In her review this week, Houston Chronicle critic Alison Cook awards four stars to chef Chris Shepherd's Underbelly, the restaurant with the goal of telling "the story of Houston food." Shepherd and his team achieve this ambitious goal by blending the wide variety of ethnic cuisines that chefs enjoy when they dine out. While Underbelly should be lauded for earning four stars, the outcome should not surprise anyone. According to the transitive property of restaurant criticism, if Uchi, which came in at seven on Cook's top 100, earned four stars, then Underbelly, which ranked at six, should also be worthy of four stars. Still, along with Tony's last year and Oxheart in June, it's the first time Houston has had four restaurants Cook considered worthy of four stars. Truly, it's a special time to be a Houston restaurant patron.
Here are five great quotes from Cook's review. On the menu: "Seven months into this daring young establishment's life, I still approach each visit with curiosity, wondering what surprises the day's menu will bring." On the chef: "But Shepherd, after stints at Brennan's and his well-regarded Catalan, is now at the helm of a restaurant where, for the first time, he is truly free to do and risk what he wants." On the food: "Nobody should go to Underbelly expecting a conventional fine-dining experience ... It takes a meal or two to get the hang of the portioning, but the rewards can be great." On the atmosphere: "In the end, a meal at Underbelly is ... about the whole experience in this casual yet theatrical room."
Sum it up: "Shepherd ... (is) creating an essential Houston restaurant, one that expresses who we are as a city at this moment in time."
Meanwhile, Houston Press critic Katharine Shilcutt may not call newcomer Njoy Thai an essential Houston restaurant, but it does serve good food at reasonable prices. "And that's what Njoy is, in the end: pleasantly above average. It doesn't try to be the most authentic Thai food in the city (that's best left to Vieng Thai) or disintegrate your tastebuds with spice, but it certainly does try to elevate your standard dishes of pad thai or massamun curry into something more elegant, more cultivated and simply more pleasant overall."
THE BLOGS: Urban Swank awards four out of five black napkins to Galleria-area Indian restaurant Kiran's, calling it both "epic" and "comfortable." Catherine Martin arbitrarily gives Jenni's Noodle House +39 but worries that liking the restaurant makes her a hipster.
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