WoT's Hot

Eatspace & Artspace to Space Art: Houston Has it Huge

Rita Bhimani

You have to tackle Texas as you would impale a 22-ounce rib-eye steak. For you have to choose which chunk you wish to take in, from the second largest of the US states, as you can’t really have it all. My choice was Houston, the massive big heart of Texas.

So, we could start with Steak 48, which can be an expensive beginning at the River Oaks District, an upscale shoppers paradise with the latest global brands. It is a steak-and-seafood concept and at two levels, the second being the lounge. The individual hunks of steak are far too large for one person, accompanied by the fancy sides, like the double baked truffle potato and corn crème brulee. And there is the over-generous make-your own seafood “tower”—that, along with appetizers and a cocktail each, rachets up an equally generous bill. Before I begin my portion of steak, I ask the waiter to halve and doggy bag it, (a take-out box sounds more decent, what?) and lo! my hosts follow suit, saying they would dice and make a pot roast of it the following day.

There’s a snobbery in the items—and a tribute to the vast nuanced changes in American fine dining habits. A main dish could be a King Crab and Avocado Stack or a Chilean Sea Bass (with Chardonnay-sea salt-cracked pepper) and a massive Superfood Salad of baby arugula + kale - sriracha sunflower seeds - seasonal berries - goat cheese - champagne fig dressing. And a sea-salted caramel gelato to end on a lighter note.

On a totally different plane are the Creole and Cajun food outlets, and we went to one in Katy, a pretty city just west of Houston. I like to call it a suburb. It is great to taste the use of a variety of bell peppers in both cuisines. They say if you want to differentiate the two cuisines, Creole uses tomatoes and Cajun does not. Actually if it is this cuisine one is after, then we would be better off going to Louisiana. Especially if it is the popular gumbo and jumbalaya you are after. But let’s delve into it in another story.

Right now, we are still in Texas and I am discovering how, from my earlier time and notions here of speedy roads and concrete buildings, the more recent experience is of beautiful parks and gardens and wide open green spaces, and so much art to be enjoyed in beautiful environs.

The Museum District is where one such area where, in quietude, and on a 30 acre neighborhood of art. There is space everywhere, and quirky sculptures on the verdure, and plenty of light inside the main building where we were to experience several aspects of the Menil Collection. It preserves and exhibits the art collection of John and Dominique de Menil and is said to be one of the most important privately assembled collections of the twentieth century, with approximately 17,000 paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, photographs, and rare books. Masterpieces from antiquity, the Byzantine and medieval worlds the tribal cultures of Africa, Oceania, the American Pacific Northwest, and the twentieth century are particularly well represented. Apparently considered one of the world’s most foremost collections are the Surrealist holdings. One of the special exhibitions we were serendipitously lucky to see was a collection of Picasso’s drawings, from the most important periods of the artist’s long career; close on 100 of his works on paper that span a wide range of mediums, from pen or pencil to charcoal and collage. Never before in any museum had I been so very up close and personal with an artist’s work—and the Picasso drawings were truly a bonus, sources from public and private collections from Europe and the United States.

Nearby was the Rothko Chapel, an irregular octagonal brick building where you go in and get into meditative mood, as you sit on a bench and observe some of the abstract expressionist Mark Rothko’s paintings. It is a sanctuary for contemplation. A Rothko painting, titled Orange, Red, Yellow, incidentally, sold for nearly $86.2 million at a Christie’s auction a few years ago.

If museums are your scene, then you could go for several days searching and finding and experiencing. Don’t forget the Museum of Fine Arts, though.

But there is another aspect of Houston that one must take in. And that the NASA Space Center. You can stay overnight at one of the hotels very close to the center, booking well in advance of course, and start out early, grabbing a quick breakfast at one of the cafes and then making sure that a lot gets packed in for the day. Our tram rides took us to the Astronaut Training Facility where you can see a mock-up of the International Space Station, while another –the Blue Tour, took us to Mission Control, the historic room that brought Apollo 13 back home, when a man stepped on the moon for the first time. There’s the starship gallery museum where you get a chance to see Gemini 5, the Apollo 17 Command Module, and a Skylab Training module that you can walk through and experience what living in space would be like. We also had fun trying out the Angry Birds weight lifter, as you see in the pictures. But this is just to give a taste of the very historic center to see where our communion with outer space was made possible.

Remember this is Lyndon B Johnson’s state? I recollect a sign that we would pass in our college days in US which said:”This is God’s Country, don’t drive through it like Hell.” And a few signs later, a sign which quaintly and quietly proclaimed; “This space reserved for Lady Bird.”

Never miss the signs.