I’ve tried to write about Dharma Café before and words fumble around in my head. How can I do the place justice? I’m not sure that I can, but after the most recent experience there with my boyfriend I will say that it is one of my favorite restaurants in Houston.
It was 9:00 on Saturday night and a cool front had slowly been pushing its way through the city. We were experiencing the last bit of relief from the heat before Houston dons a bright red mask with horns and pretends to be Hell for months on end. After a long day full of activities and delicious food we finally made it home to relax for a little while. But our stomachs began to gently remind us that while we had eaten a late lunch, we could not skip dinner. I suggested ordering a pizza, but my boyfriend explained to me with conviction that we could not ruin an amazing food day with something as silly as pizza. Well … pizza would probably be my last meal if I was on death row, so these were fighting words. And yet when he recommended that we walk over to Dharma Café to share a meal and drink some wine I knew he wouldn’t let the day end with anything less than perfection.
We held hands on the walk to Dharma, already drunk on love. The air was thick with humidity, but a cool breeze kept tickling my skin and sending shivers through my body. When we walked into the restaurant I felt out of place for a moment – I was wearing jeans with holes in them, a tattoo-baring tank top and flip flops. Everyone else looked a lot nicer. A lot. I suddenly wished I had cared enough to change clothes, but that became a distant thought once the waiter appeared at our table with glasses of Malbec and Zinfandel. Once he started to talk about the specials I sunk into foodie heaven and all was forgotten. It seemed that each entrée sounded better than the last and when he said “Panko Crusted Sushi Grade Ahi Tuna Flash-Fried and Served Over a Bed of Garlic Mashed Potatoes …” my boyfriend looked at me with wide eyes and I knew a decision had been made.
Complimentary bread was brought to our table, served with a small bowl of fresh tomatoes mixed with cheese and herbs for topping. While we sipped on our wine and ate the bread we looked around the restaurant and tried putting into words the atmosphere that Dharma has managed to pull off. It is special … romantic, yet comfortable. Our waiter seemed to be right on beat with the energy we’d created at our table, never hovering but available when needed.
The house salad that Dharma makes is simplicity at its best. Mixed greens with balsamic vinegar and slices of bright red tomatoes. It was fantastic, but I was ready for the entrée. When it came out they had already split it onto two beautifully garnished plates. I took a moment to admire my food before taking a bite. The tuna was pink all the way through, only cooked on the edges where the crispy panko crust added a nice crunch. The garlic mashed potatoes were the best I’ve ever eaten and I’m pretty sure they should rename them something like “Mashed Garlic with Potatoes”. I really can’t stop thinking about them. There was a wasabi cream sauce that covered the fish and a large shrimp on top – both were delectable. Vegetables cooked until just crisp were on the side and I found myself truly appreciating carrots that were neither raw nor cooked until they resembled mush.
We were so happy with the meal that we ordered dessert. We almost never order dessert, but Dharma has Apple Pie with Homemade Cinnamon Ice Cream. That might be the most nostalgic thing you can offer my boyfriend. It was wonderful and not too sweet. I loved the ice cream and found myself holding back a little so I didn’t eat more than my share.
Go now. Go for dinner, go for lunch, go for brunch (bacon!). Just enjoy everything that Dharma has to offer.