Thursday, August 17, 2006

Lunch at 17

The first nice thing to say about 17, the restaurant at the Alden Hotel downtown, is that they offer both lime and lemon wedges with your iced tea. How hard is that? Obviously, lime tastes better than lemon in iced tea, and people who disagree with that bedrock truth have lost their minds and/or their tastebuds, but why not offer a choice? If nothing else, it's a simple litmus test that will tell the waiter a great deal about their customer's taste and sophistication.

Anyway, the second "nice" thing to say about 17 is that far too few people eat lunch there, and the service and attention is accordingly well-focused on those who do visit 17 for their delicious, seasonal American cuisine. That ain't always the case; oftentimes, for no discernible reason, half-empty restaurants have even worse service than a hopping dining room. The waiters just seem to have given up. At 17, the maitre d' is friendly and quick, the waiters are attentive without overdoing it, and the room is handsomely decorated (if a bit quiet).

More importantly, the food is extremely good: along with Bank, 17 offers the best high-end lunch available downtown. After squeezing lime wedges in their iced tea, discerning diners are given a couple tiny but hot and yeasty rolls and left to peruse the pleasantly short lunch menu. Befitting a summertime menu, there was an outstanding heirloom tomato salad: no muss, no fuss, just five spectacular slices of tomato (red, orange, yellow, and -- best of all -- a green/black slice with a pleasantly acidic bite) dressed minimally with sea salt and a scattering of tiny fresh oregano leaves. Not even any olive oil, a nearly daring touch. Fortunately, the tomatoes are good enough to stand on their own. Go now; eat tomato.

There's a standing "Chef's Noodles" entree, which varies every day and is essentially a pasta special, varying from Asian noodle dishes to Italian pasta. On my most recent visit, the pasta special was pappardelle with tiny shrimp, a basil pesto and fresh tomato chunks. The shrimp were cooked perfectly -- an accomplishment that shockingly few Houston restaurants seem to have figured out -- and went beautifully with the not-overly-assertive pesto sauce. The dish had far too much butter, which is a typical restaurant trick, but the reason so many chefs indulge in the trick is that, well, butter tastes good. And it tasted good here.

My boss bought lunch today (not for me, really, but for the other guests at our table; I was just a free rider) and reported that his gazpacho was also delicious, and it bore a close resemblance to the red, rich tomatoes in my aforementioned salad. 17 clearly has a hook into a pretty good produce supplier, and it's hard to think of a more important relationship for a restaurant to have.

Anyway, get thee to 17 for lunch, preferably on your boss' tab, before (1) the tomato season ends, and/or (2) the lack of customers knocks out the lunch seating at 17.


At 1:53 PM, Anonymous todell said...

Yes! I'm off this very moment to a free lunch at 17! I can't wait to have a taste of that heirloom tomato salad. And then tomorrow, I'm going to have a free lunch at Tony's! And then the day after that, I'm going to have my free lunch at Da Marco! and then two days after that, free lunch at Bank!!

Oh, wait. That's right. If I'm lucky my "free lunch" will be Chinese leftovers, and the baked Cheetos our children don't finish.



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