Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Hubbell & Hudson Bistro - No Compromise Dining in the Woodlands

One of the ongoing battles I hear in the food community is whether one has to stay ITL (Inside The Loop, aka Loop 610 around central Houston) in order to enjoy great food.  Historically, that's where Houston's elite lived, and and it's where Houston's best restaurants were located.

(A quibble: At the time, Tony's was located OTL (Outside The Loop) near the Galleria, and Houstonians gladly braved the dragons of South Post Oak to dine there, but that's a fact that's conveniently overlooked.)

Now that the Houston metropolitan area extends from Sugar Land to the Woodlands, the concept of staying ITL seems rather quaint.  The Woodlands in particular is becoming a dining destinations, with restaurants as varied as Capri Pasta, Corkscrew BBQ and Crust Pizza calling the Woodlands home.  These casual spots compare favorably to any place in their respective categories, and all have garnered a loyal following.

But what about a high end, chef driven restaurant, scouring the earth for amazing ingredients, and putting together unique creations?  Surely places like this are only found ITL.

Challenging this conventional wisdom is Hubbell & Hudson Bistro, the upscale-yet-comfortable restaurant attached to Hubbell & Hudson Market, located at the Woodlands Waterway.  Hubbell & Hudson has become the Woodlands epicenter for all things food, with a superb high-end market, a Viking cooking school, a well regarded catering operation, and the Bistro.

Several months back the Bistro elevated Austin Simmons to the position of executive chef, and this talented man has been gradually putting his mark on the menu.  Simmons first gained notoriety in the Woodlands as sous chef at Tesar's Modern, being elevated to co-executive chef (with Jeromy Robison) at Tesar's when John Tesar parted ways with his eponymous establishment.  When Tesar's imploded, Chef Robison ended up at La Colombe D'or in Houston, and later at Uchi in Austin.  Fortunately for the Woodlands, Hubbell & Hudsons scooped up Chef Simmons and soon promoted him to Executive Chef.

We've been fans of Chef Simmons's cooking ever since we sampled his creations at Tesar's, and have enjoyed the work he has been doing at Hubbell.  For those who've never visited, Hubbell & Hudson Market scours the world for unique ingredients to offer to gourmets, and Chef Austin has leveraged this purchasing expertise to secure ingredients for his kitchen.  He recently invited us to sample several of his creations for the new fall menu.

First up is the Crab Fritter, a unique spin on the crab cake.  A healthy portion of lump crabmeat is accented with marinated tomatoes, mushrooms and asparagus, and it's finished with a jaunty ginger vinaigrette.  Absent is the filler that often overwhelms pedestrian crabcakes, and the result was terrific -

Crab Fritter at Hubbell & Hudson Bistro
Chef Simmons then presented his ricotta ravioli.  Created entirely in-house (housemade pastas are a new focus at Hubbell & Hudson, and one we applaud) the al dente pasta is pillowed with slightly sweet ricotta, and sauced with an intriguing soy-orange reduction, fennel pollen tomato compote, and topped with crispy prosciutto di parma.  This past fused Italian and Asian influences expertly, and really showcased Chef Simmons's deft touch.

Ricotta Ravioli at Hubbell & Hudson Bistro
Next up is a fascinating dish, Chili Rubbed Pork Tenderloin.  A generous slab of fork-tender pork tenderloin is rubbed with a mild chili seasoning, and served over hand-rolled cous cous and tangy peach chutney.  Drizzled on the pork was a complex Moroccan jus - I detected hints of nutmeg, cumin, cinnamon, and several other flavors that I couldn't isolate, but greatly enjoyed.

Chili-rubbed Pork Tenderloin at Hubbell & Hudson Bistro
I received an eye-opening surprise when I bit into the fried vegetable served with the tenderloin.  The sharp, fresh flavor of pickled okra burst forth from the crispy breading, an unexpected flavor that paired masterfully with the earthy pork.  This is an incredibly successful dish, and one that I hope remains on the menu for a long time.

I didn't really have room for dessert at this point, but I've learned never to refuse the suggestions of a chef as talented as Austin Simmons.  The waiter whisked out a unique pie - an apple / almond crumble. French vanilla gelato topped a slice of heaven - a dense pastry crust with rustic apple filling, a cinnamon crumble upper layer, and a hint of rum-spiked almond cream.

Apple Almond Crumble at Hubbell & Hudson Bistro
Chef Simmons's new creations are demonstrating a mastery of complexity and a sense of focus and pairing that we've rarely seen.  I believe that he is one of the upper echelon of chefs working in Texas today, and I look forward to sampling future examples of his superlative work.

Hubbell & Hudson Bistro | 24 Waterway Ave | The Woodlands 77380 | 281-203-5641
HubbellAndHudson.com

Hubbell & Hudson Market & Bistro on Urbanspoon

13 comments:

  1. Oh, how I lover that soy-orange reduction. Lovely review - I look forward to trying out the rest of the new menu items!

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  2. By the way, have you tried Patios Tapas & Bar yet? We were pleasantly surprised. I'm hoping you'll review it some time soon.

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  3. I do come by on occasion and read this blog. Normally there is a general agreement between things posted here and my own thoughts. However after reading this post I wonder if we are dining at the same place? Is there any due diligence done about the establishment or just eating what is presented?
    While the food at H&H Bistro is good I would certainly not put it into the category of fine dining the likes of Tony’s, Mark’s, Hugo’s etc. It seems they try to push the fine dining by the ambiance of the dining room but the food is not at this elevated level.
    I will say I was glad to see a menu update for the Bistro. They have had the same sad menu with only microscopic changes for a long time. I do wonder if Cary Attar had held the executive chef’s back from doing anything new. In fact I wonder if this is what happened to Edel Goncalves. After his exit it seems the Bistro elevated Simmons because he was there, capable and certainly cost effective given his age. Once Attar left it seems Simmons was finally allowed to do something new, which is good.
    I would love a definition of what Austin Simmons (aka “A Train Express” in the old days) means when he says his approach is “Modern, but Global”. It sounds more like buzz words to try and attract those easy swayed by such comments.
    My main issue with the Bistro is their practices. Most of the menu is par cooked and thus in my opinion not real fresh made to order food. They do this for the obvious reason of saving money and time. They can prep the menu thru the day and then run a skeleton crew thru the evening and still be able to pump all the food out. To me this is not a passion about food, but…it’s a passion about the bottom line.
    They do not prep sauces and accoutrements daily but instead as needed so they are not optimum freshness. They do make pasta in house and I enjoy the Market’s fresh pasta. However they do NOT making it daily. It is a good idea to ask when it was made. You can certainly tell a difference between pasta made the same day and say three day old pasta (although three day old pasta is still better than a box). On the Market side the “fresh pasta” will often sit out for days and they will not make more until it is sold or spoiled.
    You would believe a place like the Bistro attached to a high end market would use only top notch ingredients. NOPE! With some investigation you will find the Bisto has access to just about anything they could want at a high quality level. Instead in many instances they pass on the items in the market and use mid-grade items from Sysco/McLane Food type of providers. Why in the world would they do such a thing? My only take goes back to the bottom line. Again an example, to me, of not having a true passion for quality fresh made food.
    The dessert in your photo looks quite good, but yet another failure in my opinion at the Bistro. The kitchen will often microwave desserts as their method of preparation. Yes this definitely screams fresh and inviting……
    All of this can be observed and learned by standing in the market and watching the kitchen work, and by asking the hard questions. The Bistro kitchen also makes all the food for the Chef’s case in the Market as well as the H&H Kitchen. Next time you are in the market at the Chef’s case start asking how long the items have been in the case. You think…MADE DAILY…right? I would not call items being put out day after day for a week fresh made. Who is in charge of this, well it is the “Chef’s Case”. Another example of a lack of passion for fresh well-made food.
    I will go back to what was stated said prior; the Bistro makes a decent meal as long as you understand how it is being prepared. But for the methods which go into it their menu is overpriced.

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  4. My main object here is not so much to rebuttal the inconsistencies of the commentary you wrote versus realties of the kitchen, its chef and his drive and passion, as much as it is to ask the commenter why they are incognito? You must run such a fantastic 5 star/ 15 year old establishment that is flying in produce and protein daily with a staff of hundreds. You must have the most successful, busiest, midtown location to attract all those diners to do so. You don’t even have to give a care to cost effectiveness, you do not run a menu with culinary costing practices, you sir[or madam] are in the extreme chef category you slice and dice per order to hundreds of guests daily… I would like an application for employment! I would sell your catering like you have never seen!

    While it is true I do work at Hubbell and Hudson, it is also true I do not mind identifying myself.

    You have inside information to the industry and our establishment which has its correct notes, examples are: proper uses of the words accoutrements and skeleton crew in context and facts like Cary Attar is the founder and past CEO, or the correct spelling of Edel Goncalves’ last name. But then you utilize incorrect information with sole intent to insult the chef. And for that I am posting in reply to you. With all due respect to the suppliers you listed, neither is a vendor of ours. Your commentary on market issues shows you worked here, but have a very immature approach to business success.

    I am not going to flame on and on because Albert’s blog is not here for that. But seriously, you accreditations are respectfully requested here.
    …oh, and application for employment. Because I will happily eat my words and your food anyday.

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  5. Thanks for the comments, Todd. Anon's comments seemed to have more than a little bit of the aroma of sour grapes.

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  6. In addition to Todd's rebuttal, I'd like to correct a false statement made in the Anonymous comment above:

    We do not use microwaves in the preparation of our desserts. Ever. We use microwaves as a tool during plating. Huge difference. Microwaving a small cake for 8 seconds to help release it from the baking vessel is acceptable in plating by even the highest restaurant standards. Since we can't have blazing hot ovens and fired-up stovetops on a cold line, microwaves are a practical and common tool on a pastry station.

    I'd also like to reiterate the fact that we do not use Sysco or McLane as vendors. This is a complete lie.

    Furthermore, I fail to see why the chef's nickname has any relevance in this review. The simple mention of it reveals your personal bitterness.

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  7. While I do not presume to present myself as any kind of serious critic of food, I can tell you this... The food, the service, the atmosphere were far and above anything I would have expected from a restaurant here in Houston. If I had closed my eyes, as I'd eaten every morsel from start to finish, I would have sworn I was back in Paris. I know what tastes good, and what tastes excellent. Excellence abounded.

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  8. Hmmm, the 5 star chef has yet to reveal himself...coward! Like Todd I am a daily witness to Chef Austin's attention to product quality and high level operational management, the likes of no 25 year old I have encountered. Chef Austin's recently recognized success, a product of his dedication to the daily production grind of a multi million dollar operation in addition to a fine dining gem, is beyond questioning. His passion, undeniable natural talent and now proven success will only continue to catapult Chef Austin to stardom.

    That being said, I have recently dined at numerous Houston establishments with acclaimed Houston Chefs' names on the menus, only to exit surprisingly disappointed. Houston Chefs have become complacent and stale and should pray that Chef Austin remains in the Woods. Look out food world...there's a storm brewin' in The Woodlands!

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  9. the coffee at this bistro is amazing and i LOVE the little cookies on the side!

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  10. To Todd: I appreciate your spirited response to my post. I noted you work there and even mention catering. A phone call and you are the catering manager. Congratulations on a fine position. I will take a few moments to address all of your concerns. You are correct that I do run a fantastic business and you would be privileged to work for me. I post anonymously because I frequent the store and choose not to be treated any differently for my opinions. It is obvious by your post you took personal exception to my comments, which is fine, but I will not put myself in a position to be treated differently. Of course now we have a second anonymous poster who also apparently likes to hide. My guess would be for the same reason and I have no problem with that.
    Let me explain why you are incorrect in all of your assumptions. First and foremost by stating I must have inside information means you discount all of your customers and feel they be must be stupid and unobservant. I will give you credit in the fact many people are. However not everything is as you claim. One of the most interesting things is you do not deny but one item in anything I typed above. Instead the rest is ridicule. You comment about how I am trying to put Chef Austin down. Well actually you will note I stated it was nice to see menu changes and new things at the Bistro. You will also note I like the fresh pasta (yes it was stated with an asterisk).
    For the record I do not work at H&H nor have I ever. I did not know being an informed person who enjoys food and knows how to use verbiage such as accoutrement makes me an insider. I would venture to guess the writer of this blog knows this word? From reading his blog I do not believe he has ever said he is part of the food service industry. So Mr. Nurick do you know what an accoutrement is?
    I was in the store one day and it was very abuzz. I heard conversations between employees about things changing in the store. Thus I start watching and listening even closer. I start looking for news and watching the websites. The following week Cary Attar is no longer listed on the Black Forest Ventures website. (Yes I know who BFV is and their ownership). Next time in the store I asked an employee if in fact Mr. Attar was gone and the answer was yes. I find this an appropriate answer if it was truthful, unless you expect your fellow employees to lie?

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  11. Cont'd

    As for Chef Edel, well I recently found a fantastic tool. It is called Google and you can use it not only to research information but also confirm spellings of people’s names.
    For the one item you choose to say was incorrect…..I was in the market one day and while at the meat/cheese counter I overheard one employee tasting something and turned to another employee and said “this is so much better than the Sysco one we use in the kitchen”. Going back to my comment about employees lying, why would I have any reason to believe this is wrong unless one employee is lying to another?
    I commented on pasta not being made daily. I can read the dates on the package and see the fresh made pasta is 3,4,5 days old. I consider this being observant and reading a label. As for the Chef’s case many, many moons ago I was standing there looking at the food and I heard another female customer ask the employee behind the counter how old the food was she was considering purchasing. When told it was five days old she passed. Since then I have always asked. Beyond that I would challenge you to physical view the food in the case. Much of it is obviously not fresh and anyone can see that by looking at it.
    Yes I used the term skeleton crew. The last I checked this was not an exclusive term. If a contractor is very short handed they call it a skeleton crew. It applies to mates running a ship, it applies to so many things there is no way it could be considered “insider knowledge”. To further this point I would point out the fact the entire kitchen area is open to the market. When you are in the market on a Friday evening and watch only three people in the kitchen, and then can walk around to the other side and see how busy (or not) the bistro is; I believe you can determine for yourself it is a skeleton crew working.
    Simply because I have taken business classes and understand how material costs, labor, and overhead work does not make me an insider. Plus everyone watches Restaurant Impossible, right? Anyone who watches it should know the rules of 1/3, and how to run a restaurant. Being knowledgeable about how to operate a successful business does not make anyone an insider. I do not expect any establishment to ignore food costs. This does have a factor in how any place runs, but there is still a balance to be drawn between using fresh ingredients, costs, and the utilization of old product in order to cut corners.
    I am confident many of the items which reduce the quality of food being served happen in many restaurants including some fine dining establishments. The difference is in the Bistro the kitchen is open for anyone with a set of eyes and the desire to be observant to view at their leisure. As to the other posters comment about NEVER using a microwave. One time I was standing where the olive bar is now and I specifically watched this happen.
    Emily commented on Chef Austin’s success. When was the last time the Bistro won an award? I don’t know if it is all of them, but some hang in the bathroom hallway. The last one I have seen was from the days of Chef Edel in 2010. If there is one in 2011 I will stand corrected but it has not been displayed or celebrated I have seen.
    All the posters have jumped me but other than the Sysco issue I do not see where anyone has defended any of the practices of the kitchen and whether this makes the food high quality or not?

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  12. Even a devout ITL-er like myself can't help but be piqued by photographs like those...

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  13. Now that's a bistro worth going to for lunch. Looks like the service is commendable too.

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