The Toast of Texas
Old and new come together at Catalan in Houston
Catalan food and wine, a refectory of a restaurant set at the prow of a strip mall on Washington Avenue in Houston, was conceived as an homage to Catalonia, the autonomous region in northeastern Spain that stretches southward from the Pyrenees Mountains to the Mediterranean Sea. True to form, when the restaurant opened in 2006, the menu featured Barcelona-inspired tapas. But with chef Chris Shepherd at the helm, that concept lasted all of ten minutes.
“To hell with the name,” Shepherd, whose comportment and girth conjure an early-career Dick Butkus, said one recent Sunday night. An Oklahoma native who fell for his adopted home while working the line at Brennan’s of Houston, Shepherd speaks with the zeal of the converted. “I want to hold up a mirror to this city, and show our customers what our food looks like.”
As seen through the eyes of its detractors, Houston, home to more than two million people, is a gangly and sprawling city entangled by ribbons of concrete roadway that are, in turn, cut by concrete culverts that locals call, without irony, bayous. As envisioned by Shepherd, however, Houston is an altogether different and far more appealing city. It’s a postmodern urban archetype, a twenty-first-century analogue to nineteenth-century New Orleans, a city defined not merely by old ways, but also by new immigrants who are creolizing this corner of the Gulf South, remaking it into something like Saigon crossed with Michoacán crossed with Port Sulphur.