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For more than a year now, the Restaurant Formerly Known as Houston’s has been operating in Bethesda under the handle the Woodmont Grill, even though the “Houston’s” name is still clearly spelled out over the entrance. No biggie; they’re both owned by the same company, the Hillstone Restaurant Group.
I hadn’t been to the location since the name change, and I was a little taken aback by its ambitions. My memories of Houston’s are pretty hazy (and maybe even flat-out wrong)—-big hulking steak knives served with everything, little cups of creamy coleslaw served with everything, low lights and dim expectations—-but none of them prepared me for this self-conscious upgrade. Entrees crossing the $30 threshold, servers in little black vests, and a jazz trio politely swinging away in a corner (under a flatscreen TV, which had everyone’s attention). It was so 1990s cigar bar—-without the cigars.
What really caught my eye, though, was the $17 “Famous” French dip. I never thought I’d see the day when a neighborhood restaurant like Houston’s/Woodmont Grill would pair “$17” with the words, “French dip,” famous or not. I had to order it.
You could tell immediately where your money went: The sammie, cut into two isosceles triangles, came loaded with thinly shaved prime rib, roasted to a rosy shade of pink. There must have been an inch of meat between those triangular slices of house-made French bread (more bread than roll), which were toasted on one side to a delicate shade of brown. The bread was buttery, spongy, and crunchy all at once; it absolutely made the sandwich. The meat, while generous of portion, tasted as if it had zero seasoning, and the accompanying jus did not compensate enough for the beef’s lack of deep flavor.
With each dip and each bite, I kept thinking the sandwich would reveal all of itself. It never did. But I’d order it again, despite its price tag, just to see if this were a (slightly) off night.