Houston, We Don't Have A Problem
And so, to paraphrase John Lennon, this is, er, Texas. And what have we done? Well, not very much at all. First of all, it took an hour or more to get through passport control - for reasons I can't fathom.
It's like me and ATMs. I go to a cashpoint and my typical transaction takes 20 seconds because my options are check balance and withdraw cash. So how come I'm usually stuck behind someone whose options are check balance, withdraw cash and reprogram the fucking Space Shuttle? Similarly, when I get to passport control, I get 30 seconds of pleasant chat, a quick run through the usual questions and fingerprint stuff and then I'm done (or, in today's case, all the above and a quick run down of the best Tex-Mex places in Texas). Before I get there though, I appear to be stuck behind 23 members of the Bin Laden family. Yep, even those little British pensioners. And that Scandinavian blonde...
Anyway, once that was sorted, and we'd got our bags, picked up the minivan and reached the rather lovely Alden Hotel, we were running a bit late. (By we, incidentally, I mean Kevin from the Daily Mirror, Catherine from Company and Anna from Visit Texas and a very fine bunch of travelling companions they are.) So, with hunger not so much knocking at the door as claiming squatters rights, buying pitbulls and learning how to play the panpipes, we checked in, dumped bags and headed out for our first Texas meal at The Grove.
If the rest of the week is of this quality, I'm going to be a very happy bunny. Fish comes from the bay and the ceviche and, particularly, the fried shrimp were nigh perfect. The ingredients were so fresh a keen jigsaw solver could rebuild the ceviche into a whole fish and still be in time to give it mouth-to-mouth.
The fish was so good, in fact, it distracted me from my long-planned meal. Look, if you tell me the venues in advance, by the time I get there I will have memorised the menu. Still, as good as skirt steak and chilli cheese fries looked and sounded, the quality of the quail appetiser suggested that other locally shot fare would be a solid bet. So I went for venison, served with butternut squash, Brussell sprouts and bacon. It was excellent. I did sneak a couple of Anna's chilli cheese fries (but of course) and they were every bit as good as they sound... but hey, I'm here for another 12 days so I'm sure I'll get some spicy carbs at some point.
To drink, a Texan Viognier from Becker Vineyards dazzled though, to be honest, not quite as much as the Educated Guess Cab Sauv from California: there's a very good chance that a couple of bottles of that will find their way into my luggage before the week's out.
I had the good fortune to try Texan and other Southern State wines a few years ago and still have an invite somewhere from a winemaker wanting to show me how his wines pair up with barbecue. The Becker, so full on that it's almost a caricature of Viognier, suggests that's an e mail address I should have dug out before my flight.
Another revelation was the cheese. From a US list, I picked the Veldueizen Texan cheddar and another local something, Cheesy Girl Buff. The cheddar turned out to be a hard cheese of incredible potency while the one with the silly name was, as you've probably guessed from local farming habits, a sharp, fresh, borderline-goat territory Buffalo cheese, somewhere between Mozarella and, say, St Tola. It was a bit good, like the rest of the meal in fact.
You know? I think I'm going to like it here.