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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Spring supper on a restaurant patio in southwest Houston

I am, for the most part, a creature of habit.

But my neighborhood and its environs are multi-cultural, and I live on a short residential street tucked in amongst Houstonians of very diverse races, languages, ethnicities, and national origins. I've lived here almost ten years now, and that suits me fine.

Occasionally, on a whim, I will set off, hungry, along one or another of Houston's many commercial streets almost at random. I tend to look for places I've never been before, nor heard or read of, but that seem to have been in business a good while.

Tonight I landed at a restaurant that bills itself as "Mex-Mex," in contrast to "Tex-Mex." I sat outside on the patio to enjoy a breezy afternoon in Houston's too-short Spring. It wasn't yet quite 5:00 p.m. and Friday's not until tomorrow, but nevertheless a frozen margarita was involved. Maybe two.

The waiter gave me a menu, but I handed it back and asked him to bring me whatever the restaurant is most proud of today. It was a pork loin slow-cooked in a rich tomatillo salza verde — bone in, but it melted from the bone at the touch of my fork. It was first-rate.

While waiting for and then eating my meal, I watched a young Hispanic family at the next table — husband and wife, plus two children, the daughter in perhaps the seventh grade and a son in perhaps the fourth or fifth. The entire family was bilingual in Spanish and English (my Spanish is poor but occasionally serviceable if I conceal my embarrassment) and moved without pause between each, with some Spanglish in-between. The two children were adorable and impeccably behaved. The pappa wore bermuda shorts that Ann Althouse might find inappropriate, but it was clear that his most important agenda item for this day was his supper out with his familia, and from the reaction of the wait-staff and restaurant owner and their respectful deference to the pappa, I'm confident they're regular customers.

The waiter brought me the dessert tray. After a bit of banter, I rationalized that I was entitled to dessert because I hadn't eaten much of the rice, I'd had no appetizer (unless one counts a few tortilla chips, which the rules say must not be counted), and I'd had no lunch today (and will have no late meal either). So I ordered coffee and something sweet and yummy that I haven't had before and don't know what to call.

I had almost finished my coffee when the waiter brought the dessert tray to the next table. "I'll have one of each!" declared the young man, very seriously. Because I'd (jokingly!) said exactly the same thing 10 minutes earlier when presented with the same tray, I practically doubled over laughing, as did the over-hearing patrons at the nearest three or four tables. The youngster ended up choosing an ambitious chocolate concoction that was roughly the volume of an adult-league soccer ball, but he shared it with his sister and his parents.

After I'd paid, I paused at that table on my way out. In mixed Spanish and English, I told the dad that he was obviously a very lucky man. "Con su permiso?" I asked before addressing his wife, and he nodded and smiled. "Your children are beautiful, and well-behaved, and so smart!" I said to her. This produced four smiles, two of them encrusted in large chocolate crumbs.

That scene, or one indistinguishable from it in all important regards, could have been seen at hundreds of restaurants tonight all throughout Houston, and all of Texas, and much of the U.S. I don't tell this anecdote to deny, or even minimize, the economic, ethnic, racial, or language hurdles that remain, nor to paint myself or my city as part of an optimal post-modern melting pot in the best of all possible worlds.

But I do love my city, and my state, and my country all the more for evenings like this one, and I'm glad to be reminded, again, that most self-isolation is self-imposed, self-destructive, and capable of self-resolution upon even casual, respectful contact.

I found the good meal I was looking for, but I'll digest it with the good cheer that comes from connecting, even briefly but with sincerity, with neighbors whose names I don't know, but whose dreams I understand and share. America!

Posted by Beldar at 06:57 PM in Food and Drink, Texas | Permalink

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Comments

(1) Old Coot made the following comment | May 19, 2011 8:16:14 PM | Permalink

Well said, sir. America is beautiful, not perfect yet but we're trying to get there.

(2) RJ made the following comment | May 19, 2011 8:28:04 PM | Permalink

For those of us in town, what restaurant? The food sounds awesome.

(3) Paul_In_Houston made the following comment | May 19, 2011 9:56:38 PM | Permalink

One of the earliest posts on my blog was Some rambling thoughts on Houston, in an attempt to explain why I love this city so much.

I hope some of you will be curious enough to take a peek.

Thank you.
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(4) LazyMF made the following comment | May 19, 2011 10:06:20 PM | Permalink

I've had some good meals at Pico's too.

(5) Gregory Koster made the following comment | May 20, 2011 2:00:14 AM | Permalink

Dear Mr. Dyer: Yup. The dessert the rest of us get in reading this splendid post is that all the Lefties will be enraged. How can this charming incident have taken place in that awful country America, that cauldron of raaaaaaacism, with its downtrodden classes etc etc etc.

What a great way to enjoy the spring.

Sincerley yours,
Gregory Koster

(6) Paul_In_Houston made the following comment | May 20, 2011 6:32:16 AM | Permalink

How can this charming incident have taken place in that awful country America

Not only America, but TEXAS, BY GOD!!!.

No way can that fit into their narratives.
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(7) Beldar made the following comment | May 20, 2011 10:57:10 AM | Permalink

RJ (#2), my friend Lazy (#4) guessed right, it was Pico's on Bellaire Blvd.

(8) Beldar made the following comment | May 20, 2011 3:03:10 PM | Permalink

If there was a subtext intended to this post, it's not some complicated message about race or immigration. It's certainly not about politics.

People who want to get along, generally do — sometimes splendidly. People who don't, won't: they'll either find someone else who doesn't want to get along, or they'll confront and pursue someone who wants to get along until that option is eliminated.

My city is vibrantly non-homogeneous, not the sort of melting pot that turns everyone into a bland beige paste, but a spicy cauldron that percolates and sometimes dances — one in which some things are assimilated but others aren't (and needn't be), and one in which wholly new, incredible things are often created. It facilitates many, many opportunities for delight, for splendid getting-along amidst friends and also amidst random strangers who can become friends (if even just for an evening). Most folks here — and certainly everyone on Pico's patio yesterday evening — want to get along, and generally do. For those who grok me, who follow what I'm saying, the one-word explanation for what I'm trying to point out remains:

America!

(With the exclamation point.)

(9) Larry Brown made the following comment | May 21, 2011 1:12:45 PM | Permalink

Wonderful!

(10) Calvin Dodge made the following comment | May 23, 2011 11:13:00 AM | Permalink

We're moving to the Houston area in a few weeks. Is there any chance you'd share the name of the restaurant? I think my wife would love it.

(11) Beldar made the following comment | May 23, 2011 4:43:14 PM | Permalink

Mr. Dodge, it's Pico's Mex-Mex on Bellaire Blvd. near Hillcroft in southwest Houston (outside Loop 610 but well inside Beltway 8). By all means give it a try, but I earnestly commend to you the "drive around and let your whims guide you" routine as well, whatever part of Houston you move to. And welcome!

(12) Walt made the following comment | May 24, 2011 4:24:47 AM | Permalink

The next prez oughta pour a couple margueritas into this Beldar guy and send him to Tel Aviv to mend fences.

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