December 29th, 2009
Raven Grill – Identity Crisis, Quoth the Raven
In 5 Words: Enchiladas, Open, Warm, Predictability, Hodge-Podge
When your Saturdays and Sundays become busier than the days you’re actually at work, you know you’re doing something right. Such is the case today as I travel from Washington Avenue to the Museum District and then head over to Rice Village. Each stop brings something completely different: Football and beer, Startups and beer, and finally, a trip to Raven Grill to meet up with some of Aaron’s family, which involves less drinking than my first two stops. Not that I’m drunk at this point, but there’s definitely a lethargy involved with imbibing at various hours of the day leading up to sunset.
We’re already at the Caroline Collective – predictably on Caroline Street – when Aaron invites me to dinner with his extended family. Truthfully, I’m tempted to forgo the pomp and circumstance of a family dinner and just grab some fast food on my way back home. The anti-social nature of such a Saturday night is not lost on me. As one of my favorite songs says, “if you’re not lonely when you’re alone, then there’s something wrong.” Instead, I decide to smother that urge and agree to tag along.
I follow Aaron down Caroline to Binz, taking a right on the street that will eventually change names to Bissonett; the home of Raven Grill. It’s much darker and colder tonight than I anticipated. I should have remembered to carry a winter coat with me. Living in Houston makes you forget about layering up and its importance to your overall health.
We pull into the small, L-shaped parking lot of Raven Grill. There are many more spots than I had expected. Glancing at my watch, I realize it’s 9:30PM. I guess the optimal dining hour has passed. Most people have already eaten and moved on to their evening activities. Tonight, there’s a 38% chance that those plans include hot cocoa with marshmallows and sitting around the fireplace.
The connecting tables now able to seat ten are just to the right of the entrance as we walk in. Aaron’s wife and her aunt, uncle and two cousins are already seated. We are late. Luckily, we can’t lay claim to being the latest. We are still waiting on another cousin and his friend before we begin ordering. I turn down a glass of wine, opting instead, for the more hydrating effects of the water sitting before me.
The menu is a hodge-podge of different items and I can’t really tell if there is a central theme to the culinary stylings. Everything from Fried Calamari to Sweet Potato and Spinach Enchiladas has found its way onto the menu. Each item seems distinct and unconnected to the next. For instance, the Margherita Grilled Cheese comes directly after Blue Corn Fried Catfish Sandwich in the “Sandwiches and Burgers” category. In my odd universe this is comforting. It’s like I’ve just pulled up to an upscale version of McDonald’s with a world of food in front of me.
The final two stragglers of our party sit down and the rush is on to get our order in before they kick us out. Why is it that you can look at a menu for nearly thirty minutes and never make a decision? The order is always a pressure-packed fifteen-second spontaneous revelation. On this particular night, I blurt out “Seafood Enchiladas” when the waitress is hovering over me, waiting, with her pen poised. Perhaps the moment wasn’t as serious as “life flashing before my eyes” but certainly my dinner choices zipped before my eyes.
With closing time nearing at the Raven Grill, the restaurant has been relatively quiet, but with our ten orders ringing through, the kitchen furiously clangs to life as the cooks try to push out our food so that they may finish for the night. One of the beauties of an open kitchen in a mostly empty restaurant is being able to know that your food is coming before the waitress does. As the trays of food are brought over to our table, the plates are carefully dispersed among the group by our waitress, who is trying to get everyone eating so that she might make it home at a reasonable hour.
Conversation dies as each one of us dives into our food. Hungry stomachs override the need to continue conversations. My seafood enchiladas are predictable (just an enchilada with the shrimp treasure hidden in melted cheese) and served with rice and beans. Aaron, next to me, cuts into his steak, an option that I hadn’t considered, but now wish I had. It’s thick and juicy and has the distinct smell that only a cut of meat cooked on a wood grill can achieve.
The food vanishes quickly, and the checks are asked to be split as the last of the silverware finds its resting place on empty dishes. I’ve escaped Raven Grill with a bountiful meal in my stomach for less than $20, which pleases me. What pleases even more is that the group has decided to take the party to Anvil. We’re a more predictable bunch than the enchiladas ever could be.
Where – 1916 Bissonet, Houston, TX 77098 (View Map)
What – Enchiladas to Ribeyes to Sanwiches
Wear – Class It Up a Little Bit, Nothing Over the Top
How Much – You Can Go Expensive or Not, Your Choice
When – Mon 5PM – 10PM; Tues-Thurs: 11AM – 10PM; Fri-Sat: 11AM – 11PM; Sun: 11AM – 9PM
Web – Website