Monday, July 20, 2009

Shade: I'll Seek Refuge from the Heat Elsewhere

I have to preface this review by confessing that I'm not a big fan of expensive restaurants. In general, I find the atmospheres intimidating and overly bourgeois, the portions excessively small, and the prices unnecessarily high.

However, I insisted that my husband accompany me to Shade because a) the restaurant I wanted to review, Asian Market, was already closed and b) I want to fully experience our neighborhood. I don't want to drive by restaurants and wonder, "What's it like?"

I'm glad I got to experience Shade, but I'm also glad that my curiosity has been satiated and I can move on to better restaurants.

Don't get me wrong. It wasn't a bad experience; it just wasn't worth the money (maybe that's just my Hoosier/Protestant background talking?).

First, I found the physical space underwhelming. It's essentially a big, rectangular room that is only aesthetically pleasing because of the furnishings. I like the way it looks inside; I just prefer my restaurants to have a little character.

The restaurant immediately scored major points when they served us free pre-food. I love this trend (a la Chicago Pizza and Thai Spice). They served a bountiful basket of bread with two options from which to choose. Although the bread was tasty enough, I found the whipped butter to be rather insipid. I would have preferred some olive oil and spices. I also appreciated the relaxed atmosphere, and the friendly wait-staff.

As soon as we glanced at the one-page menu with only 9 entrees to choose from, I immediately felt guilty for having forced my husband to accompany me on our little excursion into the high life. He's vegetarian, and there wasn't a single option for him. Even the two soups of the day (they had run out of the third option) had meat. Fortunately, the server was a very affable and welcoming chap, and he explained that the vegetable platter could in fact be modified to be vegetarian (they have to grill the asparagus rather than fry it).

As a pescetarian, I had a lot more options and was quite excited about the grilled king salmon with "Texas peaches, cucumber salad, arugula, roasted fingerling potatoes, balsamic reduction, olive oil, and toasted almonds."

However, I have to say that I was disappointed with the result. Maybe my expectations were too high. Maybe I shouldn't expect a meal that costs $25 to be divine. The grilled peaches were delectable, but everything else was just hum-drum. The potatoes were dry, the "cucumber salad" consited of approximately five slivers of cucumber, and I could only taste the "balsamic reduction" in three or four bites.

I will say that I stole three bites of fried polenta from my husband's plate, and the crisp exterior and soft interior did a little happy dance in my mouth.

In the end, we paid over $45 for two entrees and two waters. The previous night, we ate twice as much food at a sushi restaurant in Montrose for half the price.

I'll continue to search for restaurants that offer twice as much food (gotta love leftovers!) for half the price.

I'm eager to hear your opinion of Shade. Our fellow diners certainly seemed to like the place, and the restaurant has 46 internet reviews with an average rating of 4.5/5 stars. It seems I'm quite the aberration. Please share your thoughts!


  1. I have not been to Shade in some time so I can't comment about it in particular. But one thing I like about high end dining is that it's a break from ridiculously large Houston portions. I never can finish and it feels really wasteful. When I go back to DC I'm struck by how portions are smaller... but entirely enough for a meal.

    Just a funny thing about houston in general.

  2. I agree that Houston portions are "ridiculously large" (which is one of the reasons we have been known as the Fattest State in the Union at different points). I just make a habit of eating only half and saving the rest for lunch the next day. Voila!

  3. First, it takes guts for a restruranteur to break into the Heights market with a higher price-point resturant. Shade has been increadibly successful despite the challenges they faced with licencing and such. I appreciate that this resturant is making our beloved 19th St. a destination bringing Houstonians from around the city. Kudos to Shade. BTW, I LOVE the food!

  4. I have to comment here and disagree with my blogging partner. I adore Shade- I find the food far above average and the service is always excellent. It's my go-to spot for out of towners or even Houstonians who just don't get to the Heights much. I love that I can have a casual dinner there with my kids in tow or dress up and celebrate a special occasion. I find it relaxing and comfortable. I have never left hungry and never felt ripped off. They have a great wine list with something for everyone, as well.

    As beetleofblue mentioned, I also give major props to Shade for opening the door to high end food in a neighborhood that many said (and some even still say) can't support it. Not only did the blaze a trail that spots like Glasswall and Textile followed, they did it in the **gasp** dry part of the Heights. Anyone in this neighborhood who likes to eat out owes them at least a wee bit of thanks.

    Not every restaurant is every person's cup of tea. That's for sure. I appreciate that Sara does not have the same opinion of Shade that I do. However, I love Shade and am very thankful for what they offer as a restaurant and also what their owners do to support The Heights.

  5. I personally really like Shade and continue to support it as one of my top picks for mid/upper-priced fare in the neighborhood (I also include Benjy's on this list, which isn't really in the neighborhood). This recommendation comes with three caveats:
    1) I much prefer their brunch to their dinner (both in terms of price and taste),
    2) I have had some underwhelming dishes here and so will admit it can be hit or miss - but the ones that stand out keep me coming back. and
    3) as mentioned above, I agree that this is not a vegetarian restaurant.

  6. I was really surprised to see this review, because it is totally opposite of our feelings and impressions about Shade. We love the food, and the space. However, in the last few years, we find ourselves preferring a seat in the bar area - especially if we get there before sunset. It's very pleasant to sit there and look out the window at the setting sun with a nice glass of wine, followed by a wonderful meal. Tonic for the soul.....

  7. Why is everyone giving props to Shade for opening in this market? The Heights can totally support a restaurant like Shade; it's not like they went out on a leap of faith to open up around here. I have to agree I think the food is hit or miss, and brunch/lunch is definitely better than dinner. Shade needs to change up their dinner menu or add more entrees. Overall, it's a solid place, but there are other places I enjoy eating at more.

  8. The Heights can support Shade now, but no one thought this area could support anything back when they opened. I think it *could* but the perception by people outside of The Heights and in the business community was that it wouldn't. There are a lot of people who still thought that way when Glasswall was about to open. I, for one, am glad that the naysayers have been proven wrong.