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