Friday, October 31, 2008

Textile

I didn’t want to walk into Textile with sky high expectations, but this proved to be a difficult task. The much anticipated new offering from rock star chef Scott Tycer has set tongues on fire, and I couldn’t wait to park myself in front of an intense and truly progressive kitchen.

Oh no. There they are. Stupid, stupid high expectations.

Well. No matter. The entire experience proved exceptional. The space, a 30-seat venue in an old textile mill in the Heights, redefines unique. The service is sensational without an ounce of stuffy. Even the bread, which comes straight from the oven in Tycer’s adjoining Kraftsman Bakery, is plentiful and fresh. And the 5-course tasting menu (with a remarkably reasonable $85 price tag) outperforms any meal in the city.

No sooner had we arrived at our table before a tasty veal amuse bouche arrived. Afterwards, the four of us had two orders of the tasting menu, plus several a la carte items.

Textile Tasting Menu:
- Hydroponic bibb lettuce, formage d’Ambert, and an onion strudel
- Bacon tart with quail egg, wilted bitter greens, and aged balsamic
- Kona kampachi on roasted Maitake mushrooms
- Elysian Field Farms lamb, cooked sous vide
- Liquid pumpkin pie in shortcrust with brown butter ice cream
- Assorted bon bons

Every dish was beautifully prepared and presented. Tycer uses only the freshest ingredients available, paying exceptionally close attention to creating a balance in flavor and texture. Portion sizes were ideal; we left fully satisfied, but not overly stuffed. And while Textile may not be a weekly stop on my regular route, I’m going to see that it becomes a quarterly one.

Expectation overdrive? Take a cold shower and make a reservation. Textile can keep up.

Textile - 611 West 22nd (between Shepherd and Lawrence)

The bacon tart with quail egg is every bit as fabulous as it sounds.

The tender, rich, and rare lamb was a definite favorite.

Pastry chef Plinio Sandalio's liquid pumpkin pie (in a shortcrust) made a perfect match for the meal, but is truly perfect in its own right.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Soup Dumplings a Go Go

Jenny Never Full organized a kickin’ cookin’ class for we wee chefs to learn the fine art of Chinese soup dumplings. Soup dumplings are delicate and delicious steamed pockets of meat and soup... and I always wondered how they get the soup inside the dumpling. Now I know, thanks to world-renowned Chef Sonny.

Start with medium- to high-gluten flour, available at Asian markets. Mix slowly with water to form a tacky dough. Knead the dough well and form into a log, then slice into coin-shaped bits. Sprinkle with flour, then roll each bit into a circle that’s thin around the edges and slightly thicker in the center.

Top each round with a mixture of lean pork, spring onion, and aspic. Pinch the ends, steam for ten minutes, and voila! Warm, doughy, soupy perfection.

So how does the soup get in there? The soup is created by the aspic -- or meat gelatin -- inside the dumpling. The heat from the steam melts the gelatin into soup. Mmmmm!

Want the recipe?

Great Food Houston Goes to Pittsburgh

A short visit to the Steel City last weekend taught me that Pittsburgh pride runs deep -- from Steelers to sandwich. And the most talked about sandwich, of course, is the tall stack at Primanti Brothers. We sought out the sandwich joint early Saturday afternoon, looking for a taste of the local.

While the menu is large, your only real choice is the meat. Everything beyond that is pretty much the same: soft Italian bread needlessly drowning in meat, French fries, tomato, and coleslaw. Yup, all right there on one sandwich. It’s a three-hander. Seriously.

I went with the cheesesteak. Bad idea. Mushy and flavorless. The hot pastrami was tasty, as was the corned beef... but methinks I prefer a simpler sammich and cleaner arteries. So I did what any respectable Texan would do: drowned my sandwich sorrows in a 23-ounce Iron City beer. Or four. And continued on my merry way.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Cupcakes from a Tea House?

The Chronicle claims that the best cupcake in Houston comes from a tiny tea house called The Path of Tea in a strip center on W. Alabama.

Cupcakes. From a tea house. Oh, come on. Cupcakes are loud!! Energetic!! And colorful!!! Tea houses are calm. Zen. And serene. The two just don’t mix.

Perplexed, I stopped by the Path of Tea on my way home tonight. The place itself is cozy and crowded, yet calm. Your basic tea house. The cupcake collection is modest, located by the front register and encased entirely on a single cake plate. Would I like a chocolate chai cupcake with chai tea icing, a lemon cupcake filled with fresh lemon curd, or a spice cupcake with buttercream and pecans?

I went with the chocolate chai… and thank goodness, for I was hooked with one bite. The cake is moist and spongy, and the icing was rich with just a slight hint of chai. Sweet, but not sugary. True love. At $2.50 per, these puppies are better and cheaper than those of the big name bakeries.

Zen cupcakes? I’m in.

Path of Tea - 2340 West Alabama

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Porkfest at Feast

I don’t know how you celebrate your birthday, but if you’re a Houston Chowhound, you call up the best new restaurant in the city and ask if they’d mind roasting a whole pig for you and your buddies. No joke.

A few weeks ago, Peggy Chowhound dialed Feast -- the acclaimed “rustic European fare” restaurant in the lower Westheimer hotbed -- and requested an all-pork-all-the-time birthday fiesta. The *lovely* restauranteurs were more than happy to oblige, and last night they prepared a banquet fit for a queen and her army.


We started with canap├ęs: pate with cornichons on toast, grilled sweetbreads, welsh rarebit, and pork backfat. The pate, served cold, had an excellent flavor, and the sweetbreads were the best I’ve had. I had never tried Welsh rarebit (a savory cheese mixture topped with Worcestershire and served warm on toast). Owner/chef/butcher James Silk and his fabulous British accent did the serving, and several of us stupid Americans (said with love) kept thinking he was saying “Welsh rabbit.” No sir. Anyway, the RAREBIT was creamy and salty, all at once. I loved. And despite my affection for pork belly, the backfat, served cold, was not for me.


And then? Baked scallops topped with a mushroom-brandy-cream sauce. Per chef Silk, look out for the mace and Jack Daniels in there as well. Simply smashing -- Such an interesting combination of flavors. Mace is so popular in European cooking, yet rarely used here.


Next came the salads: a standard house salad, plus the real winner: Dandelion greens with pork cheek. In true British style, there was little to no dressing, but the bitterness of the greens complimented the pork cheek perfectly.


The big hizzah: Enter the pigs. There is something about pulling meat directly from an entirely roasted pig, rather than cooking smaller, individual pieces. This was, hands down, the best pork I have ever had. The meat was tender and flavorful, melting right off the bones, well complimented by the mounds of stuffing, carrots, Brussels sprouts, kale with anchovies, and mashed potatoes on the side.


Misha grabbed a head and sawed into it to hand out tasty bits of pork cheek and chin. The chin was too fatty for me, but that piece of cheek was my favorite bite of the evening.


All in all, a brilliant birthday evening. If you haven’t been to Feast, go. Interesting combinations, unique flavors, and *very* reasonable prices make this one a keeper.

Feast – 219 Westheimer

Friday, October 17, 2008

Five-Star Koonce Benefit

You’ve all heard by now of the fire that ravaged Brennan’s during Hurricane Ike. Brennan’s, of course, was the Paul Newman of Houston eateries, and while the loss of this institution was tragic enough, Brennan's sommelier James Koonce and his 4-year-old daughter were also critically injured.

Next week the Houston food scene comes together to support the Koonce family with a benefit on Thursday, October 23, from 4:30 ~ 7:30 p.m. at the Beacon (1212 Prairie Street). For a suggested donation of $100 per person (pay at the door), you can enjoy wines and tasty treats from:

- Bagher: 360
- Jeff Boudreaux: Brasserie Max & Julie
- Brian Caswell: Reef
- James Cole: Fleming’s
- Mark Cox: Mark’s
- Levi Goode: Goode Company Seafood
- Jeffrey Everts: Olivette @ Houstonian
- Mark Holley: Pesce
- Jonathan Jones: Beavers
- David Lunas: Shade
- Hugo Ortega: Hugo’s
- Wes Morton: 17 @ the Alden
- Ryan Pera: The Grove
- Monica Pope: T’afia
- Chris Shepherd: Catalan

If you’ve been wanting to hit up that new hot spot, but 1) can’t decide where to start, 2) don’t want to pony up the cash, 3) don’t have time, or 4) would rather put your hard-earned cash to support a good cause, this is the event for you! Sample the goods from 15 acclaimed places at once and help a neighbor while you’re at it. See you there!

Learn more here: www.brennanshouston.com/koonce

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Pink’s Pizza

When it comes to pizza, I tend to bounce around from joint to joint –- Collina’s, Candelari’s, Carrabba’s, Star -– enjoying it all and never offering my loyalty to any one place in particular. That has changed since I met Pink’s Pizza in the Heights.

Pink’s is not your typical factory pizza joint. Ingredients are picked up and prepared fresh daily. The pizza is thin-ish, yet sturdy, and exudes freshness. Favorites include the Santa Monica (gorgonzola, mozzarella, prosciutto, artichoke, sundried tomato, and cranberry) and the Bada Bing (prosciutto, bacon, pepperoni, mozzarella, Roma tomato, spinach, and mushroom), but I’ve yet to be disappointed in any of the 20 specialty pies.

Yes, it *kills* me that a 16-inch pizza from the specialty menu costs $20.99, but pizza is not a weekly thing for me. When I want pizza, I want it good, and I’m willing to splurge. Pink’s is gourmet without pretention, a locally-owned place where the customer still comes first.

You can eat there, or they’ll deliver if you’re not too far. And “not too far” will get a little bit closer in November, when Pink’s opens its 2nd location on West Gray in Montrose/Midtown. Hooray!

Pink’s Pizza – 1403 Heights Blvd (at 14th)

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Omnivore’s Hundred

Thanks Cleverley Stone for getting the word out about British food blogger and author, Andrew Wheeler’s list of 100 foods you should try at least once...

“Here’s a chance for a little interactivity for all the bloggers out there. Below is a list of 100 things that I think every good omnivore should have tried at least once in his or her life. The list includes fine food, strange food, everyday food and even some pretty bad food—but a good omnivore should really try it all. Don’t worry if you haven’t, mind you; neither have I, though I’ll be sure to work on it. Don’t worry if you don't recognize everything in the hundred, either; Wikipedia has the answers if you need them.”

Here’s what Wheeler suggests:
1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment here at www.verygoodtaste.co.uk.

Confused? Check out the FAQ:
http://www.verygoodtaste.co.uk/uncategorised/hundred-reasons/

The Omnivore’s Hundred:
1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart

16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans

25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava

30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float

36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects

43. Phaal
44. Goat's milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin

51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald's Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV

59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads

63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake

68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe

74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill [COUNT ME OUT]
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail

79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef

86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers

89. Horse [COUNT ME OUT]
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta

99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake [COUNT ME OUT]

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Christian's Tailgate

I had heard much about the burger at Christian’s Tailgate, so when I found myself in Midtown last night, I jumped at the chance to pop in for a taste.

Christian’s Tailgate is a bar by trade, and in that sense alone, it’s nothing to write home about. It’s full of frat boys and TVs, and while I do enjoy both frat boys and TVs [sigh], there are better options, especially in midtown.

But the burger is something special. Anchored by a juicy patty on a toasted bun, the burger itself is sturdy – not too big, but not a skinny mess either. Veggies were fresh and plentiful, but the real gold star was the cheese: mild, melty, and magnificent. Unlike many burger joints, Christian’s doesn’t skimp. I didn’t find myself with too much bun and not enough burger, I didn’t have to pull out the magnifying glass to locate the tomatoes, and I didn’t have to scream about paying extra for a mere half-ounce of cheese.

Nope, I give it the Goldilocks stamp of “just right.”

Christian’s Tailgate - 2000 Bagby (in Midtown)