Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Review: Dinner at Adair Kitchen

Not too long ago, I was at an event thrown by one of Houston's long-term restaurant families, the Adairs, celebrating the 42nd Anniversary of their property Los Tios.  While we were there, I had the opportunity to hear Gary Adair and his wife Betsy tell several stories about Houston restaurant history.  However, one little snippet of a story he mentioned was about his two children, Katie Adair Barnhart and Nick Adair, who apparently caught the restaurant bug from their parents, but wanted to do their own spin on things and had set up their own place called Adair Kitchen a few months ago.  This place isn't just another Skeeter's or Los Tios.  This place has its own central theme--comfort food, made with fresh ingredients and sustainable business practices, loosely based on some of their family dinners, but with a gourmet twist.

After hearing about Adair Kitchen, I took some time to visit their website and checked out the menus.  At that point in time they had not yet added dinner service, but they were on my short list of places to visit for brunch or to try their Buffalo Bacon Cheese Kitchen Burger on the lunch menu.  As fortune would have it, I received a press release about the hiring of new chef Jimmy Mitchell and the addition of their dinner menu.  So, as part of pre-Thanksgiving, my dining companion and I made our way over to Sage and San Felipe to enjoy a sumptuous meal.  

First a little background on Chef Mitchell per the press release:

Chef Jimmy Mitchell (Credit: Adair Kitchen)
During his entire career as a chef, at most of the restaurants where he worked, Mitchell built gardens where he composted all of his food waste, and grew heirloom varieties of herbs and vegetables for the restaurant.

Mitchell is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York and holds a certification in Master Gardening from Texas A&M University through the Harris County Agriculture Extension Agency.

Chef Mitchell & Staff at work in Adair Kitchen
Much of Chef Mitchell's work has focused very heavily on Sustainable Restaurant practices, something which Katie Adair Barnhart and Nick Adair embrace whole-heartedly.  He's worked with Urban Harvest in Houston, and also started a company in 2009 called Restaurant Recyclers to help restaurants in Austin, Houston and San Antonio go Green. Mitchell's dream to start Restaurant Recyclers came many years ago when he noticed just how much waste one restaurant generated, and realized that it all ended up in landfills. Not only was his goal to help restaurants recycle their cardboard, tin, glass and food waste, he helped turn that food waste into compost from which he grew heirloom varieties of herbs and vegetables on his five-acre farm to sell back to the restaurant. Additionally  Mitchell received the “Green Business" award from the Austin Business Journal in recognition for his pioneering efforts.
Nice open, flowing feel inside Adair Kitchen 
As an Economics Professor who adds a unit on Sustainability to Macro and Microeconomics courses, and understanding how critical an issue this is now, this was music to my ears.  It is very heartening to see some of the younger members of my generation taking this on seriously and not half-hearted like some folks did in the 1970s and 1990s, and making an effort to run a good restaurant in this fashion.  Also, as a matter of the Cycle of Life, that location on Sage and San Felipe has been home to 4 previous restaurants.  It also has some personal significance for me:  back in the late-1990's, I was an employee of Wells Fargo in the branch inside the Randall's in that same shopping center.  I always find it amusing when I cross my own timeline in places like this here in Houston--it's amazing to see what stays the same and what changes here as time soldiers on.

Kale & Quinoa Salad w/grilled Shrimp
My dining companion and I decided to listen carefully to the suggestions of our server Ron.  Ron knew the menu well, was very efficient and served us with great gusto.    We took his suggestion and shared a #3 salad--made with shredded kale, quinoa, feta cheese, dried cranberries, almond slices, olive oil and lemon.  We chose to add grilled shrimp for $3.00--it was definitely worth it.  The kale was fresh, crisp, a little crunchy.  The mealy and crunchy texture of the quinoa was a nice contrast, and it mixed well with the twang of the olive oil and the brine of the shrimp.  This salad is actually entree sized, so if you're going solo, it's either your meal or your bringing some home, buddy!

Fish in a bag w/Cilantro rice
For our entrees, I had Apple Chutney Bone-in Pork Chops with whipped sweet potatoes, while my companion had fish in a bag--fish steamed in parchment with mixed veggies, served with cilantro rice on the side.  Fish in a bag, when done correctly comes out flaky and delicate, almost melting in your mouth--this came out correctly and was thoroughly enjoyed by my dining companion--who deigned to give me a couple of bites so I could inform you, dear readers.  The cilantro rice was well paired with the fish, having an herbal yet delicate flavour.

Apple Chutney Bone in Porkchop
I liked the sweetness of the pork and apples, combined with savoury spices and the twang of chutney, the char-grilled marks on the edges and the juicy meaty taste that filled my mouth.  The sweet potatoes work quite well on the side, and I found the dish filling and comforting.  I also was pleased at the good variety of selections of side dishes offering a wide range of vegetables:  whipped sweet potatoes, sauteed spinach, shaved Brussels sprouts, grilled asparagus, sauteed apples, kale,  black beans, roasted cauliflower and broiled Parmesan tomato.  One of the many complaints I hear made is that many restaurants offer too many starches and not enough proper vegetables and fruits.  Kudos to Barnhart, Adair and Mitchell for getting this right and making them available in such a colourful and delicious fashion.

Ron also advised us to try a dessert.  He ran down several choices that included an espresso brownie tart, a chocolate mousse served on top of a raspberry compote that Chef Mitchell had just put together that evening (I very nearly went there) or some fresh made Key Lime Pie.  Considering how heavy I may be eating later in the week, I wanted to go with a dessert that at least tasted a little lighter, so I shared a slice of key lime pie with my dining companion and availed myself of a Decaf Cappuccino.  This Key Lime pie was served nicely plated with some raspberry compote, strawberry slices, fresh blueberries and natural whipped cream.  The garnishes were great as is, but worked very well with the slight tartness of the pie.  This pie was not the fluorescent green colour of some so-called Key Lime pies--real Key Limes are yellowish with just a tint of green, as is real Key Lime pie.  And this was REAL Key  Lime Pie, REALLY DELICIOUS.  I mean look at that picture on the right, readers--are you hungry yet?  Are you?  ;-)

Nick Adair has his
dad's eye-twinkle
With regards to service:  besides Ron taking care of our needs in a timely manner without being overly pandering, Katie Adair Barnhart and Nick Adair were visible throughout the restaurant   They backed up the staff--in fact Nick Adair brought us our entrees.  They were very well engaged with the customers and staff, and were handling things quite well.  I have a good deal of respect for restaurateurs that lead from the front and by example.  After all its THEIR BUSINESS--if its going to succeed, they need to show they care about their clientele--and they are doing that quite well, I might add.  Also of note:  Monday nights are usually slow for restaurants--especially early in a holiday week when a lot of folks are travelling.  Adair Kitchen had a healthy crowd this past Monday night, which indicates they are be doing something right!

On a final note before grading:  I was very pleased that a good deal of reclaimed material went into designing adair kitchen--especially reclaimed metal and wood.  Keeping that stuff out of landfill and usable is better for the environment and costs less.  One of the most important attributes of sustainability as a business concept is that waste is paying for something you did not use and it should be a part of any well run businesses at any level.

Report Card for Adair Kitchen:
Katie Adair Barnhart
--she's married fellas!
     Kale/Quinoa Salad: A-
     Apple Chutney Pork Chop: A
     Fish in a Bag:  A+
     Speed:  A-
     Friendliness: A+  (Ask for Ron--he will take good care of you!)
Atmosphere--Industrial Bistro fused with a Coffee/Wine Bar, Open spaces, flowing, feeling comfortable and relaxed:  A+++
     Dining Area: A
     Kitchen: A (could see right in)
     Men's Room: Incomplete:
Overall Grade: A

As I said before, there have been 4 previous occupants to the space held by Adair Kitchen over on Sage and San Felipe.  Unless Katie and Nick have to relocate in order to expand operations, I don't think they'll be another one taking that space any time soon.

Adair Kitchen is located at:
5161 San Felipe, Suite 390 (at Sage)
Houston, Texas 77056

Monday through Friday: 7 am – 10 pm;
Saturday: 8 am – 10 pm;
Sunday: 8 am – 9 pm

And Remember to Eat Happy, Y'all!!!

Adair Kitchen on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

lukestewart said...

I am glad that there is someone like him that uses food waste for composting. Some restaurant owners just throw it away.

-Mr.Luke S.