Heat, Houston and crazy cars


The main land consisted of a long road with pylons either side. The sea and grassland stretched for miles, with the grass so green and round in the formations it had grown in that it looked like something from telly tubby land. Passing through the small towns which had constructed forks of land into the ocean, so they had their own personal jetty, a bit like streets of houses, but instead of roads between the opposing rows of houses there was a canal.  These water streets formed the town of Bayou Villaz, which if you lived there would certainly be buying into a way of life, and not just bricks and water.

This is where the dream ride ended, as the next 20 miles were spent starting and stopping in a long series of traffic lights with vehicles either side. I am definitely a fair traffic rider and hate having to stop for lights, partly as the bike is so heavy it takes it out of you. Exhausted after a long drive I arrived at Motel 6, Houston happy to see my room was in order and one of their newly redesigned versions. This means that the old 80’sdecor has gone out the window and in its place you have a Scandinavian like sparse design with chairs the same as the ones I have in the restaurant and the biggest bed I have ever seen. Sleep certainly wasn’t going to be a problem tonight.

The morning brought more sunshine and heat with it which I hid from in a cafĂ© doing a whole range of Texas breakfasts. I plumped for the eggs with grits and a side of blueberry pancakes. As I had never had grits before I wasn’t really expecting much, but was pleasantly surprised by the bowl of what was basically gritty porridge. The blueberry pancakes were ok and the glass of orange juice just delicious. I was off to a good start.
 I had been told about a great place in the centre of Houston which was built as part of a new garden complex in the city.  The Grove is the brainchild of executive chef Ryan Pera, set in the middle of Discovery Green, a collection of gardens with lawn and oak trees and interactive water fountains. A charming place to spend hiding from the midday Houston sun. It really was starting to hot up, with humidity hitting the 90% mark. The Grove is different from anywhere I had yet eaten on my trip. It was fine dining but also has a stab at sustainability by growing fresh herbs on the rooftop which are used daily in the restaurant dishes. Ryan Pera is of Italian descent but born and raised in USA so wanted to create a culturally integrated menu. I decided a tasting menu was the way forwards, as that way I wouldn’t have to choose between dishes.

Brought out before me was plate after plate of wonderfully presented food, which smelled great. I started with a charcuterie board of locally made salami, chorizo and ham. It came with devilled eggs which were made from ‘yard eggs’. I eventually figured out that ‘yard eggs’ are what we call free range. This seems to be a relatively new concept in these parts and indeed when I walk around supermarkets there is only really a choice between white or brown eggs. Maybe there’s a vacancy over here for a celebrity chef to come save the chickens?!

The next course was cerviche with plantain crisps, a tricolore salad made with fresh oregano rather than basil and a salad of pink grapefruit, roasted pecans, feta cheese and leaves. This was promptly followed by pork buns, a take on the Chinese dish I think, soft shell crab served in mini fajitas and salsa and cold smoked quail with apple sauce dip.  Following that (and yes, I did take a deep breath as there was so much food) skirt steak with chips and a salsa verde with melted cheese and the other dish was hand made ravioli with fresh vegetable sauce. At this point I thought I could fit no more in, but found the desserts so appealing that I tasted a bit of each of the bread pudding,  cheesecake, chocolate tart with marmalade orange and peanut pudding. I may have got a bit blurry with my descriptions of things by this stage as was just so full.

For me the best parts of the meal were the ceviche, sweeter than the one I serve, but delicious with lots of different flavours. The salami on the charcuterie board was a winner, as were the pork buns which were sweet and yummy and the soft shell crab. The crab was my favourite dish by far, no surprises there though seeing as I love cooking crab myself. The beef dish was really good, although possibly a little bit simple, but the chef said as much himself, explaining it was an early dish on the menu but if he took it off some of his customers would object violently. I know how he feels as I have dishes like that on my menu. The ravioli deserves a mention as well, as it was adequately made, but the sauce accompanying it was fantastic as the vegetables were cooked so well they made the dish.
All in all a great meal, in a stunning setting. A brief tour of the kitchens made me envious of the amount of space they have, as well as the number of staff, but I reminded myself that The Grove is a completely different beast to The Wild Garlic. I am happy in my little kitchen in Dorset, would rather be nowhere else, as much as I enjoy seeing what other people are doing with food.

A quick walk around the park was entertaining as there were dozens of cars which had been made up as pieces of art for a festival and competition taking place the next day - a bit thing in Houston. The best one for me was The Sashimi Tabernacle Choir, a load of singing fish stuck onto a car that rise up and perform different hits, with the fish as chorus and the lobsters on the top standing up for the main verses. Very amusing. But really they were all brilliant and I couldn’t stop taking pictures, so there are quite a few on the blog. I couldn’t help myself!

The end of a great day in Houston for me, and I set to the roads in the afternoon, hoping to get to the coast. Unfortunately, everyone else in Houston was also leaving at the same time as me and add to that a four lane going down to a one I was stuck in the hottest day so far on the Harley hardly moving in traffic. It got so hot that my boots melted and I was trying to follow in the shadow of trucks to help cool the engine down. This didn’t work though and I was afraid the whole bike was going to blow (yes an exaggeration, but trust me, you would have though the same if you’d been there), so pulled into a gas station for a rest and refuelling of my fluids.

After a long drive which did eventually get cooler I made my way towards Mateador country. This was just a finger on map job, and I didn’t have a clue what I would find when I got there. Certainly it wasn’t very touristy and when I did reach the coast came out onto a peninsular with a river on one side and water and land on the other. It was a bit of a mish mash of land and I admit to not paying too much attention as was scanning for a place to sleep. This was a night that I had decided to go off the beaten track where no Motel 6 could be found. Stopping by two fishermen who were packing up I asked if they knew of somewhere I could go. Not many suggestions later they were sucking their cheeks in and trying to hurry me up as they were in a hurry to go. They revealed that they had to get back and in their houses right this minute as the mozzies were about to come out - I was in the middle of a swamp! Oh dear, not only did I not have anywhere to stay at that point, but also no mosquito spray.

A quick U-turn took me back to the first shop I came across to buy some deet. No sooner had I put it on and come out the shop the place had turned into mozzie central. I could hardly see in front of me for the critters and became very aware that being in the middle of a swamp with no-where to stay wasn’t the best plan I had made so far. But not to worry, I sorted myself out and found a room … a bit smelly and damp but OK for the night.

2 comments:

  1. Great tale so far Matt, Enjoying reading it!

    Spent 3 months in New England a few years back, But would love to do your trip!

    Keep it up!

    Colin

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  2. That restaurant sounds fantastic!
    "How do you know a friendly biker?" - "By the mosquitos between his teeth".
    Eek. Hope you get out of bog country soon.
    Keep up the blogging, US road trips are an excellent read.

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