Do any of you have a restaurant that feels like home? I do – it’s Hillstone (formerly Houston’s). Anytime I visit any location I feel as though I’m walking into the den of my youth (well, ok, a fancy den) and sitting down on my couch for a comfy meal with friends. Sort of like when everyone used to come home from college around Thanksgiving and we’d get together at the same friend’s home and hang out like no time had passed at all. This most likely has to do with the fact that I worked for the company for about 4 years after graduating college-but still – it has been MANY years since then. It’s the kind of experience where you know what to expect and you love it. You have no expectations of anything extraordinary happening…but sometimes it does…and that, my NYC Soda Girl readers, is what happened during the last meal I enjoyed at Hillstone.
It had been a long and tiring weekend so I took a little mommy “time out” and took a trip to Hillstone. When I got there the wait was 20 minutes, but I was seated in about 15. My table was by the bar, which usually isn’t my favorite since it can get a little noisy and sometimes the bartenders get busy serving the bar crowd and don’t check in on the tables as much, but this day service was amazing. I think the bartender could read my mind. To start I ordered a Diet Coke, a Stuhlmuller Chardonnay (doesn’t everyone order a soda and a glass of wine at the same time?) and their, to die for, Chicago Style Spinach & Artichoke Dip. That is my usual first round order and I was mindlessly checking email and Facebook when it arrived. I don’t even think I was looking as I took my first sip of soda, but one second into drinking it all that changed. I stared wide eyed at the glass – how could this drink, that I drink all day everyday jolt me into consciousness this way? I wasn’t even interested in eating the dip – which happens to be at the top of my indulgent food list. It’s like all of a sudden, parts of my brain that hadn’t seen the light of day were awakened, I felt somehow empowered, enlightened, I don’t know…it raised my spirits and I just wanted to keep drinking it…which I did. Hillstone used to serve fountain soda and recently changed to serving individual 12 oz. bottles with a glass of ice, which I had been disappointed about – but not tonight – what was different? Then it struck me.
The glass seemed to have a slight frost on it. My bartender/server magically appeared at that moment and I asked her if the glass had been chilled. She said ‘YES”! She didn’t think the bottle was cold enough, so she brought me a chilled glass with ice instead of the standard glass. Ummm…this seriously changed everything. I will forever have to order my Diet Coke from Hillstone – if not from everywhere – in a chilled glass. It’s never even crossed my mind to do that before!
I got back to the business of ordering my dinner and eating my spinach dip. That dip is ridiculously good. It’s probably the best way to get me to eat that many green vegetables in a sitting. The cheese is always creamy and perfect and the homemade chips are warmed and salted to perfection. I personally don’t eat the picante sauce and sour cream, but my daughter does and loves it.
I ordered the Dutch Country Chicken without the apricot glaze and substituted whipped potatoes as the side (yes, I’m one of those long list modifying patrons). It was cooked to perfection; it sliced beautifully and was full of flavor. Right when I was finishing my wine, my mind reading server arrived to see if I needed another drink and without hesitation I asked for another Diet Coke in a chilled glass. I needed to see if the magic could be replicated. It was.
I finished my meal with a Ghirardelli hot fudge sundae. It’s my favorite dessert there. You get a full boat of chocolate to pour on your vanilla ice cream (it usually comes with whipped cream and pecans, but I don’t love whipped cream and my son is allergic to nuts, so I just pass on both of them). The Ghirardelli chocolate makes this sundae stand out to me. It is thick and indulgent.
I always expect quality at Hillstone, but I never expected such a wonderful soda experience. That first sip really got to me – even sitting at a loud bar table it made me take pause. How could it be? In a 12oz plastic bottle? For $3.50? With no free refills? It’s something you want to hate – but it elevated my whole dining experience and that is what I want to expect from a soda because I know it’s possible – it should make whatever you’re doing only that much better. I can’t believe I’m going to do this, but I am giving this CHIlLLED glass, 12 oz. bottle (not fountain) with ice, Diet Coke a top 5 cup rating!
NYC Soda Girl’s Rating
12 oz. Diet Coke with ice, ask for CHILLED glass, $3.50
*(Not sure what those cup pictures mean?…Check out the Ratings & Reviews Tab)