Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Review: Black Walnut Cafe at Rice Village

The Rundown:
The City: Houston
The Place: The Black Walnut Cafe at Rice Village
The Day: Sunday
The Time: 1:00 - 2:00 P.M.

The Review:
Once again on my blogging adventures, and again on the often times Quixotic adventure of trying to find a good church to attend, I recently found myself being invited by a local church group to The Black Walnut Cafe in the Rice Village area. Rice Village, one of the nicer, charming areas of the city, is home to a number of restaurants, bars and stores. Of course any store catering to the British is immediately an area of town I'll be visiting.

The Black Walnut itself doesn't sit on Rice Boulevard but is instead just a street back, where yet another impressive array of stores, bars and restaurants all sit cozied up to one another. I'm not sure I can level this as a criticism at the restaurant, but the parking situation in Rice is atrocious. Despite all it has to offer, it's difficult to find a place to saddle your car so that you can actually enjoy the area. Then again, this is Houston, and the lawmakers of this city don't seem to actually care whether anyone shops around here.

To get this out of the way, The Black Walnut is, undoubtedly, a pleasant place to gather and sit. Though slightly crowded on this Sunday afternoon, the owners have done a wonderful job of making sure the area is well lit with natural light instead of fuzzy interior lights. Windows empty out on the streets and fill the restaurant with just enough sun. A long stretch of seating lines the back wall while bar stools and tables sit along the main dining area, and tables can be brought together quite easily for larger parties. The Black Walnut has a good problem in this respect. So many people want to eat there, that they struggle slightly to accommodate the numbers given a simple problem of size. The rich wood, so beautiful, and the slightly antique styled chairs provide a quirk and charm to the restaurant that makes it a lovely gathering place on a sunny afternoon.

From the point of entry there's nobody to greet you but the front of store is easily located directly ahead of the entry, with a number of menus just off to the side and some popular dishes and drinks chalked on the boards above the order area.

There are a delicious number of pastries presented up front as well, there to delight the eyes and tempt the tongue. However the first point of confusion emerged at this point, since it becomes confusing to order if you've never been to the Black Walnut. There are two signs that say "Order Here". However, you're actually only supposed to order at the first, while the second is for pick up. This had to be explained as my companion and I struggled to find a place to actually get a lunch requested. Not a massive stumble, but at least a hiccup.

A rather minor one of course, but then, we haven't actually discussed the food. I ordered what it labeled on the menu as the "Thirteen Coins". Oh dear, what could that possibly mean? A quick examination quickly presented it as a sandwhich, almost a club, though with a greater variety of meets and an interesting bread to top it off. To quote, from their online menu, it is a composition of "Cajun Turkey, honey ham, hard salami, provolone, red onions, tomatoes, lettuce, pesto La-chac-la bread, tomato savory dressing, served warm".

That last bit is good for a chuckle in retrospect. Here's what my meal looked like as it was served.

Keep a close eye on that bread. As far as sides go, the fries were well seasoned, though perhaps slightly overly so. When I eat a fry, the aftertaste of the seasoning shouldn't be so strong that I need to take a drink of water to cool my throat. However, better a well seasoned fry than a bland one, and even despite the over-seasoning it wasn't offensively done so. The crime on those fries, though, had nothing to do with the seasoning and everything to do with the taste. Slightly cold, not mushy but not crisp, almost limp. It felt as if they'd been sitting on the plate for a few minutes before the sandwhich was brought to the window for plating. Unfortunate.

Still, not extraordinarily bad, just not as good as I was expecting. Here's the real kicker. Remember that bread? This is what it quickly became:

What a soggy mess. Kudos to the restaurant deciding to use so many different ingredients, but the choice of bread creates a disaster as the diner tries to actually eat the damned thing. At times I wondered if I shouldn't grab a fork and go at it like a salad. The chefs at Black Walnut Cafe need to decide to go with either a different bread for this sandwich, or a different method of presentation is less bulky portions, because this simply won't do. Mind you, La-chac-la is merely their fancy way of saying flatbread. I noticed my neighbors sandwich in normal toasted bread was staying together quite nicely.

So my review of Black Walnut Cafe? Mixed, honestly. I understand they were busy on a Sunday afternoon, and the price at 12 dollars is reasonable, but you're still asking for some basics from your meal. Warm fries. Not oily and limp. And bread that doesn't fall apart because it's too tin and soggy. It's a damned shame considering the appeal of the restaurant, and in the end the food defines what you are as a restaurant. Much like the crowded interior of the cafe, the food is just sort of a confused mess.

The Final Call:
Facilities: 4/5
Staff: 5/5
Service: 4/5
Drinks: N/A
Food: 2/5

Overall: 3/5

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad
Location:Houston, TX

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