My wife and I waited by the windows. Seven months pregnant and celebrating her birthday, she clutched a blueberry mocktail while I lingered with a boozy Manhattan. A smiling hostess carrying two menus appeared before us.
I can't remember exactly what she said, but it was something like: "Congratulations, it's your turn." It felt victorious, or at least the perfect way to begin our five-course journey through the hazy forest of Nancy's Hustle, the best new Houston restaurant according to just about everyone, and the place that people told me about the most upon arriving here. Its reputation so sterling, its treasures so quickly beloved that I knew what to order and what to expect before even stepping inside. And after just five minutes of even standing by the windows with pre-dinner drinks, I knew I'd love this place.
It took one bite of the impossibly buttery and airy Nancy Cake to have me stabbing my fork against the wood. After slicing the cake in half and sandwiching in a glob of cultured butter with trout roe (which is apparently how chef Jason Vaughan likes it), I started looking around incredulously.
"We might have to order more of these," I told my wife.
"Let's just see how we feel later," she said. She's much wiser than me.
The lamb dumplings came next—tender and deeply comforting, with the labneh and lamb jus somehow pulling me into my mom's kitchen circa 1992. Then the gem lettuce, absurdly crunchy and, when paired with pancetta and anchovies, deliciously salty. My wife and I studied the sweet potato in salsa macha and lime yogurt, topped with pumpkin seeds and cilantro. Chances are if we're studying food, it's outstanding, and this was. Deceptive, sweet and spicy and addictive, it was the best sweet potato I've tasted. Maybe ever.
Our entrée was the lovely spaghetti with crab in fermented chili butter, which we nearly boxed up but decided to finish anyway. Somehow we had enough room to spring for the parmesan cheesecake from pastry chef Julia Doran. The cake was perfectly fluffy, and we ate it up. If I could go back I'd order a sweeter dessert to finish, but I'm not complaining. It was a perfectly executed slice of savory heaven.
By the way, we didn't have enough room for more Nancy Cakes.