For the last several months, Heidi has wanted to take me to Houston’s restaurant here in Dallas. For years, Heidi worked for Houston’s by going to their various locations, ordering food, eating it, and then sending a review of the service and food back to the corporate office. The company actually paid her to do this. Because of her experience, she has always been fond of the restaurant and wanted to share with me that fondness even though the restaurant is rather expensive. So on Saturday, we decided to go to Hillstone restaurant, which is owned by the same company that owns Houston’s and has the same food.
Her solution to the expense was to feed me dinner and then go later on for an appetite and dessert. It sounded like a fun night, so off we went to Dallas to the Hillstone on Preston and Northwest Parkway. For those in the know, that is on the edge of Highland Park, the truly well-to-do part of Dallas. So we were definitely out of our league, in a financial sense.
As we entered, we were excited about the experience of eating in such a fine establishment, knowing that since it was Saturday night, we would have to wait for a table unless we ate in the bar. We chose the bar. However, we asked if we could sit on the patio outside and they told us that they were only serving drinks and appetizers out on the patio. We asked if we could also have dessert out there? Nope! Rules are rules. No “just-say-yes” attitude at Hillstone. Alas, we accepted our fate and settled in the bar, at a table the size of a 12′ pizza.
I think for both Heidi and me, the experience began to fade at that moment. We didn’t dwell on it, but it was enough for the ball to start rolling. We have had this experience before: the hope of returning to a beloved restaurant only to be disappointed. Our first let down in this department came when we tried to go to On the Border down on Knox Street. I haven’t been to On the Border in years, and it was one of my favorite restaurants. Not only was the service terrible, but the food was lackluster. The only thing good about the entire experience was that we were using a gift card to pay for our food and so it didn’t cost us anything but time and disappointment in the experience.
We didn’t realize that the pattern would continue with such a prestigious restaurant like Hillstone. But the pattern continued. Again, we were on an extremely limited budget, but still, we were hoping for a wonderful dining experience. We ordered the spinach artichoke dip with chips, a dash of salsa on the side and sour cream. It’s a simple recipe. In fact, you can probably get the exact same dip at Chili’s, or Cracker Barrel, or HEB in the frozen food section. In fact, HEB’s (a grocery chain here in Texas) probably offers a better recipe. Hillstone’s was bland. It was bland. Very bland. Bland. Really? People pay $14 for this???
We were both done at this point. If you can’t win us over with a tantalizing appetizer, then what can you do? I’m sure their $35 Hawaiian prime rib is excellent, but let’s face it, I can do better when it comes to prime rib on the lowly Webber on my back porch. In fact, that is the conclusion we have come to every time we have eaten out since we got married, with a few exceptions: we end up thinking we could have a much better meal at home for a fraction of the cost. That is what we do every day. We have fine cooking every day coming from Heidi’s Kitchen. So getting dressed up just to go to some fancy, highfalutin restaurant is just not worth the hassle.
Now granted, we don’t have the fancy art, the crowd noise, the waitresses with insincere smiles, the stuffy managers and uptight maitre d’s. And we do have to clean up after ourselves, but we also miss out on parking, tipping, the crowd noise, the waitresses with insincere smiles, the stuffy managers and the uptight maitre d’s.
All this to say, our fondness of eating out has really declined in the last several months. We have had a few surprises, like Two Amigoes in downtown Waxahachie, and the Bang-Bang Shrimp from Bonefish. Yet, even with Bonefish, we are learning the recipe so we don’t have to spend the money. As for Two Amigoes, the price is worth it. Follow the link and watch the video. You will get the idea.
As for why these restaurants do so well, I can only guess that it’s because so few people eat at home. If that is the case, then these places can pass off bland and every calls it grand. But alas, Heidi and I see the king in all his naked glory… and that is putting it nicely. We will stay home, eat and enjoy quality food.