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Posts from — January 2010

Truck Stop Ribeye at Stella Sola

I still plan to finish my 2009 wrap up in photos, but first a few words on my new favorite way to eat steak in Houston.

Only days after I noted that Justin Basye coming to Stella Sola improves our chances of seeing  him in the kitchen of his own, an unfortunate chef shakeup did that just that. Now that the restaurant has been on solid footing for a few months the Stella Sola team is already making things in Houston more interesting.

Exhibit I: a re-imagined rib eye that instantly became my favorite way to eat red meat.

I am not a huge fan of steak houses, mostly because I see no reason to gorge yourself on a massive slabs of meat served at these places. The 20th bite tastes almost exactly the same as the 1st. There is just no point. But the Truck Stop Ribeye at Stella Sola makes things interesting.

It’s not a huge cut of meat, but a much more manageable portion which should keep your attention. Arugula, onions and marinated tomatoes ensure surprisingly acidic and bright flavors for a meat dish. The best part is that there are no boring parts of the steak, which is where a little bit of food science comes in.

 
The muscle marked #2 is Spinalis Dorsi

The reason the truck stop rib eye at Stella Sola tastes so good is because it’s an engineered steak, which is not to say it’s not a natural product. The cut used in this dish is the rib eye cap, also known as spinalis dorsi, revered for its big beef flavor and tenderness. The rib eye cap is matched only by the tenderloin  (which is as tender as it is boring) and the flat iron steak.

It’s possible that the reason you don’t see the rib eye cap on restaurant menus is because it gets picked by butchers and cooks long before you can get your hands on it. A more probable reason is that the spinalis dorsi just isn’t big enough to be a serving on it’s own. At Stella Sola the truck stop rib eye is constructed several spinalis dorsi muscles fused together with transglutaminase, also known as meat glue. The result is something that handles like a regular steak and tastes terrific.

The Truck Stop Ribeye isn’t the only reason to go to Stella Sola. Since its opening late in 2009, it has become one of my favorite new restaurants in town and the kitchen is staffed by some of the best young chefs in the city.  The crudo, the house cured meats, the fantastic lardo, the bone marrow and the pastas are all excellent.

As it sheds some of the Reef redundancies (which can be too apparent) from the menu and establishes its own identity, I expect Stella Sola to only get better in 2010. Plus, you have to love any place where the cooks are ready to whip out their meat and pose for photos at any moment.

January 30, 2010   10 Comments

2009 – a year in photos (January-June)

It’s unlikely I’ll ever have a year quite like 2009. 11 cities across 9 countries, countless amazing meals in  some of the worlds best restaurants and grungiest of dives, none of it properly documented in this blog.

The year began with my personal rendition of a cajun cassoulet, built around smoked ham hocks, ox tails and duck confit. Yes, I cook.

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This photo of a nettle sformatto from Quince in San Francisco taken in early January is only notable because it came with a stern warning from the manager that “the chef would prefer you did not photograph his cuisine”. This would be my second and final trip to Quince.

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The food in Sydney is almost universally bland, but the hottest sauce at this stand still made my entire face hurt. I suppose I deserved that.

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The liquid nitrogen treated Hemingway cocktail at the Bentley restaurant is one of many highlights in Sydney.

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In-n-Out makes a great burger and it somehow tastes even better after a long night at Manresa. After much experimentation, I have decided that my perfect burger is a 3×3, hold the animal style.

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Only 12 hours after we came back from Sydney, Isabell passed away after a long bout with cancer. She was my best friend.

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This onion tart, as simple as it is incredibly complex, turned out to be the last time I’d have the opportunity to eat at Le Reve. The best restaurant in Texas served it’s last meal in 2009.

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20 years after leaving the city where I grew up, I returned to Moscow. The bread tastes exactly the same, but there is now a huge number of street food stands dotting the city. Rotisserie chicken, doner kebabs, and shawarma seem to be popular.

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By the end of our trip to St Petersburg my friend commented that he ate more sour cream than he ever had in his life. I told him he was exaggerating, just as a sour cream honey cake was delivered to our table. It was one of the best desserts I had in 2009, but I really really like sour cream.

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I waited a long time to try Jose Andres’ food and it was worth the wait. One of my best meals in 2009 was at Bazaar.

The fist of my two trips to Louisiana yielded a visit to Al-T’s, a rather unremarkable place that has a stellar boudin ball. It’s hard to explain to non-Texans how great it is to live in Houston and be in close proximity to the full bounty of Gulf Coast cuisine. This photo certainly gives you a clue.

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Cajun Charlie’s in Sulpur is conveniently located next to a cemetery. There were zombies in the parking lot.

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In March I had my first tasting at Rainbow Lodge, where Randy Rucker did some of his best work this year. These octopus suction cups with fennel flowers was one of my favorites.

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Zoe arrived in March. She’s really great.

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The beet salad remained a staple on the menu at Voice, this time in a form of a homage to Michel Bras.

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In April I finally had a chance to try the iconic Ben’s Chili Bowl in DC, a few months before Ben passed away. My best meal on that trip was at Komi, but they were too full of themselves to allow photographs of food. Those people can bite me, but I’ll certainly be back.

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I came back to Houston and found out that the best pupusas in the city are made exactly 1.4 miles away from my house. This is why I love living in Houston.

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The canapé and cheese service were the best parts of my dinner at Cyrus in Healdsburg. You expect more from a ** restaurant.

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One last meal at A16 before Nate Appleman left for New York and became a rather irritating TV chef. I sincirely hope A16 is as good without Appleman as it was with him in the kitchen.

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My dinner at Coi turned out to be one of the best meals of the year and this dish may have been one of the best. Carrots, sorrel and burnt breadcrumbs was the most striking dish of the night.

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Dessert tastings with Plinio Sandalio became one of the highlights of the year and an attraction for the few gastro-tourists Houston gets. Even something as terminally boring as cupcakes are special.

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I’m not sure why it took me so long to get to Burns BBQ, the closest you can get to the level of cooking you find in Luling and Lockhart. I am glad I did before Roy Burns Sr. passed away in December.

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View from the plane on the way to Denver, where sushi is (most improbably) some of the best in the country.

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Biggest surprise of the year turned out to be Aburiya Raku in Las Vegas. Even after my trip to Japan, still some of the most stunning Japanese food I’ve ever had.

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In May I finally had a chance to eat at Uchi in Austin, one of the best Japanese restaurants in the US. This simple house salad with hydroponic baby greens and Texas inflected edamame-jalapeno vinaigrette was one of my favorite items on the menu.

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A day later driving through Lockhart I found some of the best BBQ in Texas (and therefore the universe)  at Smitty’s Market.

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The kitchen crew at Rainbow Lodge really hit it’s stride in June, turning out the most inspired and consistent food in Houston.

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Manabu Horiuchi landed at Kata Robata and made it possible to eat sushi without disappointment in Houston.

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Next post – “2009 – a year in photos (July-December).

January 1, 2010   11 Comments