Saturday, May 15, 2010

Iced Tea Report: Danton's

Danton's sits at the southeast corner of Montrose and the Southwest Freeway in the same commercial development as Main Street Theater's Montrose location. When I visited May 14, parking was tight because so many school busses full of schoolkids, dressed by color so adults could sort them back into the right busses, had descended on the place to attend an event at Main Street Theater.

First, a word about Main Street Theater: See the shows. The ticket is much cheaper than at The Alley, and you won't be "treated" to some unheard-of new Mamet production whose main child lead sounds like he's reading the ingredients from a cereal box. (This is not to trash The Alley; its production of Proof was absolutely outstanding in a way the movie – which lacks the intermission cliffhanger – was at pains to achieve. But for The Alley's price, I expect consistency. I am now quite careful only to attend what is proven in advance to be worth seeing. At Main Street Theater, you can show up and see anything you please, without fear.) I took L to Main Street Theatre's production of Oscar Wilde's wildly entertaining The Importance of Being Earnest (best bought in a collection for many more hours of enjoyment; also now both a movie and an older movie), and there is only one way to put it: they nailed it. Main Street Theater has also done outstanding work with titles you've never heard of, such as the based-on-the-true-story play The Trust (now apparently a movie) which explains – to the widening eyes of locals who had no idea the story was so fraught with intrigue – how Rice University came to be funded.

But I was meeting a client for lunch at Dalton's: to time to stop for a show. Dalton's enjoys the same comfortable booths that have characterized the place since it was a steak joint run by an opera singer back before the Montrose bridge project cut off access to the property and, over a period of grueling months, suffocated the business in an ignominious death. Like many Houston restaurant locations, it's been the scene of a production whose tradition is much older than any ever cast at The Alley or Main Street: the survival of the fittest. Dalton's succeeds a string of fore-bearers in occupancy of the northwest corner of the southeast block of the intersection.

And the Jaded Consumer is here to tell you about the iced tea service at Danton's. As seen in the picture, Danton's serves a tall glass cylinder of tea as full of ice as drink, complete with lemon and ready for sweetening with a tea spoon and collection of sweeteners. The lemon is served on the edge of the glass so that one may – without need to fish in one's drink for the fruit slice – choose to ignore, remove, or squeeze the lemon into the tea. When the tea arrives, the sugar is already there – and present in sufficient quantities to service two refills before the need arises to request more. The refills come swiftly, and the skilled staff cares enough to honor your request not to overstuff the glass with ice as the tea is poured, so your second glass can be stirred without further intervention. That first glass, though, can't be stirred at all until you dish some ice into the water glass. Fear not, though: you have a spoon and the water is right there. All is well. Besides, you get to giggle while you do it. All is good.

Not present in the photograph was the switfness of the waitstaff. No sooner than I sat was I given water and asked for my choice of drink. Before it arrived, my waitress had introduced herself as Rebecca and also inquired after my drink preference. When the bus-boy showed with the tea, I thought it only sporting to suggest he let Rebecca know the tea had been covered already. (He never told me his name.)

The downside? The tea seems a bit overbrewed, requiring an extra sugar or two to kill the bitterness. This accomplished, it's juuust fine. Drank several of them with relish and was sad to leave the empty glass behind as I took off to my next appointment. I mean, if someone would follow the glass, refilling it and the sugar service, I would feel like a king all day.

A Lemon
A Tea Spoon
B- Ice (rescued from D by presence of an ice water into which to ferry extra ice by using the spoon, which was conveniently there as soon as the ice arrived; the water preceded the tea; disaster easily averted)
A Sugar
A Refills
Conclusion: the whole is better than the sum of the parts. Getting all this right is exactly what we need for an outstanding tea experience. Dalton's has serving tea figured out, and gets full marks.

Now for the main course. The restaurant seemed to be of the $$$ variety (menu can be downloaded here), with most entrées in the $20+ range and a wine list preceding all food for the first pages of the menu handed out at lunch. However, I was there to discuss documents with a potential client and needed something that would not occupy me too thoroughly. In the sandwiches section was something the restaurant called Debris, which turned out to be stewed beef on an open-faced French loaf. I ordered it with a side of grilled vegetables. The carrots in particular were excellent, but the flavor of the veggies was uniformly fine. Seasoning was mild and enjoyable. Debris was outstanding. I ate it with a knife and fork rather than fold it into a po-boy, because I was intermittently handling documents, and it was excellent. The larger parts of the beef were happily forkable and didn't require recourse to a knife; the only reason I needed a knife at all was to slice through the French loaf underneath and to get mouth-sized bites. Debris was $9.95, including one side. Outstanding.

Blues – from things I didn't recognize to near-pop titles from Creedence Clearwater – played in the background and was enjoyable while allowing conversation. Noise level was excellent, booth seat comfort was excellent, table size was ample, and service was swift and attentive. Nobody pressured me off the table when the food was gone, I was refilled until I left, the place was pleasant on the eyes. What more could you ask?

There is a weekend live-music event nearly every Sunday, with 1.5 hour sittings that include bayou blues from ancient fonts of blues who still know how to lay it down. At $30 for adults and free under 12 years, I'll need to see if the kiddos like blues music. Could be educational :-) Since the opera singer no longer runs a steak joint, the music has changed; but the quality of the experience remains high at the corner of Montrose and the Southwest Freeway.

Danton's Gulf Coast Seafood gets a very solid A on mere average. However, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and Danton's is an A+ on overall. Go eat there: I'm told by a local – living two blocks away – that everything else is good, too.

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