Conference goers were so cordial with me last week at the Design Bloggers Conference in Atlanta. But I was surprised by how many of them questioned the wisdom of my family’s recent move from Austin (the River City), Texas, to Houston (the Bayou City).
I shouldn’t be: across the country, my friends and colleagues continue to ask me, how could you leave Austin, “the blue city in the red state” and the current hipster capital of the world (thanks to interactive media, music, and now Formula 1 racing)?
Above: Dau hu nhoi thit, tofu stuffed with sausage and dressed in tomato sauce.
We made our move because it brought us closer to family (both Tracie P’s and mine). But in the two short weeks that we’ve lived here, we’ve found that our gastronomic horizons have expanded greatly.
In Austin, we really only ate out at a handful of restaurants (and if you follow the blog, you know which ones).
But here in Houston, we’ve been eating fantastic Jew food (the New York Bagel and Coffee Shop is around the corner from our new house), fun and wholesome Greek food (there’s a huge Greek community here), excellent “comfort” Mexican food (and not just Tex Mex), and some of the best Asian food I’ve ever found outside of Southern California (where locals know how easy it is to find great cuisine in the many large Asian communities and beyond).
Above: my good friend and client Tony Vallone led his Serata Bolognese — an Evening in Bologna — dinner on Thursday night at his casual Ciao Bello. His lasagne verdi (traditional green lasagne, layered with ragù and béchamel were off-the-charts good).
To those who can’t believe that there is liberal life in Texas beyond Austin, I’d like to point out that Houston’s mayor Annise Parker is one of the first openly gay mayors of a major U.S. city (Houston is now the third largest city in the country). She eats lunch regularly at Tony’s, my friend Tony’s flagship restaurant, btw.
In fact, thanks to its cosmopolitan character, Houston is much more liberal than Austin, where cultural hegemony is still driven by mainstream white culture. Austin may have a greater tolerance for “weird,” but the general voting population’s views on gun control, reproductive rights, nationalized health care, and voter rights align much more closely to mine here in Houston.
Above: after Tony’s event on Thursday, some friends and I had this superb bottle of Serveaux Fils Cuvée Pinot Meunier Blanc de Noirs Brut at one of my favorite wine bars in the country, Camerata, where owner and wine director David Keck, a professional opera singer, told me that he currently has four expressions of 100% Pinot Meunier from Champagne on his list.
It’s not that we don’t miss Austin. We do. We have so many close friends there and man, there’s nothing like a bottle of Shiner paired with some honkytonking at Ginny’s Little Long Horn Saloon on a Wednesday night (even though they recently painted over the pastiche of photos on Ginny’s walls and added a television above the bar).
But we’ve been loving the superb food scene here, the cultural diversity, and the vastly superior arts scene (check out the Menil Collection).
One of the first things I wanted to do after we settled was to take Tracie P and the girls to a great Asian meal. And so yesterday I asked my good friend Mai Pham, one of the city’s leading food writers (Houston Press, Forbes, etc.), to take us to one of her favorite Vietnamese restaurants in Asia Town (see the photos and details above).
We had a blast, the food was phenomenal, and Georgia P, our two-year-old, loved her tofu and even tried to eat with chopsticks!
Can you think of a better Sunday in America?
Images via Mai’s Facebook.