Houston Asian Restaurant Guide > Dining Outdoor


Eating outdoors should be fun, hassle-free and low key, nor al fresco interpretations of a formal dinner party -- except, perhaps for the rare outdoor wedding reception. Keeping a few basic principles in mind will ensure that things stay loose and enjoyable. Essentially, you just want to make sure your outdoor dining area is situated in a spot that is cozy, protected and comfortable, that the menu is not overly complex, and that you anticipate and prevent potential problems.

Creating a cozy outdoor dining area is easy. Just remember that most people are more comfortable in a situation where there is a wall (or preferably tw0) anchoring the dining area. That is why attached patios and decks are so popular. However it is still quite easy to create a pleasant outdoor dining experience even if you do not already have a patio or a deck. Enclosure on at least two sides is the key. Use an exterior wall of your house as one of the sides of the outdoor dining area (try to make it convenient to the kitchen), and plant a hedge to form another adjacent "wall" of the dining area, as well as to screen out any distractions or eyesores. One of the fastest ways to do this is by planting sunflowers, which can quickly grow very tall. For a somewhat more formal yet casual look, consider a hedge of hydrangeas. Or , if a very formal look and feel is what you are after, choose classic boxwood. It will take a few years for these shrub hedges to fill in, but a fence could be put up in the meantime, then removed as the shrubs put on some size. The foal in any case is to create a bit of privacy and enclosure, as well as a sense of place.

Keeping the menu straightforward is also important to relaxed outdoor dining. Save the five-course extravaganza for a special indoor dinner party when the weather is not so fabulous. For balmy summer dining, however, you want to keep things simple. Basic barbecued fare is always delicious, but the addition of cool summer soups (like gazpacho) and fresh garden salads -- whether a traditional green salad, a spinach salad, or freshly dug new potatoes scrubbed and tossed with olive oil and chives -- make for a more memorable and enjoyable dining experience, and they are easy to prepare ahead of time.

Just as critical as creating the right kind of space and serving simple yet inspired fare is making sure that minor but annoying things do not destroy the mood and drive you indoors on a beautiful July or August evening. Citronella-scented candles or oil lanterns can help keep mosquitoes at bay, and food covers can keep other pesky insects off of your carefully prepared dishes. Unbreakable dinnerware and serving platters can eliminate the possibility of a treasured dish being broken and spoiling your evening. And something as simple as a napkin holder can keep you and your guests comfortably in your seats rather than scurrying across the lawn chasing a flock of fluttering napkins.

As with most things in life, a bit of forethought will reward you many times over -- in this case, with a pleasant, relaxed dinner and an enjoyable evening under the stars.