
Now, I've never smoked from a hookah before, but I know that there is some superb tobacco to be had in this world. I don't think La Fendee knew that though. The fruit smell (and taste) was vaguely reminiscent of a car deodorizer, the kind one would proudly hang from the review mirror of their Trans-Am, circa 1987. Eek! The mint was the only saving grace. Whatever, I chalked it up to an experience...and it gave me more time to look at the menu.
After a few relaxing puffs, a few laughs about how cool we were to be smoking hookahs on a week night and few more glances at the menu, we decided to start with the Chef's Special Mediterranean Plate; an appetizer combo of all the faves - hummus, tabbouleh, babaganush, Greek salad, falafel, stuffed grape leaves, chicken and beef shawarma with a side of pita bread. Wow! We also ordered the fried eggplant with pomegranate sauce, it sounded too good to pass up. We told the waitress we'd start with that and order more if we were still hungry.
When the food arrived I was pretty impressed with most of it. It looked appealing and the portions were nice. The flavor and consistency of the hummus and babaganush were exquisite; thick, creamy and perfectly seasoned. The falafel were tasty too. They had been fried to a healthy, crunchy brown.
The pitas were crunchy too, but not in a good way. It was as if they had been exposed to air all night. The pomegranate eggplant, which I was totally excited about, was super saturated in oil and barely edible. Even my hungry companion couldn't stomach the greasy dish. The chicken and beef shawarma was overcooked and crusty, like it was from the bottom of the barrel, scraped off for the last order of the evening. It all tasted like the stuff that would have gone into the garbage if we hadn't ordered it. Sure, they were nearing closing time, but If I'm gonna get half-assed food, I would expect to pay half price!
My dining companion was still hungry after our apps had arrived, but we sort of lost track of time. Promptly at 9:59pm the waitress came over with our check. Although I'm a stickler for allowing paying customers to live out their welcome when they appropriately arrive during posted business hours, I can understand if a waiter needs to round up the troops by asking, "The kitchen is about to close, would you like to order anything else?" This did not happen.
I actually liked our waitress. She was sweet and attentive. However, she dropped that check like a hot cake and told us that, while we were welcome to take our time, they needed to run the reports. A few minutes after giving her our credit cards (upon request) and then filling out the tip (upon another immediate request) the lights in the restaurant were suddenly turned off. Hookahed, hungry and half a minute past closing, we felt alienated and unwelcome. Aside from the obvious, this also meant we couldn't refill our drinks or even use the bathrooms.
At 10:15pm the owner (or manager, either way it was bad business) escorted the staff out the front door and actually pulled her car up, along side the patio where we and the other two customers were sitting. She got out of her car, helped the buss boy lock up and essentially waited for us to leave. Clearly there was no more food, but what about more Hookah smoking - something we had already paid for? Oh, we got the point.
P.S. The food's alright, but the service left a bad taste in my mouth. If a restaurant's open until 10pm, that doesn't mean they should kick customers out at 10:01. Your diners are more than guests, the pay for a product and a service.
Nobody likes a sad, skinny baby...nobody!
Whether I’m ordering a meal at a restaurant or cooking up something at home, enjoying what I eat brings me immense satisfaction. On the other hand, being disappointed in a meal sends me into tantrum mode.
I expect certain things out of a dining experience. I’m realistic about the standards I hold for each place, from the local taco bar to the five star steak house. What I've decided is that it's about a perfect balance between service, food quality, ambiance and price. That may seem like a lot to juggle, but Houston is a big city with a plethora of restaurants to choose from. There’s no reason to expect anything less than the best.
If you strip my needs down to the bare essentials, you'll find I'm very much like a baby; I love tasty food and I love to be happy. If an experience doesn't generate a sense of fulfillment for those two basic needs...you're gonna hear me cry.
Nobody likes a sad, skinny baby...nobody!