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Posts from — September 2008

Beefing with Tenacity

Power back on. No longer living like a nomad. Reservations made for the Albert Roux dinner at Voice (awesome). And I am going to Minneapolis next week, which means I get to visit Heartland for some good Midwestern eating (suspenseful). More important, there is finally enough juice in this city do some proper supper clubbing (thrilling).

Maybe I am having mild withdrawals, but the menu this Thursday looks very, very nice. Past dinners have been summer appropriate – light ingredients and light preparations. The shopping list for this one, however, is pure bovinity – just in time for fall.

supper club & georgia’s grass-fed beef

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thursday october 2, 2008

  • cured grass-fed beef, coleslaw cream, crackling & potatoes flavored with beef fat
  • jarred coddled farm eggs, lardo, white toast, bacon bouillon & salad burnet
  • caramelized calf’s liver, baby onions, georgia’s honey & hibiscus flowers
  • charred rib cap, malabar spinach, quince membrillo & smoky salt
  • whole roasted free range chicken laced with black truffles, flowering herbs & lots of butter
  • roasted ribeye of beef, smoked red wine & buttermilk madelines
  • broken pound cake, goat’s milk caramel & foamed raw goat’s milk rice pudding

Contact Randy to reserve a spot. Meanwhile, amuse yourself with a few shots from the dinner on August 6th at the Modern B&B (which is a gorgeous space, BTW). A few choice dishes from that night:

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The cured rainbow runner served with macerated citron & fresh cayenne chili was the first time I had come across this uncommon fish, also known as rainbow yellowtail, Spanish jack and Hawaiian salmon. Apparently it was the first for Randy as well, who got by contraband that very morning from Bryan Caswell. Bryan takes his fish pretty seriously and was equally geeked up about it – rainbow runner made an appearance as a special at Reef that night as well, I hear. Either because it was extremely fresh or just because it was a new to me, but the texture and flavor of this fish were superb – as buttery and clean as highest grade Aji with more delicate flesh. Very, very nice.

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Without a doubt, the highlight of the night was the shellfish course – gulf shrimp, cauliflower-sesame tapenade & aromatic bubbles. The shrimp was served whole and seemed completely raw, but in fact was carefully disassembled into sections, some of which were barely cooked or cured, and re-assembled again into the shell for the final presentation. The cauliflower-sesame tapenade added a really nice texture to the dish, tasting almost like reconstituted corn meal with none of the corn taste.

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Most controversial course – grapefruit confit, mangosteen & lavender, which Randy poached something like 24-25 times to get to almost candied consistency. People who enjoy grapefruit loved this one. I have hated grapefruit all my life and had real trouble with the bitterness, but what struck me was how concentrated the essence of grapefruit was in this dish without sacrificing much of the texture. Love it or hate it, it was a very interesting thing to at least try to eat.

September 30, 2008   1 Comment

Why is this man licking his lutjanus campechanus?

Driving by the the space that once housed Greenberries and Antone’s Market I noticed the location is about to get new life, this time as Ruggles Green.

The banner on the building reads like a mish mash of pizza, sandwiches, salads and other “fast gourmet” snoozers. Not that I don’t want a place to grab some pseudo upscale fast food when I am on the go (actually I don’t), but because this is the 87th time Ruggles tries to develop a mass market concept that can be easily franchised. None of them work.

This time won’t be any different. Ruggles Green will face the same fate as Antone’s Market. Why go there when Whole Foods is right across the street? Legacy Restaurants would have been better off handing the space over to Alex Padilla, so he can finally put the batter back on the chile rellenos at Ninfa’s on Navigation and do something productive with his culinary talents.

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Bruce Molzan wooing a red snapper

If you aren’t already titillated by this Ruggles Green news, consider going to the Ruggles web site anyway. The Bruce Molzan  Next Food Network Star audition video is priceless in all sorts of ways and should put to rest all doubts about how he feels about overfishing. Enjoy.

September 28, 2008   No Comments

WTF IKE XLB DFW

My Hurricane Ike damage so far: 18 days in 5 hotels in 2 cities and counting. Broken fence, toppled tree, still no power. Two three missed Tenacity dinners. Way too many take out meals. Things are far worse for people in Galveston, but everyone has their own sad story and this one is mine. Even as Houston seems almost normal again and 88% of people have power, I am digging in for a long haul at the Extended Stay America. My new home.

The Ike experience started off as little more than an innocuous diversion. My work requires that I stay connected 24/7 and being without power is not an option, so every time there is even a remote possibility of a hurricane we pack up a team of network security superheroes and leave town.

I would have preferred Austin to ride out the storm (I really want to go to Uchi), but the models had Ike heading through the center of Texas, so Dallas was the lucky winner of the shelter city grand prize. No worries. Life could be worse than slumming it in a city with York Street, where I had an exceptional dinner about a year ago. Getting out of Houston less than 48 hours before Ike made landfall was dead easy. Not even a hint of Rita sized traffic. Things were looking up.

By the time I arrived the Dallas the reality began to set in. Ike wasn’t going away and looked like a real bitch of a hurricane. My dogs were so stressed out that leaving them in the hotel room to go out for dinner was impractical. I was a north side of the city by DFW, which looked like no mans land.

It took a while but I found a shopping center by the Galleria that seemed to have a wealth of independently owned restaurants. Not all were great, but they beat the hotel restaurant by a wide margin. Shanghai Restaurant was by far the best of the lot. So good, in fact, that I went back there before I left Dallas.

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I don’t get all best around the axle about xiaolongbao, but I felt obligated to order it for the sake my friends in Houston, who take such matters seriously. Besides, they were called something like “steam pork juice bun” on the menu, which sounds like a most delicious mess of poorly chosen English words. Who can refuse pork juice? The lady taking my order looked at me like was from another planet when I ordered it using a half-way recognizable pronunciation, which only added to the experience.

I liked the xiaolongbao at Shanghai Restaurant quite a bit, although they may not make the mark with purists looking for the thinnest possible wrapper and a delicate flavor of the broth that doesn’t overwhelm the dumpling. The dough was far from thin, but I really liked the gooey texture the broth left on the inside of the dumpling.

The whole thing got me thinking – is there such a thing as a definitive soup dumpling? I am assuming xiaolongbao is a little like gumbo or cassoulet. Each family has their own recipe and everyone is convinced their version is superior to the rest. If that’s the case, is there really a point in looking for a perfect soup dumpling? Doesn’t it make more sense to try to eat at many varieties as you can and enjoy them all?

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The menu at Shanghai Restaurant is littered with dishes I would love to try, but I barely scratched the surface on my two visits. The scallion pancake was pretty tough by the time I got back to the hotel, but the chicken dish called “crispy young chicken” was absolutely stellar – perfectly fried and laced with chile peppers. The “rice wine fish filet” turned out to be a very delicate and subtly flavored fish preparation.  

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Shanghai Restaurant wasn’t the only outstanding Chinese restaurant I came across in Dallas. First Chinese BBQ served up some outstanding roast duck and noodle soups, on par with some of the best I have found in Houston. The cash only operation seems to turn their meat around fast enough that nothing ever sees the inside of the microwave, which is more than I can say for our own Hong Kong Street Food – and they should know better

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Chinese roasted duck – the very definition of comfort food. Kills hurricane blues dead.  This stuff was tender and crisp in all the right places.

I eventually did make it out of the hotel hell and ended up visiting a few of the nicer restaurants in Dallas, but that’s a story for another post.

September 28, 2008   4 Comments

Tenacity Supper Club (July 10th)

I’ve been eating well this summer. Maybe a little better than well. Come to think of it, this has been a spectacular year for food. Chicago, Sydney, San Francisco (mostly outside of SF, really), Amsterdam, Paris, Brussels. You’d think that coming back home to Houston after all this would be a bit depressing. Instead, no matter where I end up lately I keep thinking that I am missing yet another gem of a dish at the Tenacity dinner.

Tomorrow I am getting on the plane to Boston and will miss yet another supper club and this one hurts more than usual – the menu this Thursday looks especially great. If you have not been to one of these yet, do yourself a favor and go. I won’t promise that everything you eat will blow you away. Sometimes you might even wonder just what the hell Randy was thinking (don’t tell him that – he is very sensitive), but odds are there will be at least one or two dishes that you’ll think about for a long, long time.

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This happened to me most recently at Alinea, where I was served an excellent smoked cobia dish presented in a bowl with a smoldering splinter of wood that slowly gave off a scent of smoke. It was a very dramatic presentation and the dish really worked. What was I thinking while I was eating it, though? That the smoked cobia I had at a recent Tenacity dinner nailed the flavors much more effectively.

Served with an intense brown butter sauce, that somehow involved no actual butter and really spiked the smokiness of the fish, the cobia was easily the crowd favorite that night. For me, it tied for gold with the warm terrine of wild boars head. Table side pyrotechnics aside, the scrappy supper club in Houston beat out the top table in the country and this is why I hate missing the Tenacity dinners.

 

 

Here’s the rest of the menu that night:

thursday july 10, 3008
barely cooked gulf shrimp & tartare, sprouting radish, kyuri & baby lemongrass
amberjack, leche de tigre,  gelled tomato, rhubarb, yuzu kosho & red veined sorrel
chilled 3rd coast shellfish nage, octopus, neri uni, crunchy pig ear & celery pistou
best parts of the pig, shimeji mushrooms, courgette, marigold & foamed hollandaise
cobia smoked with apple-wood & broiled, red malabar spinach & creamy brown butter
guava smoothie & a sense of coconut déjà vu
corn pudding’, whipped agave nectar, papaya, caramelized dairy & poppy

September 3, 2008   3 Comments

Dinner with Max

I finally made it to Max’s Wine Dive for a Sunday dinner and it turns out Max’s is just as fun for dinner as it is for brunch.

The menu is loaded with all sorts of exaggerated Gulf Coast dishes I’d love to sample, but I had a tough time passing up the Kobe burger with the foie gras supplement. Although the combination makes it a bit more expensive than a burger should be, it was worth the money. At least for the hopelessly foie obsessed.

My experience with the DB Burger at DB Bistro Moderne in New York made me cautious of over engineered burgers, but the burger at Max’s is different. The DB burger I had was a sad affair, with short ribs that got lost in the mush of the patty and foie gras that melted and overcooked into oblivion. If there was any truffle in this mess of a sandwich, it was clobbered by the other big flavors. The result was a bit like eating an over priced meatloaf.

 Kobe beef burger, seared Hudson Valley foie gras.

Kobe beef burger, seared Hudson Valley foie gras.
Well worth the $30 and still cheaper than the DB Burger.

At Max’s, the burger construction is quite simple. Toasted brioche, medium rare patty, seared hunk of foie. I set the lettuce leaf and ice cold tomato slice aside, calculating that it would make the foie a bit nasty. The condiments seemed unnecessary, so I skipped those as well.

 

The minimalist combination was quite nice. Without much tinkering, you could really taste the foie gras as a separate component of the burger, which provided a really nice backdrop to the already great burger. Had the fries been better, this would have been an all around great plate of food.

I can think of worse ways to spend a lazy Sunday night. 

September 1, 2008   4 Comments