It’s no surprise that Eric Ripert’s Le Bernardin in Manhattan made the cut, or Tosca either, with its dining room on the 102nd floor of the Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong. But that Forbes’s 2018 list of the world’s greatest restaurants should include a place within spitting distance of Highway 290, near a cluster of one-horse towns that make Brenham seem like a bustling metropolis—well, we were skeptical.
But then we made the 60-something-mile drive northwest of Houston, turned onto FM1155 at Chappell Hill, advanced over a few hills, rolled through a barely marked gate and rumbled past cornfields and pumpkin patches to the idyllic Inn at Dos Brisas. Our ultimate goal: sampling Zachary Ladwig’s acclaimed multi-course dinner.
First, of course, we checked into one of the inn’s nine rooms, not really a room at all, but rather a 3,000-square-foot private manse—the inn calls them haciendas—with a cathedral ceiling, a vast bedroom and living room, a private plunge pool, a gas fireplace, a bed-swing on a screened-in patio, a ginormous Jacuzzi in the bathroom. You get the idea.
Nearby a shimmering pond and gorgeous afternoon light beckoned, and we ventured out in our provided golf cart, inspecting the 313-acre luxury retreat, from the show barn to the tennis courts to the clay-shooting range, which Houstonians Doug and Jennifer Bosch fashioned out of an old cotton plantation after purchasing the property in 2004. A second pond tempts your inner fisherman. But most appealing of all are the acres of organic produce—lettuces of every sort in raised beds, long rows of squash and beans, overgrown patches of fragrant cassava melons. In a large greenhouse, dozens of heirloom tomato varieties hang heavily from vines, none to be picked until ripened to the requisite red, yellow, orange, or purple.
Indeed, almost all the vegetables and herbs served at Dos Brisas’s famed 10-table restaurant are harvested just a few hours prior to mealtime—chef Ladwig doesn’t make final menu decisions until he’s seen the day’s pickings. The Wisconsin native learned his trade at legendary establishments like Bouley in New York and Gordon Ramsay’s London restaurant, but you get the sense that there’s no place on earth he’d rather be than Dos Brisas, with its modest little kitchen, turning out plate upon plate of scrumptiousness.
Seated at an outdoor table near the infinity pool, we were treated to a terrific selection of greenhouse tomatoes in a raspberry vinaigrette, followed by a buttery slab of foie gras accented by strawberries and wild onions. As the sun sank behind scrub oaks and pecan trees, our waiter delivered large shrimp set atop heavenly pillows of pasta stuffed with sweet corn and plates of red snapper with Jerusalem artichoke, and chicken roasted on hay (?!), served with white asparagus.
Sommelier Rebecca Beaman (see below) seemed in perfect synch with each eclectic course, carefully selecting an ideal accompaniment for each dish from her 7,000-bottle collection.
At last night fell and with it any lingering doubts we had about the sanity of Forbes’s critical acumen. The Inn at Dos Brisas well deserves its plaudits, and deserves too the patronage of every Houstonian for whom food is a serious passion.
Open daily for lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch (reservations required). Haciendas from $830. Casitas from $490.
Two Other Stunning Restaurants to Visit on a Day Trip
eculent | Kemah
Rare is the diner who regrets the Wonka-esque magic of chef-owner David Skinner’s culinary wizardry. From Tuesday to Saturday, his 32- to 40-course tasting extravaganza is available to only 12 lucky diners (two seatings of six), who are as likely to pluck jewel-like morsels of meat from hidden drawers at the bar as they are to witness Skinner’s make-your-own-cocktail machine, a rat’s nest of tubing, flasks, and beakers. While evenings in eculent’s intimate dining room, enhanced as they are by course-specific shifts in lighting, music, and ambient fragrances, are not for the faint of heart or wallet—$225 per person, plus $45 for optional wine pairings—that this hodgepodge of culinary investigations (tiramisu in a straw! edible moss!) should be found in Kemah, of all places, only adds to its endearing quirkiness.
Marais | Dickinson
The son of a shrimper, Keith Lilley worked for decades at various corporate eateries before striking out on his own at age 60, opening his restaurant on a serene bayou dogleg in his native Dickinson last year. Sprawling yet intimate, elegant yet down-home, it’s really worth a drive for the food alone—Cajun fusion from chef Frank Pannitti, whose classic shrimp and grits and grilled oysters mesmerize as much as the clever candied pork belly cubes and jack-stuffed fried okra do. But it’s the indoor-outdoor biergarten feel that makes Marais a spot to linger, whether you’re enjoying live music on the bayou, sidling up to one of three bars, having a game night with the fam at one of the numerous picnic tables, or heading to the beach. It is, after all, halfway between Houston and Galveston.