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H O U S T O N ' S

D I N I N G

M A G A Z I N E

MY TABLE F s t r f o i mT G •

he a• Se DISPLAY UNTIL JANUARY 28

ISSUE NO. 136 DECEMBER 2016-JANUARY 2017

i DECEMBER 2016 – JANUARY 2017

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december16january17

inside the pages F E A T U R E S

14 22 32

D E P A R T M E N T S 7

A LOTTA MUFFALETTA

OYSTERS OPENED UP

8

LETTER FROM THE EDITOR

9

TABLE TALK

What’s going on in the Houston restaurant world?

Diving into the truth about Gulf oysters By Taylor Byrne Dodge Photography by Becca Wright FRESH HOLIDAY GIFT FINDS FOR HOUSTON FOODIES

12

NOTEWORTHY OPENINGS & CLOSINGS

18

COOKING PICTORIAL

Crazy for Croquembouche

By Phaedra Cook Photography by Chuck Chook

26

42 44

JUST DESSERTS

Leaving Time 28

38

BEHIND THE SCENES

What we’ve been doing between issues

A look at muffalettas around town Text and photography by Melody Yip

FOOD LOVER’S QUIZINE

That's Just Wrong! A Merry Mix of Seasonal Faux Pas

LOAFING ON MAGAZINE STREET

Cajun food writer George Graham shares the recipe for his favorite New Orleans-style oyster loaf Text and photography by George Graham

54

WINE & SPIRITS

Eggnog Uncracked: The Boozy, Beaten Holiday Cocktail 58

CAVIAR DE-CODED

RESTAURANT REVIEWS

Arthur Ave Texas Shrimp Shack

By Teresa Byrne-Dodge Photography by Becca Wright THE CACHET OF CAVIAR

59

ADVERTISER DIRECTORY

62

MIGRATING TASTE

Plumbing Tom Yum

Five recipes for dishes dotted with caviar By Robin Barr Sussman

64

TASTING THE TOWN

Crowning Glory

50

SHUCK & COVER

Cooked oyster dishes that radiate flavor Text and photography by Ellie Sharp 4 DECEMBER 2016 – JANUARY 2017


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MY TABLE EDITOR & PUBLISHER

H O U S T O N ' S

CREATIVE DIRECTOR &

& DESIGN

Taylor Byrne Dodge taylor@my-table.com

Becca Wright becca@my-table.com INTERN

Bill Albright Sarah Bronson Phaedra Cook, Eric Gerber George Graham, Nicholas L. Hall Dragana Arežina Harris Stephanie Madan Micki McClelland Ellie Sharp Robin Barr Sussman

Melody Yip ADVERTISING

• Gifts From T h e a• Se

EDITORIAL

Sarah Bronson, Chuck Cook George Graham, Dragana Arežina Harris Chris Hsu, Kevin McGowan, Doug Pike Ellie Sharp, Cindy Vattathil

M A G A Z I N E

ASSOCIATE EDITOR

ASSOCIATE PUBLISHER

ART

D I N I N G

MY TABLE

Teresa Byrne-Dodge teresa.byrnedodge@my-table.com

Jodie Eisenhardt 713-818-7508 jodie@my-table.com

DISPLAY UNTIL JANUARY 28

ISSUE NO. 136 DECEMBER 2016-JANUARY 2017

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ABOUT THE COVER ARTIST Photographer Kevin McGowan is a long-time contributor to My Table magazine and is well known in Texas for his commercial photography and portraiture. This is his sixth cover for My Table. Visit kevinmcgowan.com to see more of his work.

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DETAILS My Table magazine is published by Lazywood Press (lazywoodpress.com). A one-year subscription is $30. Some back issues are available, $9 each. CUSTOMER SERVICE Our website lets you change the address on your account or

order a subscription. Click on “customer service” if you are missing an issue, receive duplicate issues or need to temporarily suspend your subscription. Go to www.my-table.com. LETTERS For the quickest response, contact the editor via email at teresa.byrnedodge@my-table.com. My Table: Houston’s Dining Magazine (USPS #011972, ISSN #1076-8076). Issue No. 136 (December 2016-January 2017). Published by Lazywood Press at 1733 Harold, Houston, TX 77098. Established January 11, 1994. All rights reserved. Material may not be reproduced by any means whatsoever without written permission. The opinions expressed by My Table’s writers do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher or Lazywood Press. PERIODICALS Postage paid at Houston, TX. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to My Table, 1733 Harold Houston, TX 77098. 713-529-5500 www.my-table.com

SideDish is an email newsletter published by My Table and is packed with restaurant news, wine reviews, recipes, events, give-aways and everything else that celebrates the Houston food world. Sign up today for your free SideDish subscription at www.my-table.com.

6 DECEMBER 2016 – JANUARY 2017


BEHIND THE SCENES

Intern Melody Yip's last #muffaletta stop at Houston's Famous Deli #magazinefeature #htxeats

A behind-the-scenes shot of the oysters Yvonne at @holleyshou. Check out a close-up shot on the cover

If you're harvesting #oysters, this is what your office looks like. #oysterfishing #behindthescenes learn about gulf oyster fishing on page 22

Flip to page 14 for a round-up of some of houston's muffalettas

for 7 of the city's best cooked oyster dishes, turn to page 50.

Author george graham shares the recipe for his favorite oyster loaf on page 38.

DISHES DOTTED WITH CAVIAR? FIND RECIPES ON PAGE 44.

the social network | @ninfasoriginal Thanks, @MyTableMagazine - Ninfa’s on Navigation’s New Fall Menu THE ORIGINAL NINFA'S

| @phaedracook The top shelf at fluffbakebar is like a gallery of @mytablemagazine Awards Through The Years. PHAEDRA COOK

ON THE ROAD TOKYO, JAPAN

Here I am at Shinamenhashigo noodle house in the Akasaka district of Tokyo. My favorite noodle house to date and a must-visit on each of my Tokyo visits. — Dwight Albers

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Hello, and happy holidays to our readers. As the wild mouse ride that was 2016 winds down, we have an announcement to make: The magazine you are reading right now is the last one that we will produce in this format. Starting in January 2017, you can expect significant changes in My Table magazine, our online newsletter SideDish and my-table.com. Let’s begin with the website. Since last summer we have been working with a company in California to build an entirely new website. Our current website, launched in early 2011, was brilliant at the time. It was so good-looking and nimble that it took third place in the AIGA’s Texas Show 2012. But five years is a long time in the digital world, and it’s time for a reboot and refresh. The new website, which we’ll roll out around the first of the year, will be more user-friendly with easier navigation. The design will be modern, fresh, clean and much more robust. Our readers and advertisers have told us that they want to read more articles on the website, and we listened. Going forward, we will publish original content daily online. This last point is especially important. Our website is about to become much newsier as we report and break local restaurant news, rather than round it up for the Table Talk column in the bimonthly print edition. In other words, Table Talk will now be on our website, and it will be updated frequently. Likewise, restaurant openings (and closings) will be updated in real time and added to our website. Interviews, trend stories,

cooking videos, recipes: There will be something new to read or watch on the website every day. SideDish, our digital newsletter, will be published once a week on Thursday (rather than Tuesday and Friday). Instead of being an online publication unto itself, SideDish will be a digest of our stories. Think of it as kind of a weekly table of contents delivered to your inbox that will guide you back to all the new stories on the website. Each edition of SideDish will have a full roster of our stories from the preceding week along with a calendar of upcoming culinary events. Finally, there’s My Table magazine, the print magazine that is the heart of our entire business. As the website takes on more of the news delivery and becomes a resource for both readers and the local food industry, the print magazine can evolve into something a little different. We know that readers love to hold and linger over beautiful print magazines. We know because you often tell us so. Our goal is to write and photograph longer, more thoughtful and more elegant articles. We will produce a lush magazine devoted entirely to the Houston food and drink world that will come out twice a year – Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter. These issues will each have many more pages than the current My Table. Every issue will be a keepsake publication. Readers treasure our print magazine, and we want to serve you even meatier and more flavorful print issues. In addition, we will produce two single-topic Ultimate Food Lover’s Guide to Houston every year. The guide will be

packed with information delivered in succinct reviews and lists. Each edition will be devoted to an area of town or a kind of food. We’ll tell you where to eat now and where to find best in class. These single-topic UFLGs will be released and mailed to subscribers between the two My Table magazines. If you’re a current subscriber to My Table magazine, you don’t need to do anything. We will continue to deliver our publications to you, just as we have for nearly 23 years. Why are we making these changes? The publishing world is changing, as you know. News is migrating to the internet. On the other hand, welldesigned print magazines will always have a niche, and – let’s be honest here – the My Table crew loves print. You’ve probably noticed a change in our magazine’s look these last three years, and the feedback has been very warm. Now, we are ready for the next phase in our growth and expansion. We look forward to taking the best about My Table magazine, SideDish and my-table.com and moving things around a little to create something that you will find even more useful and pleasurable. I hope you will join us in a toast to the future. Cheers!

editor & publisher

our timeline 1994

The first issue of My Table

2008

2011

2011

2012

The Ultimate Food Lover’s Guide to Houston, ed. 1

My Table’s 100th Issue

The Ultimate Food Lover’s Guide to Houston, ed. 2

My Table’s Wine Issue

2013

2014

The Ultimate Food Lover’s My Table’s 20th Guide to Houston, ed. 3 Anniversary Issue

w ith M A P INSIDE B AC K COV E R

1997

My Table hosts The First Annual Houston Culinary Awards.

8

2005

DECEMBER 2016 – JANUARY 2017

My Table launches SideDish, our weekly e-newsletter.

2016

My Table hosts The 20th Annual Houston Culinary Awards.

ILLUSTRATION BY CHRIS HSU

Time for the Main Course


Thank you Chef We Sell the Best and Service the Rest!

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TABLE TALK

When the two new restaurants near

Carolina-based investment firm. Ruggles

Minute Maid Park from BILL FLOYD

Green’s new CEO will be JASON

and Astros owner JIM CRANE were

MORGAN, former CFO of Dallas-based

first announced, they were BROCCA

ZOE’S KITCHEN. Local craft brewery

group of restaurants – they include the

(“pitcher”) and IL PANCHINA (“bench”).

KARBACH BREWING CO., which

various LIBERTY KITCHENS – executive

In October, there was a name change.

launched just five years ago, announced

chef TRAVIS LENIG has struck out on his

Brocca is now OSSO e POTENTE, serving

in November that it was being acquired

own. He and partner CHICO RAMIREZ

Northern Italian food, and Il Panchina is

by global giant ANHEUSER-BUSCH

announced they had signed a lease for

KRISTALLA, a casual trattoria.

INBEV. Out in Katy, JASON GALVAN,

After five years with the F.E.E.D. TX

705 E. 11th, the former home of ZELKO

TURTLE CLUB, a large and rowdy

who has operated a mobile crawfish

BISTRO. The partners hope to have FIELD

floating tavern on Clear Lake, will close

business during the season, recently

& TIDES open before Christmas. In early

at the end of December. Owner LANCE

unveiled a brick-and-mortar location.

October, the former TREVISIO restaurant

STEPHENS told his Facebook followers

It’s called CAPTAIN CRAWFISH and is

atop the Texas Medical Center parking

in October that the property where Turtle

located at 979 S. Mason Road.

garage bowed in as the new THIRD

Club docks has been sold.

COAST. Chef JON BUCHANAN remains

RUGGLES GREEN, a small chain of

REPLICATIONS: GRETCHEN TODD’s

organic juice and smoothie bar JUICE

in place; the menu and look of the place,

local restaurants known for its organic,

GIRL opened its second location at 214

however, are both new. It’s operated, as

vegan and gluten-free menu options

Fairview in the space previously occupied

before, by JOHN WATT (PREGO) and

and the first Certified Green Restaurant

by FLOW JUICE BAR. GR8 PLATE

TRACY VAUGHT (HUGO’S, etc.).

in Houston, has been sold to a North

HOSPITALITY GROUP (JAX’S GRILL,

9 DECEMBER 2016 – JANUARY 2017


HALF-PRICE Holiday GIFT SUBSCRIPTIONS Through December 31, My Table is offering a special savings on gift subscriptions. Buy the first annual subscription for yourself or a friend at the regular $30 rate, then buy as many more subscriptions as you like for $15 each. A personalized card announces your gift.

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Send your list to: My Table magazine, 1733 Harold St., Houston TX 77098 OR do it online at www.my-table.com

TABLE TALK

Montrose at 4306 Yoakum. ON THE DRAWING TABLE: CHRIS SHEPHERD (UNDERBELLY), KEVIN

(they have ETOILE) are working furiously to get their downtown spot BRASSERIE DU PARC open before Super Bowl.

etc.) recently opened the fourth location

FLOYD (HAY MERCHANT), finance guy

of THE UNION KITCHEN, this one at

STEVE FLIPPO and WHITNEY MERCILUS

the now-closed TARAKAAN in Midtown)

3452 Ella Blvd. VOMFASS has opened

(a player for the Texans) are taking over

let us know that he is opening NAO

a flagship store in The Woodlands at

the former MARK’S AMERICAN CUISINE

RAMEN HOUSE in the space that was

1950 Hughes Landing. Unlike the Rice

location on Westheimer to launch ONE

55 BAR & RESTAURANT in Rice Village.

Village location that sells oils, vinegars

FIFTH. Inspired by new-wave restaurants

The menu will include bao and yakitori,

and spices, the new VomFass will also

like GRANT ACHATZ’S NEXT (located

as well as ramen. Speaking of ramen:

offer a collection of tequilas, brandies,

in Chicago), the restaurant’s concept

Hawaii-based AGU RAMEN plans three

Irish whiskies, absinthes and more.

will be completely changed periodically.

Houston-area locations coming in quick

GOOD DOG HOUSTON is now cranking

Changes will include décor, menu,

succession, starting now. BACON BROS.

out its hand-crafted hot dogs at a second

wine list, even staff uniforms. The first

PUBLIC HOUSE, a South Carolina-based

location at 1312 W. Alabama, most

incarnation planned for One Fifth is a

gastropub, is opening its first Texas

recently the home to BRICK & SPOON.

Southern-style steakhouse.

location at 2110 Town Square Place in

BERNIE’S BURGER BUS has a third

KIRAN VERMA’s new namesake

Restaurateur PIRAN GHODS (he had

Sugar Land. It’s expected to open before

location under construction on Yale

restaurant should be open any moment.

Street in The Heights. CANE ROSSO, the

It’s located in the Kirby Grove building on

Dallas-based pizzeria, recently opened

Richmond Avenue. Meanwhile, PHILIPPE

Sandwich-and-salad shop LOCAL FOODS

a second Houston location, this one in

VERPIAND and his wife MONICA BUI

is planning a fourth location, this one

10 DECEMBER 2016 – JANUARY 2017

Christmas. NEW TENANTS IN OLD SPACES:


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TABLE TALK

2646 S. Shepherd one block south of Westheimer

713-524-3397

www.houstonwines.com

formerly at COLTIVARE, is opening a

ADAM DORRIS left PAX AMERICANA

casual neighborhood restaurant called

to work on PRESIDIO, and MARTHA

NOBIE’S. The old TEXADELPHIA on

WILCOX DE LEON has taken over chef

downtown in the former GEORGIA’S

Westheimer is being transformed into a

duties at Pax. She was recently joined

MARKET. COWBOYS & INDIANS

second BEAVER’S; it may be open by

by sous-chef DANIEL BLUE, who was

INDO-TEX KITCHEN has taken over

the time you read this. RONNIE KILLEN

previously at HUNKY DORY. In October,

the former JUAN MON international

is moving into the old BRAMBLE location

master sommelier DAVID KECK surprised

sandwich shop at 1901 Taft. As we’ve

in Briargrove. His KILLEN’S STQ will

fans by announcing that he was leaving

reported previously, CHERRY PIE

combine elements of both his steakhouse

CAMERATA, the wine bar that he helped

HOSPITALITY is opening STARFISH, a

and barbecue joint, both in Pearland and

develop and operate.

seafood restaurant, in the former home of

wildly successful.

BRADLEY’S FINE DINER.

CONDOLENCES … to the family,

OUR PERIPATETIC CHEFS ET AL:

friends and business associates of

Down in Galveston, HARBORSIDE

JOSEPH WELBORN has left SOMA

JOEL LEVY, who passed away in early

MERCANTILE at 2021 Strand proved

SUSHI for Alaska. TREADSACK bar

November. Levy was well-known to

to be too much of a stretch for owner

director LESLIE KROCKENBERGER (née

local foodies for helping to develop RICE

RICKY CRAIG. He has converted it

ROSS) has joined the staff of MOVING

EPICUREAN MARKETS.

into the fifth version of his popular

SIDEWALK. DELICIOUS CONCEPTS

hamburgery, HUBCAP GRILL, adding

restaurant group (RITUAL, PINKS

BLACK LAB, celebrating its 30th

“& COCKTAIL BAR” this time. The former

PIZZA, etc.) announced that chef and

anniversary. Well done!

AU PETIT PARIS at 2048 Colquitt won’t

pitmaster CRASH HETHCOX was the

be empty for long: MARTIN STAYER,

new culinary director of the operation.

11 DECEMBER 2016 – JANUARY 2017

CONGRATULATIONS ... to THE

For more restaurant news, follow us @MyTablemagazine and subscribe to SideDish.


noteworthy openings CAFE AZUR 4315 Montrose near Richmond, 713-524-0070, azurhouston.com

Taking over the former Max & Julie location, chef Sidney Degaine and his wife Maria settled on Houston to open their fourth restaurant (and first in this country). Cafe Azur has been whitewashed inside; accents are touched with hues from the sea. The wood floors have been lightened. Simple white tablecloths cover the tables that are sided by bentwood chairs. Out front, fun artificial turf and fairy lights make dining feel like a picnic. The menu has, as you might expect from the name, a strong South-of-France accent, along with some Italian influences. The restaurant boasts an intensive list of rose wines and makes its own limoncello to serve and mix into cocktails.

ELOISE NICHOLS GRILL & LIQUORS 2400 Mid Lane at Westheimer, 713-554-0136, eloisenichols.com

Adair Family Restaurants was founded in 1988 by Gary Adair and began with Skeeter’s Mesquite Grill. Today the family business, including Katie Adair Barnhart and her brother Nick Adair, also counts Adair Kitchen, Los Tios and Bebidas Juice, Coffee & Bites among its successes. Most recently, Eloise Nichols Grill & Liquors opened on Mid Lane. It takes its name from the siblings’ grandmother, and the easy-going concept is meant to be an any-nightof-the-week kind of regular spot. The menu from chef Joseph Stayschich (formerly at Benjy’s in the Village) includes chicken confit with gnocchilike dumplings, sweet tea-brined pork chop and “redfish on the half shell.”

JIMMY CHEW ASIAN KITCHEN 1609 Westheimer at Mandell, 713-528-2439, eatatchew.com

This late-night spot (where Vinoteca Poscól used to be) sports a trendy atmosphere and an extensive pan-Asian menu created by partners Irwin Palchick and David Truong. The interior is split, with one room outfitted with sleek green Asian-inspired furniture and dark lighting, while the other shares space with the bar and expresses a more casual vibe with high tables and stools. Ordering is counter service-style, and there’s Vietnamese pho and vermicelli noodles, kimchi fried rice, stir-fries, raw oysters, Cantonese short ribs and a list of burger options served with parmesan fries. For dessert, ice cream from Hey Mikey’s and house-made cakes and pies are available. JIMMY CHEW

PHOTO BY MELODY YIP

ELOISE NICHOLS GRILL

CAFE AZUR

PHOTO BY JILL HUNTER

PHOTO BY DAVID TONG

12 DECEMBER 2016 – JANUARY 2017


SWIRLED WITH LOCALLY-MADE TREATS

PELI PELI KITCHEN 9090 Katy Fwy. at Campbell, 281-257-9500, pelipelikitchen.com

South African chef Paul Friedman and business partners Thomas Nguyen and Michael Tran recently opened their latest version of Peli Peli. This one is a fast-casual take on the fullservice original. The dishes are entirely new creations that pull from many types of cuisine. Among our SideDish reporter’s favorites: smoked salmon rosti (a warm wrap made with naan and garnished with goat cheese, fried onions, a poached egg and hollandaise), tender chunks of oxtail and gravy served over a South African-style yellow rice and sticky toffee cupcakes with cream cheese frosting. A full-fledged Peli Peli is currently under construction in Katy. PEPPER TWINS 1915 West Gray at Dunlavy, 346-204-5644, txpeppertwins.com

It was just 15 months ago that Yunan Yang and her sister Lily Luo opened Cooking Girl on Fairview at Taft. Lovers of authentic tongue-numbing Sichuan food immediately made it a regular stop, despite the tiny dining room and often-long waits (especially for the remarkable dumplings). In September, Yang opened this new spot where Nam Noodles used to reside. Like Cooking Girl, it is country-style Chinese made with organic ingredients. Because the kitchen is larger, the staff will be able to accommodate a larger menu. But don’t worry, your favorites are here, including “Super Cubic Jerky,” mapo tofu and “Soft Square Bacon.”

SHAKE SHACK'S SHACKBURGER

RISE NO. 2 1700 Post Oak Blvd. at San Felipe (in Blvd. Place, second floor), 713-850-7473, risesouffle.com

Hedda Gioia Dowd, who owns Antique Harvest, a Dallas business that brings in unique items from French châteaux, vineyards and farmhouses, had a dream. She wanted to own a restaurant that conjured up the graciousness of both her mother’s entertaining style and South of France brasseries. Thus, with the input of Lyon-born chef Cherif Brahmi, Rise was born in Dallas in 2008. This is its second location, and if ever a restaurant was designed with “ladies who lunch” in mind, this is it. It’s cozy and pretty, and the menu is full of nice things to eat – most notably soufflés, hence its name. On any given day there are at least 10 savory soufflés and seven dessert soufflés, each with its calorie count listed on the menu. The whole package is charming, and everything – napkins, glassware, salt-and-pepper cellars, tote bags – artfully arranged around the room is for sale. SHAKE SHACK 5015 Westheimer, A2411, 281-2130445, shakeshack.com/location/ Houston-galleria

After months of anticipation, Houston finally got its first Shake Shack, the fast-food chain developed by restaurateur Danny Meyer. Shake Shack began as a hot dog cart in the year 2000 during the redevelopment of NYC’s Madison Square Park. In 2004 it became a kiosk within the park and, though never intended to become

a chain, it took off. Its name comes from the hand-made milkshakes that the kiosk was famous for. Houston’s new Shake Shack serves all the original classics, including hamburgers, “flat-top dogs,” milkshakes, frozen custard and wine and beer. In addition to the classics, the Houston Shake Shack offers Texas-exclusives like the Lockhart Link Burger with Kreuz Market jalapeño cheese sausage and custards swirled with sweet treats from local spots Fluff Bake Bar and Morningstar (as well as seasonal pies from Fluff Bake Bar). Look for Shake Shack next to the Westin valet entrance on the Westheimer side of The Galleria. LIBERTY KITCHEN @ THE TREEHOUSE 963 Bunker Hill Rd. at Gaylord Dr., 713-468-3745

This beautiful eco-friendly building by MetroNational – this is the company that has developed practically everything in sight in the Memorial City area – is the home for the fifth Liberty Kitchen. Culinary director Lance Fegen has kept many popular items on the menu, such as the deviled eggs with fried oyster, Dixie fried chicken, bacon jam and Creole gumbo, and added some new choices too. A recent trip to South America provided inspiration for cazuela of pork shoulder and house-made sausages. Careful readers may recall this location was originally announced to be the new and larger location of Jonathan’s The Rub. Alas, that deal soured, and the Liberty Kitchen group was able to snag a prime Memorial toehold.

noteworthy closings MO’S … A PLACE FOR STEAKS

1801 Post Oak Blvd.

PONZO’S ITALIAN FOOD

2515 Bagby

13 DECEMBER 2016 – JANUARY 2017

PHOTOS BY EVAN SUNG

SHAKE SHACK'S FROZEN CUSTARD

RICO’S MEXICAN GRILL

25250 Northwest Fwy.


A LOTTA MUFFALETTA

Text and photography by Melody Yip

The muffaletta is an Italian-American sandwich rooted solidly in New Orleans. The Central Grocery & Deli on Decatur Street claims to have invented the sandwich – a quick lunch for dockworkers on the nearby Mississippi River – around the turn of the last century. Built on a round sesame seed-topped Sicilian loaf, the muffaletta holds layers of cured meats, cheese and, most important, pickled olives – known as olive salad or olive relish. That trademark Sicilian loaf can resemble focaccia in texture, or it can veer more towards French bread. Either way, the muffaletta is not a dainty thing. A few weeks ago I embarked on a muffaletta investigation, a mission to sort out local iterations of the muffaletta. Before beginning, I wondered, “How hard can it be to mess up a sandwich?” But as I sampled, it became clear that not every sammie is created equal. The ratio of fixings, the quality of the bread, the components of the olive salad – these are all-important factors. Here’s how it went. Ratings are based on a scale of one to five olives 14 DECEMBER 2016 – JANUARY 2017


District 7 Grill 501 Pierce St. at Brazos St., 713-751-0660, district7midtown.com

The menu’s description sparked my curiosity for this hipster, brunch-centric muffaletta presentation as an open-faced sandwich. Yet all I could see were the pickled olives – perhaps too many olives. Nibbles of cauliflower, celery and red bell pepper added more color among the green and black, creating a chunky blanket over the fried eggs and the layers of meat and mozzarella. The fried eggs added a hearty element to the sandwich, as did the Gambino bread’s buttery, spongy consistency. I loved the way the bread practically dripped olive oil. PRICE: $9

D’Amico’s Italian Market Cafe 5510 Morningside Dr. in Rice Village, 713-526-3400, damico-cafe.com

D’Amico’s interior space is absolutely darling, resembling an Italian market with shelves of dry goods and an impressive fridge that showcases gelato and massive slices of cake. Genoa salami? Mortadella? I appreciated the Italian roots of the fixings for this muffaletta, and the sandwich’s presentation stunned with sizable portions and clean-cut halves. However, the olive relish’s pungent tartness was so overwhelming that I had to eat the sandwich in a more deconstructed way, without the relish. PRICE: $10.49

Antone’s Import Company Original 8057 Kirby at Old Spanish Trail, 713-667-3400

Antone’s looks like a venerable hole-in-thewall and is a favorite of Medical Center working folks. The muffaletta bread here was deflated and had a denser texture, but it had a satisfying crunch from the toaster that enhanced the sesame seeds’ nuttiness. All the layers fit neatly and evenly in the sandwich, so I tasted everything with each bite. The thick oozy spread of mayonnaise masked a bit of the olive salad’s flavor, and it coated the rather sparse slices of salami and ham. I call for more meat, less mayo. 15

PRICE: $9.65

DECEMBER 2016 – JANUARY 2017 DECEMBER 2016 – JANUARY 2017

15


WORTH MENTIONING...

Friends tell us that the next time we're in Galveston, a muffaletta at MACEO SPICE AND IMPORT COMPANY is a must. 2706 Market St., Galveston 409-763-3331 maceospice.com

WINNER!

Carter & Cooley Company 375 W. 19th St., 713-864-3354, carterandcooley.com

Carter & Cooley is a vintage Heights deli, a little dingy, where the muffaletta might not be exactly New Orleans-style – they use focaccia bread – but I’m not complaining. The focaccia, lightly toasted, soaks up all the olive oil and cheese grease (provolone and Swiss) and melts in the mouth. Between the cheeses is a generous layer of meat and olive spread piquante, some of which tumbled out of the sandwich. The piquante carried the most punch of flavor, armed with a salty tang that elevated and complemented the other ingredients. This was a stellar sandwich. PRICE: $9.95

CARTER & COOLEY COMPANY IN THE HEIGHTS

16 DECEMBER 2016 – JANUARY 2017


Houston’s Famous Deli 2130 Holly Hall St. at Knight Rd., 713-799-2544, houstonsfamousdeli.com

Located near NRG Stadium, Houston’s serves their muffaletta with a bit of all-American style, including lettuce, tomatoes and mayonnaise in the layers. The thick bread has a wonderfully airy and spongy texture. With everything piled inside, it tasted like a pleasant twist on a club sandwich, with salami and ham replacing the turkey and bacon. The inclusion of Houston’s homemade olive spread as a layer could have added more of an olive tang in the flavors, but the mayonnaise did add a creamy dimension to the sandwich that encouraged me to polish off my half in mere seconds. PRICE: $5.39 half, $9.78 whole

Crescent City Beignets 5885 San Felipe St. at Fountain View, 832-940-2630, crescentcity.us

This restaurant prides itself on New Orleans-style food, but I found their muffaletta disappointing. It’s never a good sign when you see more bread than fixings in a sandwich, and I awkwardly examined the slab in my hands, trying to figure out how best to bite into it. Despite the layers of ham, salami and provolone, the bread’s dry-doughy consistency was distracting. Even the olive salad lacked much flavor, so the sandwich overall fell flat. Fortunately, Crescent City’s justly famous pillowy beignet with a lavish blizzard of powdered sugar redeemed the experience. PRICE: $10.95

Ragin’ Cajun 4302 Richmond by the railroad tracks, 713-623-6321, ragin-cajun.com

This muffaletta looked chunky, in a cute way. The olive spread took the prize among all the layers – it tasted rich and not too pickle-y – but the bread felt rather thick in my mouth. I would not recommend this muffaletta as a bargain, but it seems to be a decent introduction for any muffaletta beginner. It resembles the traditional sandwich to the T, simple but filling. PRICE: $9 half, $16 whole

17 DECEMBER 2016 – JANUARY 2017

Melody Yip is My Table's intern. She is a student at Rice University majoring in English.


crazy for croquembouche Recipe compliments of David Cordúa and Almendra Callirgos Text and photos by Dragana Harris

18 DECEMBER 2016 – JANUARY 2017

18

DECEMBER 2016 – JANUARY 2017

"CROCKOMBUSH"


This is the season for special sweets, and none is more beautiful – or delicious – than a croquembouche (crockom-bush). From the French croque en bouche, meaning “crunch in the mouth,” this elegant dessert is a conical tower of small profiteroles (cream puffs) traditionally served at special occasions in France, where no wedding, baptism or first communion is complete without it. Its pièce de résistance – glistening golden spun sugar that spirals from top to bottom – makes the croquembouche a festive work of art. In Great Britain it has become a popular dessert over the Christmas holidays. Because it’s shaped like a Christmas tree, it’s a showstopper, reflecting light and joy. A couple of Cordon Bleu-trained Houston chefs have mastered the croquembouche and shared their recipes and tips with us: David Cordúa is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and executive chef at his family’s Cordúa Restaurants, while Almendra Callirgos, Cordúa’s executive pastry chef, graduated from Le Cordon Bleu Peru in Lima. Many oohs and aahs could be heard behind the clicking of smartphones as the tower came together. The croquembouche is made of several components: light and airy profiteroles; sweet vanilla pastry cream that is piped into the profiteroles; deep amber caramel, which is the glue that

holds the structure together; and a spiral of delicate and lustrous spun sugar that envelops it. There’s a delightful contrast in textures between crunchy caramel on the outside and the vanilla cream filling in the profiteroles. Profiteroles are made with pâte à choux (patt-a-shoo) – the same soft dough used to make churros, éclairs and cheesy puffs called gougères. Because the recipe makes about 150 small profiteroles, you will need to bake them in two batches, using two pans at a time. The super glue of the pastry chef ’s kitchen – blistering hot liquid caramel – does a quick and efficient job of bonding the profiteroles. It dries very quickly and stays put until cracked. Please be aware that working with hot caramel requires great caution. Wear gloves and proceed carefully. Somewhat time-consuming to make, parts of the croquembouche can be prepared in advance. Assembling it, however, must be done only few hours before serving. I recommend starting with the pastry cream. Make it at least one day and up to three days in advance, so that it’s completely cold and very thick. The profiteroles can be made one day in advance, cooled completely and stored in an airtight container. If they have softened by the next day, simply reheat them in a 250˚F oven to re-crisp before filling.

PROFITEROLES (CREAM PUFFS)

19 DECEMBER 2016 – JANUARY 2017

As David and Almendra worked together, joking back and forth with their staff in their native Spanish, it occurred to me that that this could be a fun activity for friends and family during the holidays. I envision the spirit of the season bringing friends together over cheese, wine and croquembouche.

CROQUEMBOUCHE

(Recipe makes one 20-inch pastry) PASTRY CREAM

3 cups (720 grams) whole milk 1 vanilla bean 8 egg yolks 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar 6 Tbsp. (50 grams) corn starch 2 Tbsp. (28 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature Pour whole milk into a medium saucepan. Slit vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Scrape the seeds with the tip of the knife and add seeds and vanilla bean to milk. Bring milk mixture to a boil; remove from heat to cool slightly. Meanwhile, beat egg yolks and sugar with a wire whisk in a bowl. Add cornstarch and whisk until mixture is smooth. Slowly add hot milk, little by little, while whisking constantly, until the egg mixture has warmed and thinned a little. Pour warm egg mixture into the saucepan with the milk METHOD:


and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture becomes very thick and creamy. Remove from heat and add butter. Whisk until butter has melted. Cover pastry cream directly on its surface with plastic wrap and allow it to cool completely. Refrigerate until needed. (If using pastry cream the same day, cool pastry cream by placing the pan in an ice bath – a bowl filled with ice and water. Stir constantly until pastry cream is cold. Cover and refrigerate until needed.) The pastry cream can be made three days ahead. PÂTE À CHOUX

1 cup (240 grams) water 1 cup (250 grams) milk 8 ounces (2 sticks; 226 grams) unsalted butter 1 Tbsp. (15 grams) salt 1 Tbsp. (15 grams) granulated sugar 2 cups (230 grams) all-purpose flour 8 (400 grams) large eggs 2 egg yolks, for egg wash Heat water, milk, butter, salt and sugar in a medium saucepan until butter and sugar are melted and it begins to boil. Remove from heat. All at once, tip the flour into the milk mixture and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until it forms a thick dough. Return to medium heat and stir for about 3 to 5 minutes or until it forms a ball that pulls away from the saucepan and leaves a thin film on the bottom of the saucepan. Remove from heat and transfer dough to a mixing bowl of a stand mixer (or large bowl if using a hand-held mixer). Beat the mixture on medium-low speed to release steam and to cool the dough, about 5 minutes. When the dough is warm to the touch, add whole eggs, one by one, beating well after each egg has been added. This will aerate the dough and allow the puffs to rise in the oven. The dough will be sticky. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Line two (or four, if you have two ovens) 13 x 18 pans with parchment paper. Transfer dough to a piping bag with a ½-inch tip. Pipe dough onto pans using a circular motion until the dough mounds into about 1¼ inches in diameter, leaving about 2 inches between mounds. Combine egg yolks with 2 tablespoons water to make an egg wash. METHOD:

Smooth the tops of the mounds by gently brushing the tops with egg wash. Place pans in oven and check after 15 minutes. If the puffs have doubled in size and are uniformly golden-brown, remove them from the oven. (Repeat baking method with two more pans, for a total of four.) Cool puffs completely. Can be made a day ahead – if the profiteroles soften overnight, bake them on trays in a 250˚F oven for about 15 minutes. Makes about 150. CARAMEL

(Prepare the caramel when ready to assemble the croquembouche) 2½ cups (500 grams) granulated sugar ¼ cup (80 grams) light corn syrup ⅔ cup (158 grams) water Place sugar and corn syrup in a medium saucepan. Slowly pour water in pan so as not to disturb the sugar. Do not stir. Place pan on high heat and bring mixture to a boil, shaking the pan back and forth until the sugar has dissolved. Watch constantly and cook the mixture until it is a dark amber color. The caramel will be extremely hot. METHOD:

To assemble the croquembouche Cut a small slit in the bottom of each puff using a knife. Place cold pastry cream in a piping bag fitted with a filling tip (available at craft stores or online) or a small piping tip, about ¼-inch. Fill each shell with pastry cream. Draw the circumference of an 8” or 9” circle on a cake board or stand. Use this line as the base for your croquembouche. Please proceed with caution and wear gloves for protection. Dip the top of each filled profiterole in the hot caramel, letting the excess drip off. Set aside until you’ve dipped the entire batch. To form the base of the croquembouche, take a cream puff and dip the bottom in caramel. Place it on the drawn line on the cake base or stand. Continue with more cream puffs until the bottom row is complete, nestling the cream puffs tightly together. To form the rest of the layers, dip the cream puffs in hot caramel on one side and place it on the puff below it with the dipped side touching the cream puff next to it (not below 20it). Some of the DECEMBER 2016 – JANUARY 2017

caramel will flow down and glue itself to the cream puff below. To achieve an elongated conical shape, angle the cream puffs inward slightly with each new row, which will be smaller than the one below it. You will use one or two fewer cream puffs per row as you build your croquembouche. Check periodically to see that the overall shape is vertical. It may look messy at first, but keep on going … the final croquembouche will be beautiful. David and Almendra ended up with 13 rows plus a single crowning cream puff on the top. If necessary, carefully re-heat the caramel until it is fluid enough to work with. Spun sugar swirl Please proceed with caution and wear gloves for protection. Place an extra-long metal spatula (or long knife) perpendicular to the edge of your workspace. Line the floor beneath it with newspaper (about 3 feet long) to catch any drips. Re-heat the leftover caramel. Using a large fork or spoon, scoop the caramel and quickly pulse it back and forth across the spatula several times. If the caramel forms fine threads below the spatula, keep the motion going until you have a thick cascade of fine spun sugar. With gloved hands, grasp the spun sugar threads right beneath the spatula and gently pull them away. Wrap the spun sugar around part of the croquembouche in a spiral shape, starting from the top. Repeat the process until the croquembouche is covered to your liking. If the caramel does not form sugar threads easily, stir vigorously with a spoon and test every minute or so until it does. Decorate with flowers, fruit, chocolate, nuts or candy and serve the same day, because the pastry cream filling is temperature sensitive. Do not refrigerate, as that will soften the profiteroles. To serve, carefully crack the croquembouche with the back of a knife to separate the profiteroles. Dragana Arežina Harris is a life-long food, wine and travel enthusiast. She blogs about food at draganabakes. blogspot.com and dabbles in chocolate at dragana-bakes.com


ASSEMBLING THE CROQUEMBOUCHE CAUTION! HOT CARAMEL

FILL CREAM PUFFS WITH

DIP THE TOP

PASTRY CREAM USING A

OF EACH FILLED

PIPING BAG FITTED WITH

PROFITEROLE IN THE

A FILLING TIP.

HOT CARAMEL.

DIP THE CREAM PUFFS IN HOT CARAMEL ON ONE

DECORATE WITH

SIDE AND PLACE IT ON THE PUFF BELOW IT WITH THE

SPUN SUGAR SWIRL,

DIPPED SIDE TOUCHING THE CREAM PUFF NEXT TO IT.

FLOWERS, FRUIT, CHOCOLATE, NUTS OR CANDY.

21 DECEMBER 2016 – JANUARY 2017 DECEMBER 2016 – JANUARY 2017

21


oysters opened up By Taylor Byrne Dodge Photography by Becca Wright

22 DECEMBER 2016 – JANUARY 2017


Is it just a pile of shells? Earlier this year, My Table magazine was invited to join State of Grace chef Bobby Matos and his wife Jessica to see what a day in the life of the oyster industry is like. Our hosts, Raz and Gelim Halili of Prestige Oysters in Dickinson, also invited seafood legend and founder of Louisiana Seafood, Jim Gossen, to come along. It used to seem like in oyster season – November 1 through April 30 in Texas – restaurants had a bottomless supply of big Gulf oysters. Restaurants regularly featured them in deeply discounted specials – people here in the office laughingly recall “a-dime-a-slime” happy hour prices. Not so much any more. While the fishermen and oyster shuckers who work for Prestige Oysters arrive at work three hours before the sun rises, we gathered at 11 am and were able to tour the facility, walk inside the biggest refrigerator we’ve ever seen, understand why careful management of Galveston’s oyster beds is so important and watch oysters go through a conveyor system of rock removal, shell clean-

ing, bagging and, for some, shucking. Raz explained that the majority of the oysters harvested by Prestige Oysters are taken by fishermen, but it is women who clean and shuck the oysters sold to the chefs who prefer them ready to cook. Many of these women work 3 to 8 am, and, when their work is done, most go to their next job. This is not an easy way to earn a living. We moved through the facilities, impressed by their size and cleanliness. The industrial aspects of harvesting oysters are mammoth at Prestige Oysters. But what was most thrilling was a speedboat ride out to a flatbed oyster boat lazily circling offshore near Red Fish Island. As we awkwardly jumped from a powerful fiberglass vessel that costs more than many Houston homes onto the oyster-fishing boat, we watched as industry veterans pulled oysters out of the water and popped them open with a short knife. Slurp! We were able to down a dozen in just a few minutes. Some of the oysters, estimated to be five years old, were in shells bigger than my entire hand. Most were closer to three years old, ac-

HALF-SHELL LEXICON Salinity Saltiness of water.

Salinity, water circulation and temperature all affect how well oysters thrive. Galveston Bay naturally hosts excellent oyster conditions.

Hydrology Flow of water. River water and salt water of Texas go through three Gulf interchanges. Hydrology components of the Gulf include the freshwater of the Trinity River, the San Jacinto River and bayous and streams. Freshwater allows for the salinity balance that oysters require. Bolivar Roads Pass

Entrance through which salty ocean water passes from the Gulf of Mexico into Galveston Bay, which in turn also affects Trinity, East and West Bays. Spat When an oyster larvae

attaches itself to a shell or other hard surface, it becomes a spat – a young oyster. Freshet Before Texas rivers

and bayous were controlled by dams and reservoirs, fresh water rushed through to the bay very quickly, exposing oysters to lower salinity water for a shorter period of time. This fast movement of fresh water is a freshet. Protandric Having male

sex organs while young and changing to female sex organs with age. Yes, oysters spawn as males while young. But as they grow and develop more energy reserves, they become females.

23 DECEMBER 2016 – JANUARY 2017


STATE OF GRACE CHEF BOBBY MATOS

24 DECEMBER 2016 – JANUARY 2017


JIM GOSSEN SLURPING OYSTERS

cording to Jim Gossen. They dwarf New England and East Coast oysters, though they are the same species, Crassostrea virginica. The conditions in the Gulf bays make the oyster grow fast, big and ready for harvest in 18 to 20 months; the same oyster in the cold waters of New England or Nova Scotia can take four years. Our Southern oysters taste different from Northeast oysters, too. Those from cold waters are often more full-flavored with a metallic tang and some “snap” to their bodies. Our warm-water oysters are fatter, softer, milder and better for frying. Alas, the past eight years have been devastating for the oyster community along the Gulf. It began locally with Hurricane Ike in 2008 when Galveston Bay lost about half of its oyster reefs. Oyster reefs are big clumps of oysters that live together. Some oyster reefs are so large that they are included on topographic maps and can pose a hazard to boats and ships. Following Ike were seven years of drought – 2011 was the worst – which interfered with oyster growth and cut short harvesting season. Oysters need a blend of salt and fresh water to thrive,

and the drought upset that balance. Major flooding in 2015 and 2016 upset the balance in the other direction. Too much freshwater – such as what runs off during heavy flooding – is as bad as too little. In 2010, the BP oil spill tanked Gulf seafood sales everywhere. Five years later, when studies proved that Gulf seafood was again safe to eat, consumers still didn’t have much confidence in Gulf oysters and crabs and stayed away. And in November of this year, Louisiana and Texas have had to close several bays to oyster fishing because oysters are reportedly too small to be harvested – Gulf oysters must be at least three inches when harvested. Texas Parks & Wildlife decided to close the Texas beds to avoid what happened in Louisiana: depletion of oysters. That means 20 percent of the Texas oyster beds are unfishable this year in an effort to cultivate more future growth. Altogether, the abbreviated seasons, lack of oyster availability, increasing cost of processing and the destruction to oyster beds have not only financially ruined many fishermen but also nearly doubled the price of oysters. A retail sack of 100 oysters can currently cost almost $40; 25 DECEMBER 2016 – JANUARY 2017

before the BP spill, the price was $20. As of this writing, Galveston-area oyster fishermen are allowed to pull only 40 sacks per day. The previous legal limit was 150 sacks per day. The good news is that something is being done. Earlier this year, hundreds of tons of rock and shell were strategically dumped into Texas bays in an effort to help rebuild the reefs and spur oyster growth. That means in three years, if the ecological conditions cooperate, plentiful masses of shellfish will again be harvested from these nurtured beds. Next time you feel like putting away a dozen Gulf oysters, consider the source. When you buy Gulf oysters, you’re supporting the local economy. That stack of overturned shells means that you’re paying it forward to your local fishermen, supporting them in what we can all hope are better times ahead for both the muddy waters of Galveston Bay and the people that feed their families from them.

Taylor Byrne Dodge is My Table's associate publisher and creative director.


LEAVING TIME By Stephanie Madan

While I was at school one Friday, age 13, my mother accepted my first babysitting job, a career path in which I had no interest. I had planned to spend the evening interpreting the lyrics on The Beatles’ White Album tracks and eating more of the Gold Brick chocolate bars I was supposed to be selling to fund a library book drive. But no, I would be watching the two boys belonging to our nextdoor neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Mouton. Worse, Mama had loaned me out at half the going sitter rate – a neighborly gesture, she explained. I descended into an immediate depression, but Mama shot me That Look. I was stuck. The good news is I enjoyed prompt benefits mitigating the pain of the trifling pay. For one thing, I immediately fell in love with Mr. and Mrs. Mouton. How could I do otherwise? They epitomized class. How had I missed it? Mrs. Mouton styled her hair in a French chignon, wore My Sin perfume

and owned a black dress with puffy see-through fabric sleeves. That dress broke my heart with its connotations of sophisticated evenings. Mr. Mouton wore silk pocket squares and possessed a sport coat with cognac leather ovals at its elbows. I liked Mr. Mouton. A lot. Their style, their way of smiling at each other as if sharing a secret joke, their habit of laughing as they finished each other’s sentences, of sharing a martini before leaving for a party, ignited in me a will to lead precisely such a life as soon as practicable. And their boys were both at easy ages – old enough to be rational, too youthful to grasp how close I was to them in age. For the most part, they complied with house rules and, the odd times mutiny arose, could be bribed with a hand or two of Old Maid. The boys could also be relied upon to remain tucked into their bunk beds after lights-out, but I ignored that opportunity to launch explorations

CARTOON BY DOUG PIKE

26 DECEMBER 2016 – JANUARY 2017

of drawers and medicine cabinets. Instead, I struggled through my math assignments, knowing that once they were completed, my reward would come via another Mouton benefit, their record collection. This was the perfect motivator for music-obsessed, selfabsorbed me. The Moutons owned every album by Barbra Streisand, a singer I venerated. Some of my favorite lyrics celebrated arrogance and infliction of emotional pain. Don’t like goodbyes, tears and sighs. Don’t like to leave you, sorry to grieve you It’s travelin’ time and I must move on… I wanted to leave someone, grieve someone, revel in the left one’s desolation. Between this song and the one about wishing to go to town in a golden gown to have my fortune told, my core was laid bare. I sang along to entire Streisand albums, evaluating my performance in the entry-hall mirror, favorably struck by the emotional intensity I brought to each song. One evening when the Moutons returned, Mrs. Mouton did not immediately go check on the boys – a distinct change in behavior. Instead, they both approached me in the living room where I was putting away the People album. Mr. Mouton pressed a five-dollar bill in my hand, a minor fortune relative to prior payments. “I … We … need to talk to you about something,” Mrs. Mouton announced, nodding in Mr. Mouton’s direction while tapping a cigarette out of the pack on the end table. She had lipstick on her teeth. I was too shy to alert her – and too worried I was about to be pounced on for eating most of the leftover lasagna last time. Mr. Mouton spoke next. “The thing


is, our life’s changing. Looks like we’re getting a divorce.” He amended that. “Well, we are getting a divorce.” Pause. “For a lot of good reasons.” He lit Mrs. Mouton’s cigarette with the silver lighter from the coffee table, his face expressing his typical tenderness. “The plan is to be out of here next weekend. We’ve rented apartments in the same complex so the boys won’t be too upset.” He trailed off with, “We’ll miss you, of course.” Mrs. Mouton jumped in. “Will you come see the boys one day this week to say goodbye? They adore you.” It was impossible to articulate my questions. If love wasn’t finishing each other’s sentences, lighting one another’s cigarettes, what was it? I understood nothing. In what algebra did tenderness and divorce intersect? Mr. Mouton walked me to my door, both of us silent. It did not escape me that he would soon be in need of a wife, but I had lost my bearings and could not love a man whose actions

so distorted my version of love – immutable, unchangeable. I lay in bed later that night, munching on another Gold Brick bar, with another Streisand tune running through my head, Never Will I Marry. I wanted none of it. I sought, however, to solve their problems deep into that night – who gets the silver table lighter, who gets the albums, whose life is improved? The assignment was beyond me. ****

Now it is my turn to say “I need to talk to you about something.” This marks the final Just Desserts column. I personally have never been a big fan of change, but I do concede that, at its best, change serves to introduce a different perspective. Employing food logic, consider this: Without change, freshening of outlooks, what would we have? No inside-out sushi, for one. No turducken, no deconstructed Caesar

salads – a bleak world indeed. Still, no surprise that my feelings are mixed. I love My Table and its people. This column’s conclusion marks a change far from pang-free, but also provides the path toward finishing that book (does suggesting that serve to jinx it?), traveling more while good health keeps the security lines bearable, and, perhaps, singing along with Barbra once in a while. So change is upon us. But not total change. We’ll still be dining out most nights, me listening in on people’s conversations, speculating on which parties are the terrorists while Paul sighs and turns his attention to the wine list. That, ladies and gentlemen, is something I do not see changing.

Stephanie Madan writes about her encounters with food, friends and travel calamities along with her relentless search for metaphorical rainbows.

Tapas, Paella & Wine in Rice Village

2425 University Blvd. 713.522.9306 www.elmeson.com

Chef/Sommelier Pedro Angel Garcia

27 DECEMBER 2016 – JANUARY 2017


– Food Lover's Quizine –

that's just wrong! A Merry Mix of Seasonal Faux Pas By Micki McClelland

If there’s one thing you can count on during the winter holidays, it is that mistakes will be made – mistakes in the kitchen, mistakes at the table, mistakes in behavior and mistakes in judgment. But so what if there are a few hiccups! The important thing is to get our jingle on, merry make and let the potato chips fall where they may.

One of the standards of the holiday season is the office party. It’s a time for ho-ho-ho-ing outside one’s sterile cubicle, a time to mix it up with one’s colleagues, a time when the workaday world gets to shed its chains of toil, toast the end of the year with Champagne-filled plastic cups and munch on carrot sticks raked through onion dip. Many people who have spent 11 months holding back will now use the occasion to release their inner monkey. Of the acts committed by the characters described below, which have been observed in recent years at holiday office parties and which are too silly to be true: (a) The randy guy who tries to get a strip poker game going with the gals from the secretarial pool. (b) The mild-mannered bookkeeper who sees the chance to display her hidden talents, strips down to bra and panties and performs a hoochiecoochie routine on the conference table. (c) The wag wearing the light-up Christmas tree hat who sticks a

firecracker down the pants of the comptroller’s Santa Claus costume. (d) The marketing whiz who tries to sell his wife to the highest bidder. (e) The graphics artist who writes her cell phone number in lipstick over the urinals in the men’s restroom. (f) The weight-challenged dude who stuffs his briefcase with snatched party food, mainly the cupcakes with the thematic red and green icing. (g) The boss who forgets himself and must ask others to remember.

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Music fills our ears during the holiday season. One song that might be played in elevators across the city this season is a cut from John Denver’s 1975 album Rocky Mountain Christmas. The late balladeer, known for warbling enthusiastically about the high he enjoyed in his beloved Rocky Mountains, sings of another sort of high in the song that includes the lyric: “I don’t want to see my Mamma cry.” The title of the song reveals who and what made John Denver’s mamma cry at Christmastime. Can you name it? 2

GRAPHIC FROM BIGSTOCK.COM/RASTUDIO

28 DECEMBER 2016 – JANUARY 2017

Little-known fact: At the first Thanksgiving in 1621, the three-day feast was attended by 90 Indians and just 23 Pilgrims. The Indians – members of the Wampanoag tribe – were not invited to dinner; rather they’d come storming into the Plymouth settlement ready to do battle. Thankfully, explanations were given and everybody calmed down. After going on a hunting expedition that saw the Indians and the Pilgrims working together to secure food, the two groups sat down to share a nice meal. Question is: What threatening activity had the Pilgrims been engaged in prior to the raid, an activity that so incited the Native Americans that they felt compelled to rush the camp with weapons drawn? 3

Take out your pen, and next to the following ideas for ramping up your Christmas experience please write either the word GREAT or the word TACKY, or jot down the darling of the texting milieu WTF. (a) Go to Caracas, Venezuela, and 4


attend morning mass between December 16 to December 24 by roller-skating to church. (b) Make kiviak by stuffing 500 auks (arctic birds) – feathers, beaks and all – into a seal skin, sew it up, slather it in grease, set a large rock on top and let it sit for two months. When it’s almost Christmastime, break open the seal skin and eat the decomposed, fermented birds. They taste, it is said, just like bleu cheese. (c) Hang Christmas lights in the shape of a middle finger shooting the bird. (d) Glue three candy canes together to make festive place card holders. (e) Use dental floss to thread cranberry and popcorn garlands. (f) Take a tip from the annual tradition in Oaxaca, Mexico, and create a nativity scene by carving holy figures out of radishes. (g) Create a jolly coterie of Santa’s elves using fat German sausages and a Marks-a-Lot. String them up in the kitchen. (h) Sneak into the zoo on Christmas day and feed leftover fruitcake to the rhinos. (i) Eat Christmas dinner at Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) like the Japanese do. (j) Dress your dog up like Santa, put on your best Christmas-themed earrings and take a selfie. (k) Make a holiday punch called John Denver’s Dad’s Bane out of beer, eggnog, Scotch and XO cognac. (l) Create wreath ornaments out of your stack of old lottery scratch-off cards. A 2015 study conducted by Dr. Dacher Keltner at the University of California Berkeley reached the conclusion that people of high status will quickly develop bad table manners. The uncouth behavior happens because a change takes place in the frontal lobe of the brain – a change that renders an astoundingly large majority of Mover-Shakers self-centered and disinterested in other people’s opinions. Adorably dubbed The Cookie Monster Study because of the Sesame Street character’s obnoxious and greedy way 5

Dinner and A Movie

ILLUSTRATION BY CINDY VATTATHIL

of eating cookies, the study found that people of power will eat with their mouths open, grab food off some lesser person’s plate, let crumbs drop down on their clothes, rarely use napkins, smoke at the table, talk on the phone at the table, grab the butt – and other parts – of a waitress, throw food if they get mad enough, dribble their martinis, not eat all their veggies and call a taco bowl “authentic Mexican food.” At the end of his paper on the subject, psychologist Keltner compared the behavioral traits of elevated personages of power with another group that suffers a similar personality disorder. Which group? 29 DECEMBER 2016 – JANUARY 2017

Dire consequences of seasonal merrymaking connect a 9V battery, a man’s dress shirt given as a gift at Christmas and a beer bottle. All three are tied together by disaster. What horrors transpired because of the battery, the shirt and bottle? 6

Answers appear on page 31.

Writer Micki McClelland wishes everyone a happy and tacky-free New Year.


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HOUSTON CULI N ARY AWARDS S D R A W A Y R A N I L UC NOTSUOH U C N O T OUS in

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su n day, oc to b edusk. r 2The evening PRE SE TE D BY SYS CO It was Sunday, October 2, shortly before was onNthe verge of being crisp as the valet parkers swarmed each car pulling up at The Corinthian. It was one heck of a welcome to the city’s culinary crème debla 2 r r 2 ebo o e tco oct , y a crème who dwere ay, ddinner. n u s converging downtown to attend My Table’s 20th Annual Houston Culinary Awards n u s The 23 awards – voted on in August by Houstonians using an online ballot – were founded by My Table magazine in 1997 and recognize restaurants that exhibit high standards and are likely to make an impact in years to come. Our warmest congratulations to the 2016 winners:

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LEGENDS OF HOUSTON RESTAURANTS HONOREE

Felix Florez RESTAURATEURS OF THE YEAR

SERVICE PERSON OF THE YEAR

FAVORITE BARTENDER

FAVORITE LATE NIGHT SPOT

Treadsack

Jeb Stuart

Chris Morris

Velvet Taco

CHEF OF THE YEAR

HOUSTON CLASSIC

FAVORITE BREAKFAST

FAVORITE MOM &

Danny Trace

Benjy’s in the Village

Common Bond

POP ETHNIC

UP-AND-COMING CHEF

BEST INTERIOR DESIGN

FAVORITE BURGER

OF THE YEAR

State of Grace

The Burger Joint

FAVORITE OUTDOOR

BEST NEW RESTAURANT

FAVORITE COFFEEHOUSE

State of Grace

Morningstar

The Burger Joint

FAVORITE BAKERY

FAVORITE FARMERS’

Fluff Bake Bar

MARKET VENDOR

Joe Cervantez

Fat Bao DINING

OUTSTANDING WINE PROGRAM

Brasserie 19

FAVORITE PUB OR BAR

PASTRY CHEF OF THE YEAR

Julia Doran

FAVORITE SWEETS/

FAVORITE FOOD TRUCK

Hugs & Donuts

FAVORITE BARBECUE OUTSTANDING BAR PROGRAM

Backstreet Cafe

Poison Girl

Texas Hill Country Olive Co.

ICE CREAM

Southern Goods

Cousins Maine Lobster

PHOTOS BY KIM COFFMAN

2016 FAVORITE BARTENDER CHRIS MORRIS

2016 CHEF OF THE YEAR DANNY TRACE (MIDDLE)

We spent months preparing for the Houston Culinary Awards dinner gala and program, and we could not have done it without the following friends: PRESENTING SPONSOR Sysco HOUSTON CULINARY AWARDS’ 20TH ANNIVERSARY SPONSOR Reliant, an NRG Company and Chefs’ Produce • Jackson and Company • Oak Farms Dairy • OpenTable • RiverOaksHouston.com • Sugar Land Wine & Food Affair • UberEats • Vintus Wines • Waterman Steele • Central Market • Landry’s Signature Group • Pappas Restaurants Victory Wine Group • À La Carte Foodserving Consulting •30 DLG Ice Factory • Kim Coffman Photography • St. John Flynn D E C•E M B E R 2 0 1 6Knight – J A N U A•R YAlex 2 0 1 7Padilla • Adison Lee • Bobby Matos • Adam Paul Justin Burrow • Richard Middleton • Rob Crabtree Richard Susan Molzan • David Buehrer • Ecky Prabanto • Rebecca Masson • Three Dot Pots

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ANSWERS 1 The inner monkey was unloosed in all cited acts, as reported in the various media. 2 John Denver’s holiday song is entitled Please Daddy Don’t Get Drunk this Christmas. ®

3 The Pilgrims were celebrating a good corn harvest with loud hoots and hollers,

as well as firing their matchlock muskets into the air with abandon. The clamorous noise made the Wampanoag tribe think a war had started.

W I N ES · S P I R I TS · F I N E R FO O DS

4 This list is one of personal choice. However, item (c) is taken from an incident that

occurred in Louisiana. An argument with her neighbors moved a woman to fashion her Christmas lights in the shape of a hand with middle finger upraised. The police were called, and so was the ACLU. The ACLU prevailed. 5 Sociopaths 6 The dire consequences: Three people die each year testing a 9V battery with their

tongues; 140 men are injured each year because they have not removed all the pins from their dress shirts; and more than 540 people go to the emergency room yearly for trying to open beer bottles with their teeth.

K e v i n M c G owa n Photography print & web commercial photography

WE HAVE A

GIFT FOR

BASKETS!

A gift basket is only as good as the gifts it holds! And nobody has the huge selection of spirits, wines, craft beers and gourmet goodies like Spec’s. Create your own or we have ready-made baskets to grab and go!

CHEERS TO SAVINGS!

www.kevinmcgowan.com 31 DECEMBER 2016 – JANUARY 2017

®

LOCATIONS ALL ACROSS HOUSTON (713) 526-8787 SPECSONLINE.COM


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Fresh Finds For Houston Foodies By Phaedra Cook Photography by Chuck Cook

Do you have a foodie, serious cook or wine lover on your gift list? We’ve found several fresh ideas for holiday gift-giving that will delight, and – bonus points for going local – many are produced in or near Houston. Here are a dozen suggestions.

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Fresh Finds For the Foodie Library The Enchilada Queen Cookbook

by Sylvia Casares with Dotty Griffith

Houston’s own Sylvia Casares of Sylvia’s Enchilada Kitchen, named by Texas magazine as “The Queen of Tex-Mex Cuisine,” has released a cookbook. Readers will find advice and recipes for all the essentials, like corn tortillas, a variety of sauces and, of course, enchiladas. Included is some interesting historical background about the Texan and Mexican regions closely associated with particular styles, such as McAllen’s chicken enchiladas with chile gravy and carnitas enchiladas from Hidalgo. Suggested retail is $27.99 but at press time, Amazon’s price was $20.99.

Legends of Texas Barbecue

by Robb Walsh, 2016 edition

Miss Ella of Commander’s Palace

by Ella Brennan and Ti Adelaide Martin

Much has changed in the Creole cuisine would likely South Texas barbecue scene not be what it is today without since local author Walsh the guiding hands of Ella wrote the first version of his Brennan, who has worked in combination cookbook and the restaurant industry since historical tome. The original was 1925. With the help of her nominated for a James Beard daughter (who is the sister of award in 2003. The refreshed Brennan’s of Houston’s 2016 edition includes new restaurateur Alex Brennanphotos from Robert Jacob Martin), her life story is finally Lerma, 32 new recipes detailed in the pages of this new (including from the 2015 James book. It’s a lively account of one Beard Best Chef Southwest, of the first and most influential Aaron Franklin) and updated women to have ever helped set information on community the standards of hospitality in barbecues. Pro tip: Drop by the industry. Suggested retail El Real Tex-Mex at 1201 is $27.99, but we found it for Westheimer and you might be $18.95 at Amazon. able to score a signed copy. List price is $22.95, but Amazon revealed a price of $15.60. 33 DECEMBER 2016 – JANUARY 2017

Houston Soups & Sips

by Erin Hicks

The author of Houston Small Plates & Sips, Houston Classic Desserts, Houston Classic Mexican and Houston Classic Seafood is at it again with a new installment in her Houston Classic Cookbook series. Houston Soups & Sips will be hot off the presses in December (just in time for both gift-giving and the cold season) and features soup recipes from Houston’s hottest restaurants along with beverage pairings. Recipes include Celery Root Veloute from Pax Americana and Helen Greek Food and Wine’s Avgolemono.


GIVE THE GIFT OF HOUSTONMADE WHISKEY

Liven Up the Liquor Cabinet CHEERS WITH BEER GLASSES

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Yellow Rose Whiskey Boxed Gift Set

This convenient boxed set includes a 750-ml bottle of Yellow Rose blended whiskey made right here in Houston and a branded old fashioned glass. Best of all, it’s easy to gift-wrap. Price depends on the retailer, but Yellow Rose owner Ryan Baird expects the boxed set to sell for around $33. Glassware and bottle openers at Spec’s

Our friends at the Spec’s Wines, Spirits and Finer Foods superstore at 2410 Smith in downtown Houston made some savvy picks for our gift list. One classy set includes the

SPIEGELAU CRAFT BEER GLASS TASTING

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shapely vessels made for enjoying IPAs, lagers, pilsners and wheat beers. Price is $37.49 cash ($39.46 regular). GOVINO SHATTERPROOF GLASSES are ideal for picnic-goers and the pool/ patio area. These lightweight, durable vessels are made of a BPA-free polymer which is crystal-clear, like glass. Each has Govino’s signature indentation that makes them easy to grasp, which also makes them a thoughtful gift for anyone who has a problem holding traditional glasses. Govino 16-oz. beer glass or wine glass two-pack are $9.59 cash ($10.09 regular). And don’t forget the stocking stuffers: Every beer and wine lover should have a collection of ZYLISS BOTTLE STOPPERS ($4.99 cash, $5.55 regular). The clever design incorporates a lever that expands a rubber seal inside the neck of the bottle. The closure creates a slight vacuum and prevents air

35 DECEMBER 2016 – JANUARY 2017

from hastening the deterioration of wine or beer. Spec’s also carries a collection of elegant V-ROD BOTTLE OPENERS (starting at $3.99 cash, $4.20 regular) that are also easy, sensible fits in a grown-up stocking. Houston Wine Merchant’s Sampler Cases

Your friend loves wine, but you don’t know much? Rather than guessing or settling for a bottle at the supermarket, introduce friends and family to a box full of interesting wine handpicked by the professionals at Houston Wine Merchant. Each case has 12 bottles, two each of six different varietals that hail from all over the world. There are two options. The Best Value case is $149.99, and the Premium Sampler is a reasonable $199.99.


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Immersion Circulator from Berkel Sales & Service

Vacuum Packaging Machine from Berkel Sales & Service

One of the hottest products for avid home cooks these days are immersion circulators, those awesome devices that slow-cook everything from meats to root vegetables in a warm-water bath to delectable tenderness (a process called sous vide). These can get quite pricey, but local appliance purveyor Berkel Sales & Service is selling one of the most popular models, the Polyscience Creative, for a special holiday price of $350. Visit 1923 Antoine or call 713-688-9518.

In French, sous vide means “under vacuum” and refers to sealing food in airtight bags before it goes into a warm, circulating water bath. This is the machine that gets that accomplished. And while even a holiday special of $1,650 isn’t exactly cheap, Berkel's price is far less than most other comparable home machines (and thousands less than commercial brands). For cooks who are already trying sous vide at home, this is the next step.

Luxurious Ingredients from DR Delicacy

Sometimes it’s nice to enjoy the finer things in life at home. DR Delicacy (named for founder Diane Roederer) is a Houston-based company that imports fresh truffles, a variety of truffle-based products (real truffle oil, not the nasty fake kind) and several kinds of domestic and imported caviar. Available truffles vary by the season, and the caviars include imported Royal Osetra and American Sturgeon. The best of both worlds? “Black truffle caviar,” flavorful pearls made of spherized truffle juice (only $21 for an ounce). The shopping couldn’t be easier; just visit drdelicacy.com.

Home Cook Heaven SOUS VIDE, PLEASE!

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Seasonal Snacking Delectable Sweets from MostlY Chocolate & Catering

44 Farms Jerky WOODEN Gift Box WITH YETI tumbler

Houston chocolatier Dany Kamkhagi and his family make divine handmade chocolates that include truffles, golddusted almonds (perfect for weddings, too), chocolate bars encrusted with jewel-like dried fruits and nuts and much more. For the holidays, they’ve put together sampler boxes for only $30 that feature a generous tin of the gold-dusted almonds called Mondies, two truffles, house-made jam and one chocolate bar. (Our photo shows two chocolate bars because we couldn’t help but buy an extra for $8 so we could try the one dotted with wasabi sesame seeds and Hawaiian salt.) The variety box is a convenient way to get to know the offerings of this great shop. Call 713-446-5826 or visit mostlychocolatecatering.com to order.

It’s just not the holidays without some good snacks on hand. This offering from Texas meat purveyor 44 Farms is ideal for commuters. The handsome wooden gift box (which will likely find many subsequent uses around the house) includes two varieties of flavorful beef jerky (Simply Smoked and the spicier Texas Kick), plus a covetable Yeti Rambler tumbler. Yeti tumblers are prized for their tough stainless steel construction, double-wall vacuum insulation and a design that prevents outer condensation. As far as the jerky goes, it is free of added hormones, antibiotics, MSG, gluten and nitrites. Buy online at 44Farms.com for $69.99. And while you’re there, also check out the selection of mighty fine steaks.

As a former restaurant critic, founder of the new web publication Houston Food Finder and a longtime contributor to My Table, when it comes to sniffing out foodie gifts Phaedra Cook has the nose of a bloodhound. Let's face it: This is just a list of what she wants for the holidays, which has her companion and photographer Chuck Cook pretty much quaking in his boots.

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Loafing on magazine street Text, recipe and photos by George Graham

THIRD GENERATION OYSTER SHUCKER AT CASAMENTO'S

38 DECEMBER 2016 – JANUARY 2017


As a born and bred Louisiana boy, I was raised that eating oysters in the fall and winter months is the natural order of things. Conventional wisdom holds that oysters are only to be consumed in months that contain the letter “R” – i.e. September through April. And although that age-old adage still prevails, you’d be hard-pressed to find any month of the year along the Gulf Coast that the tasty bivalves aren’t available. On a memorable trip to New Orleans with my wife Roxanne and daughter Lauren, we stayed overnight in a gracious old shotgun house in the Uptown section, just off Magazine Street. Most visitors to the city never make it past the French Quarter, but New Orleans’ most interesting areas are just minutes away from the touristy trap that the Quarter has become. All along the Warehouse District, Mid-City, the Marigny, the Garden District and Magazine Street are some of the local haunts that make the city so unique.

On the upper stretch of Magazine resides one of my favorite old-time restaurants, Casamento’s. Situated in tight quarters with a timeworn storefront, this legendary eatery is passed by many without the slightest glance, but inside is one of the perennial favorites of generations of Uptown residents who swear by its raw oysters and sandwiches, including my favorite, the oyster loaf. Walking into this historical establishment is to step back in time. Casamento’s has preserved the look and feel of the genteel era of New Orleans’ finest restaurants complete with inlaid black and white subway tiled flooring and the single row of tables opposite the long shucking station. Walking the length of the room, you can smell the fresh brine in the air and hear the non-stop chatter of the close-knit oystermen. An oyster loaf in many establishments around Louisiana is simply fried oysters

on po’boy bread, but Casamento’s takes it to new heights. Oyster shuckers lining the long counter are busy shucking sacks of fresh Barataria Bay oysters from the Gulf coastal waters of Plaquemines Parish. Watching them closely and listening to their stories, you understand that oysters should be treated delicately and with the utmost simplicity. Casamento’s oysters are larger and saltier than most I run across, which ensures the flavor is preserved during the fry. Lightly breaded and flash-fried, these oysters reach that perfect level of crispy golden brown, but are never overcooked. Then they are sandwiched between two buttered, toasted slices of thick pullman loaf sandwich bread slathered with a generous amount of Blue Plate mayonnaise and topped with a slice of ripe tomato. With a few shakes of hot sauce and an ice-cold glass of Dixie beer, the Casamento’s oyster loaf is perfection for a South Louisiana boy taking a bite out of his childhood.

GULF COAST OYSTER LOAF Recipe by George Graham AcadianaTable.com

Remember, the key to this dish is to find fresh, plump Gulf oysters and flash fry in very hot oil to crisp the outside and leave the inside moist. ½ gallon peanut oil 3 large eggs 1 Tbsp. salt 1 Tbsp. pepper 2 dozen raw Gulf oysters 2 cups yellow cornmeal ½ cup all-purpose flour 2 Tbsp. Cajun seasoning 1 stick butter, softened 4 slices thick-cut white pullman loaf sandwich bread 1 cup mayonnaise 4 slices ripe tomato 4 slices dill pickle kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a large pot over medium heat, add the oil and heat until it reaches 375°F. In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs and season with salt and pepper. Add the oysters. In another mixing bowl, combine the cornmeal, flour and Cajun seasoning. Add half the oysters to the cornmeal mixture and roll around until coated. Shake off the excess and drop the oysters into the hot oil. Fry the oysters in batches until golden brown, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate and keep warm. Butter the top and bottom of the sandwich bread. Place on a griddle or pan on medium-high heat. Toast the bread until golden brown and remove. Spread the inside of the top slice of bread generously with mayonnaise. On METHOD:

39 DECEMBER 2016 – JANUARY 2017

the bottom slice of bread, place the oysters, and on top of the oysters, stack two tomato slices and sliced pickles. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Repeat with the second sandwich. Be sure to have everything ready to go and serve these sandwiches as soon as the oysters come out of the fryer. Serve with hot sauce on the side and an ice-cold beer. Serves 2. Find a local bakery that will slice freshly baked white loaf bread to your desired thickness. The effort is worth it. Be sure to use fresh oil for frying as oysters are delicate and easily pick up other flavors. Depending on the size of your oysters and the size of your bread, the number of oysters that will fit on your sandwich will vary. NOTES:


AUTHOR GEORGE GRAHAM

GRAHAM'S HOUSTON BOOK SIGNING IS DECEMBER 17 AT BARNES & NOBLE AT 7626 WESTHEIMER

A Word from Cookbook Author George Graham For most folks who live in Houston, Acadiana is just another refueling stop along I-10 on the way to New Orleans. Or perhaps you’ve pulled off at the Scott exit just outside of Lafayette to buy a pound or two of hot and spicy boudin on your way back to Texas. But there’s more to this region, and if you’re a food-obsessed My Table reader, it’s worthy of a closer look. For more years than I’d like to count, I’ve been immersed in the colorful Cajun and Creole food scene of my Acadiana. I’ve been exploring the region’s restaurants and honky-tonks, lunchrooms and dives, steam tables and smokehouses. Along the way, I’ve devoured its panéed, fricasséed and étoufféed best; its fried, smothered, stuffed, grilled and smoked delicacies; its cracklins, crawfish and crabs; its po’boys, pig and potent potions. Writing and photographing my food blog at AcadianaTable.com has given me an up-close and personal view of our food culture, and the feedback that readers have given me reflects the pride and passion they feel for our Cajun and

Creole foodways. No doubt, Acadiana is peppered with amazing stories of talented people and unique products the rest of the world has yet to sample. Truth be told, I never made a conscious decision to write a cookbook, but looking back, I can now see it was destined. My culinary path was lined with signposts, and what began with a love of eating, and then cooking, quickly turned into recipe development, writing, photography and blogging – all with a focus on food. The cookbook was inevitable. The resulting book Acadiana Table: Cajun and Creole Home Cooking from the Heart of Louisiana took two years to write and another year to produce with Harvard Common Press. So what does a Boston-based publisher know about crawfish étouffée or gumbo? Not much. But they do understand the tastes of a culinary world that is hungry for a book that makes the Cajun and Creole genre of cooking accessible to home cooks. The real credit for this book goes to the hard-working people who make our foodways so rich with colorful stories,

40 DECEMBER 2016 – JANUARY 2017

time-honored traditions and cultural significance. The growers, chefs, butchers, bakers and boudin makers have all contributed in some way to my writing this book. It is their stories and skills that I write about, not mine. If you follow my blog, you’ll recognize a few of the most popular dishes among the 125 recipes in the cookbook. But you’ll also discover lots of never-before-seen stories, photographs and recipes that will get your culinary juices flowing. But don’t be intimidated. There’s much to explore in this book, and if you’re not exactly excited about cooking with turtle or crawfish heads, there’s still plenty to like. George Graham is an award-winning cook, photographer and author. His 320-page cookbook collection of stories and recipes Acadiana Table: Cajun and Creole Home Cooking from the Heart of Louisiana published by Harvard Common Press is now at booksellers everywhere.


Celebrating 30 Years!

A HOUSTON TRADITION www.BlackLabradorPub.com 41 D E Cat E MRichmond, BER 2016 – JA N U A R Y 2 0Texas 17 4100 Montrose Blvd. Houston, • 713.529.1199


Caviar de-coded By Teresa Byrne-Dodge Photography by Becca Wright

Caviar is bracingly saline, at once earthy and refined. It is heady, intense and sensual. It connotes luxury and intimacy. All of which means it is very, very sexy. And today, despite the absence of reliable product from the fabled beluga sturgeon of the Caspian Sea – first compromised by the Iranian revolution, then the break-up of the Soviet bloc – there are more kinds of caviar available than ever before. Some kinds are not even so very expensive. You would be correct if you thought caviar seems to have been invented for the winter holidays – it quickly gets watery in the sultry summer air. However, although we have long

identified caviar with glamour and celebration, it has not always been so stylish. The Russians have been eating caviar for centuries – Russia bumps up against the northwest side of the Caspian Sea – but French connoisseurs turned up their noses when Malkoum and Moucheg Petrossian, who fled Russia during the Revolution, first tried to introduce the delicacy to Europe. At gastronomic exhibitions, the brothers were forced to provide spittoons for disgruntled customers. (We’re reminded of Tom Hanks’ character scraping beluga caviar off his tongue in Big.) But the brothers persevered, and

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by the late 1920s, with the help of the exiled Russian aristocracy, wealthy Parisians had developed a taste for the stuff. In this country, sturgeon were once so plentiful in our rivers and estuaries that 19th-century saloonkeepers used to set out bowls of free caviar for their imbibing customers. Alas, since then we have killed or polluted most of our great fish. Only since the late 1980s have American entrepreneurs started to not only bring back sturgeon, but also explore other types of fish in order to produce caviar. The new styles sometimes mimic the beloved beluga – and sometimes they are entirely different and delicious.


SMOKED TROUT PEARLS

Elie Massoud, who operates finefood importer Euro Mid with his brother Albert, recommends domestic caviar, such as paddlefish or hackleback roe, to beginners who don’t know what they will like. “Between the lumpfish and the beluga there are a lot of interesting choices: American paddlefish, hackleback, salmon, whitefish, ossetra, sevruga.” As you might imagine, the types of caviar can vary wildly in price. Many Houston-area restaurants serve caviar – among them are Hubbell & Hudson Kitchen, Tony’s, Artisans, Le Mistral (their bakery will soon start selling caviar), State of Grace, Hotel ZaZa, Steak 48, Cafe Azur, Wooster’s Garden, the River Oaks Country Club, Brennan’s of Houston, Costa Brava, Bistro Menil, Coronado Club, Hotel Granduca, Fleming’s Steakhouse and The Dunlavy, to name a few. Such accessibility offers local diners an opportunity to taste their way through many caviar styles and price points. What is the best “starter caviar” for people who have never tried it? “Some like to start with ‘smoked trout pearls’ from France,” says Diane Roederer of DR Delicacy, referring to an orange large-bead roe her company imports. “It has a clean, good taste and is an approachable introduction to the idea of caviar. I also see more use of garnishes as one first samples various caviars. By the time you progress to ossetra, many people are more than happy to enjoy it by the spoonful.” While we’re talking about luxury and celebration, what about the popular belief that caviar is an aphrodisiac? “There has been a long-standing myth that expensive foods are labeled as aphrodisiacs,” notes Roederer. “But there may be something to that idea.

Think how many wedding proposals, Valentine’s Days and New Year’s Eve celebrations have started out with caviar and ended with ‘fireworks.’” Massoud agrees. “Big yes! Many people have had great happy endings with the caviar.”

CAVIAR FACTS • The word “caviar” comes from the Turkish havyar, which comes from khayah, the Persian word for egg. • Caviar is, simply, salt-cured fish roe (or fish eggs). • Sturgeon are very slow growing, primitive-looking fish that can live to be 100 years old. It can take a decade for a female sturgeon to produce mature eggs that are large enough for caviar harvesting. • Defying its past, caviar is becoming a sustainable food. It used to be harvested from wild sturgeon. Today, many of the fish that yield roe are farm-raised. Techniques have been developed and are being refined for removing the roe from female fish without killing them. • Like wine, caviar’s flavor is affected by its terroir. The salinity level of the water, the type of algae, the age of the fish, the food it eats: All affect the final caviar product.

WHAT TO DRINK WITH CAVIAR? By far the best is what seems most obvious: iced vodka, syrupy from the freezer and served in tiny glasses. The clean, sharp taste of the alcohol perfectly complements the roe. Aquavit is a good second choice. Champagne, the classic accompaniment, tends to numb the taste buds. But if the occasion demands 43driest you can find the bubbly, select the DECEMBER 2016 – JANUARY 2017

– and celebrate in high style. Massoud also recommends dry Chardonnay.

CAVIAR SAVOIR FAIRE What’s the best way to enjoy caviar? Diane Roederer likes it well chilled and straight out of the tin. Here are some other tips. • Remove caviar from the fridge about 15 minutes before serving, but leave the lid on until the last moment. • Never freeze caviar, as it will end up mushy. • The classic presentation is to offer the whole tin or jar on a bed of crushed ice. It should be spooned onto individual chilled plates, taking care not to break the grains. • Avoid using silver utensils with caviar, as the metal taints the roe. Use a fork or spoon made of mother of pearl, horn, stainless steel or even plastic. • You can serve caviar with triangles of bread (white, not whole wheat) that have been lightly toasted and then quickly filmed with unsalted butter. Don’t use commercially-made toasts or crackers, as they are too hard and dry. Small pancake-like blinis are also a delicious conveyance of caviar from plate to mouth. Try also topping a soft omelet with a spoonful of caviar. • Many people swallow caviar whole, but to fully appreciate the flavor you should burst the eggs against your palate with the tip of your tongue. You should feel a gentle popping. The sensuality of those tiny explosions is part of the fun.

Teresa Byrne-Dodge is the editor and publisher of My Table magazine.


The Cachet of Caviar By Robin Barr Sussman

There aren’t many dishes that spell “special occasion” quite like caviar. The rich and salty beads can garnish a dish like nothing else. ’Tis the season to indulge, so here’s a go-to clutch of appetizer and entrée recipes from local chefs for that blow-out party or intimate holiday dinner. Cheers!

BRASSERIE 19’S DEVILED EGGS WITH CAVIAR With Sriracha aioli, pickled red onions and caviar, these aren’t your grandmother’s deviled eggs. The elegant caviar garnish adds a pop of salt and stylish finish.

AMERICAN CAVIAR

6 boiled eggs, cooled and peeled 1½ tsp. Sriracha 1½ tsp. white wine 3 oz. of your favorite aioli 1½ tsp. lemon juice salt and pepper to taste pickled red onion, for garnish fresh dill, for garnish American caviar, for garnish Cut cooled boiled eggs in half and set the egg whites on a sheet tray. In a food processor, pulse egg yolks for 30 seconds and transfer to a mixing bowl. Add Sriracha, wine, aioli, lemon juice and seasoning to taste. Transfer the mixture to a piping bag. Fill each egg white with deviled egg mixture and garnish with pickled red onions. Finally, garnish with dill and caviar as desired. Keep refrigerated until serving. Yield: 12 pieces (6 servings). METHOD:

PHOTOS COURTESY OF RESTAURANTS CAVIAR GRAPHIC FROM BIGSTOCK.COM/INSPIRING

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WILD SEA BASS WITH CAVIAR & CHAMPAGNE SAUCE Château at La Table serves this luxe seafood dish during the holidays and for specials.

BLACK ROYAL SIBERIAN OSSETRA CAVIAR

2 tsp. olive oil 3 shallots, chopped 1 lb. leeks, washed and diced ½ cup dry white wine 1 cup vegetable stock 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter ½ cup fresh dill, chopped 4 (8-oz.) bass filets, deboned and skin removed salt and pepper to taste black Royal Siberian Ossetra caviar Champagne sauce (recipe follows)

In a large sauté pan, add 1 teaspoon of olive oil and sauté shallots on medium heat until softened. Add the leeks and white wine, stirring, on high heat. Add the vegetable stock and reduce heat to low. Finally, add the butter until melted and stir in the dill. Cover to keep warm. Season bass with salt and pepper to taste. Add 1 teaspoon of olive oil to a hot non-stick, oven-safe skillet and sear the fish on each side about 3 minutes until golden. Finish in a 350° F oven for 3 minutes right before serving. Place one serving of the leek sauté METHOD:

on each plate. Top with a fish filet and garnish it with a generous spoon full of caviar. Pour the Champagne sauce on the plate around each fish filet. Serve immediately. Yield: 4 servings. CHAMPAGNE SAUCE

2 shallots, chopped 1 cup white mushrooms, sliced 1 cup Champagne or dry sparkling wine 1½ cups heavy cream ½ cup whole milk ½ cup vegetable stock ½ cup butter (1 stick)

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In a large sauté pan over medium low heat, sweat the shallots until softened. Add the mushrooms and sauté until all water has evaporated from the mushrooms. Add sparkling wine and reduce by half over medium high heat. Stir in the heavy cream, milk and vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, stirring until thickened, about 15 minutes. Strain and blend the sauce with an emersion blender. Before serving, warm the sauce over medium low heat and add the butter, stirring to incorporate until the sauce is slightly thickened. METHOD:


PETROSSIAN OSSETRA CAVIAR

BLUE CRAB AND CAVIAR NACHOS Most of us cannot afford the decadent $100 nacho splurge that feeds six at Brennan’s Houston, so try your hand at making them at home for a very special small gathering. 5 ears yellow corn (in husks) 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil 1 large leek (white portion only), chopped ½ cup sweet onion, diced 3 cups milk 1 cup heavy whipping cream 1 tsp. cayenne pepper salt and pepper to taste 6 oz. Saint André cheese 2 limes, juiced 2 lbs. jumbo lump crabmeat 1 qt. cottonseed oil (for frying) 20 corn tortillas (cut into quarters) 2 large avocados, diced 4 Tbsp. Petrossian ossetra caviar (or similar) 1 Tbsp. chives, minced

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Roast corn for 35 to 45 minutes. Cool and remove husks. Remove the kernels from the corn and reserve the cobs. In a large, heavy-bottom saucepot, heat the vegetable oil on medium high and sauté half of the corn kernels, leeks and onions for about 5 minutes until translucent. Add the milk and corncobs to the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Add the cream and cook for an additional 10 minutes. Remove and discard the cobs. On low heat, fold in the cheese and finish with half of the lime juice. Using a food processor, blend METHOD:

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the sauce until smooth and strain it through a fine mesh strainer. Return mixture to the saucepot. Finish sauce with the lump crab and reserved corn kernels. Season with cayenne, salt and pepper. Keep the sauce warm. In a heavy bottom pot, heat cottonseed oil to 350 degrees. Add the tortillas and fry for 3 minutes or until crisp. Remove the chips to a drip tray and season with salt and pepper. Place the chips in a large serving dish and top with the warm sauce. Squeeze the remaining lime over the avocado. Crown the nachos with avocado, caviar and fresh-snipped chives. Yield: 6 servings


Where to Score Caviar Service in Houston

OSSETRA CAVIAR AT LA TABLE

CAVIAR, A DELICACY ORIGINALLY SOURCED WILD FROM STURGEON IN THE CASPIAN SEA, IS NOW HARVESTED ALL OVER THE WORLD. HERE ARE SOME TOP LOCAL SPOTS TO ENJOY CAVIAR SERVICE – SOME TRADITIONAL, OTHERS WITH A SLIGHT TWIST.

AMALFI RISTORANTE ITALIANO 6100 Westheimer, 713-532-2201

Caviar service features one ounce of imported ossetra, a golden to dark brown caviar with a complex nutty flavor, classically served in a bowl nestled in ice. Accompaniments include capers, chives, red onion, boiled egg whites, lemon zest, crème fraîche and blinis ($150). Add a bottle of Franciacorta sparkling rosé or brut ($220). ARTISANS RESTAURANT 3201 Louisiana, Unit 110, 713-529-9111

Le Caviar Ossetra et Blinis is served with an ounce total of three different varieties of Canadian caviar, which taste buttery and a bit salty with fresh ocean flavor. Accompaniments are sour cream, blinis, capers, red onion and a unique egg salad ($99). Add two glasses of Champagne ($130). HOLLEY’S SEAFOOD RESTAURANT & OYSTER BAR 3201 Louisiana, Unit 101, 713-491-2222

Choose from American hackelback (small black-to-brown fish eggs with a sweet, nutty flavor, $80), American paddlefish (creamy and gentle with a smoky hint and silvery pearls, $70) or Royal Petrossian Ossetra (a dark brown caviar with a buttery, slightly fruity flavor, $155). Each is served with toasted bread, citrus and seasonal garnishes. Add on crabmeat deviled eggs crowned with American caviar ($12). LA TABLE 1800 Post Oak Blvd., 713-439-1000

toasted brioche, lemon zest, capers, petite boiled white potatoes, red onion, shaved egg and crème fraîche ($135). RESTAURANT CINQ 3410 Montrose (at La Colombe D’Or), 713-524-7999

On the dinner menu, rich and buttery imported Petrossian ossetra caviar is served over ice accompanied by blinis, a tempered egg, fresh cream and snipped chives (market price, changes frequently). SALTAIR KITCHEN 3029 Kirby, 713-521-3333

Choose from domestic Tsar Nicoulai reserve caviar (tawny brown, large bead with a lasting finish, $81 per ounce) or imported golden ossetra (sun gold with a crisp flavor, $115 per ounce). Served with blinis, crème fraîche, capers, red onion and boiled egg. Add a half bottle of Krug Grande Cuvée ($75). TONY’S 3755 Richmond, 713-622-6778

The nightly tasting menu offers Petrossian kaluga caviar, a hybrid known for its firm, large beads and mellow creamy taste ($95), ossetra ($135) and the highest grade Kaluga Selection caviar, a rare variety with more complex and buttery flavors ($250). Traditional accompaniments include blinis, shaved egg and red onion. VIC & ANTHONY’S STEAKHOUSE

On the upstairs raw bar menu at Château, imported ossetra 1510 Texas Ave., 713-228-1111 caviar, characterized by a buttery, slightly fruity flavor and At dinner, Petrossian’s distinctively nutty ossetra caviar is firm grain, is proffered by the ounce, served in an elegant 47served by the ounce over ice with accompaniments including silver bowl over ice. Accompaniments include house-made crostini, sour cream, capers, and red onion (market price). DECEMBER 2016 – JANUARY 2017


FRENCH ONION DIP WITH CAVIAR Here’s a quick, budget-friendly yet savvy dip recipe from SaltAir Kitchen served with potato chips. Bet you can’t eat just one!

SEVRUGA CAVIAR

1½ lbs. cream cheese, softened ½ cup onion soubise (recipe follows) ¼ cup dried onion flakes ½ large white onion, shredded on a microplane and drained ½ tsp. salt 2 Tbsp. chives, chopped 1 Tbsp. caviar potato chips METHOD:

Place the cream cheese in the bowl of a mixer with a paddle attachment and process for 1 minute. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the onion soubise, onion flakes, shredded raw onion and salt to the bowl and process 1 minute to combine. Add the chives and process a few seconds to combine. To serve, place on a plate or in a bowl and top with the caviar. Serve with potato chips. Yield: 6 servings

TAGLIOLINI AL CAVIALE WITH LOBSTER Chef Giancarlo Ferrara of Amalfi Ristorante shares his head-spinning delectable, yet surprisingly simple recipe for pasta with lobster in Franciacorta wine sauce crowned with sevruga black caviar.

Note: Store cream cheese mixture in the refrigerator and pull out 30 minutes before serving to bring to room temperature. ONION SOUBISE

1 Tbsp. butter 1 Tbsp. olive oil 1 large shallot, minced 1 cup Franciacorta Berlucchi brut (or other dry sparkling wine) 1½ cups heavy cream salt and pepper to taste ¾ lb. tagliolini pasta 1 oz. sevruga caviar or similar 1 8-oz. steamed lobster tail, peeled and chopped 1 Tbsp. lemon zest ½ cup fresh chives, minced

2 oz. butter 1 sweet white onion, sliced thinly on a mandolin salt and pepper to taste Add all ingredients to a large non-reactive saucepan or skillet. Cook slowly over low heat, uncovered, until onions are tender and the liquid from the onions and butter has reduced. Purée the mixture in a blender or processor. Keep refrigerated until needed. METHOD:

Add butter, oil and shallots to a large and wide sauté pan and cook on medium high until shallots are slightly browned. Add the sparkling wine and cook it down about 4 minutes, allowing it to evaporate by half. Last, stir in the cream and let it simmer until thickened, 6 to 8 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside and keep warm. In a large pot of salted water, boil the pasta for 4 minutes until al dente and then drain. Place the pan of sauce (prepared above) over medium heat and add the cooked pasta, one-fourth of the caviar and chopped lobster. Stir gently to combine all ingredients. Add the lemon zest. To serve, divide pasta between four plates. Top each portion with the remainder of caviar and garnish with chopped chives. Yield: 4 servings. METHOD:

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Robin Barr Sussman regularly writes My Table's Tasting the Town column on page 64.

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OPENING DECEMBER 2016 “ . . . M O S T A N T I C I PAT E D H O U S T O N R E S TA U R A N T S ” - IN THE KNOW HOUSTON -

“ . . . M O S T E X C I T I N G H O U S T O N - A R E A R E S TA U R A N T S OPENING BEFORE SUPER BOWL LI” - CULTUREMAP -

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1 5 1 5 T E X A S AV E | O S S O A N D K R I S TA L L A . C O M


shuck & cover cooked oyster dishes that radiate flavor Text and photography by Ellie Sharp EXCEPT WHERE NOTED

The image is iconic: a dozen raw oysters on the half shell arranged over a bed of ice and accompanied by a bottle of hot sauce, a packet of saltine crackers and a small dish of lemon wedges. For many, this is what oyster eating on the Gulf Coast is all about, particularly when dining at legendary institutions like Gilhooley’s in Dickinson or Gaido’s in Galveston. The allure goes far beyond raw, however, and the following dishes demonstrate the beloved bivalve’s broad range in the kitchen from fire to fork and everything in between.

OYSTER SHOOTERS

@ BLUE BAR AT BRENNER’S STEAKHOUSE One Birdsall Street, 713-8684444, brennerssteakhouse.com/ bayou/blue-bar

While other bars drop raw oysters directly into shots of booze, Blue Bar takes a more sophisticated approach full of color, texture and flavor. Choose from a variety of shots (e.g. margarita, bloody Mary, piñapple rum or sake and ponzu), each topped with a freshly fried Gulf oyster and signature topping. To eat, grab an oyster, pop it in your mouth and toss back the tasty shot. Or dip and sip, whatever floats your boat. $9

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OYSTERS THERMIDOR & OYSTERS ROCKEFELLER

@ CHRISTIE’S SEAFOOD & STEAKS 6029 Westheimer, 713-978-6563, christies-restaurant.com

Take in the atmosphere of a classic Gulf Coast seafood kitchen while indulging in two of this West Side restaurant’s long-time favorites. Order up the oysters Rockefeller featuring creamed spinach, herbs, crabmeat, bacon and Parmesan cheese or the oysters thermidor filled with crabmeat, creamy Chardonnay sauce and melted cheese. Or go half-andhalf. $13 FOR 6/$13 FOR 6

OAK-ROASTED GULF OYSTERS

@ STATE OF GRACE 3258 Westheimer, 832-942-5080, stateofgracetx.com

The gleaming oyster bar at the front of the restaurant is a gorgeous place to while away an hour dining on raw bivalves, but the wood-fired specimens are equally impressive. Assembly starts with fresh Gulf oysters from Prestige Oysters raw and ready for action. That action includes a savory mix of roasted bone marrow butter, seaweed and spices that is packed onto each oyster with breadcrumbs and Thai chiles. After a roast over open flames, the oysters are served bubbling and hot. $18 AT LUNCH (6 OYSTERS)/$7 AT DINNER (2 OYSTERS)

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PEACEMAKER PO’BOY

@ BERNADINE’S 1801-B N. Shepherd, 713-8642565, treadsack.com/bernadines

When executive chef Graham Laborde set out to make this iconic sandwich at his new restaurant, his goal was to create the best seafood po’boy in the city. “I think we’re close,” he confides. Everyone knows the secret to a good po’boy is the bread, and Laborde gets his from New Orleans’ Leidenheimer Baking Co. and stuffs it with Gulf seafood and cabbage (in lieu of lettuce, “for more bite and less limp”), then finished with housemade pickles, fresh tomatoes and Duke’s mayonnaise. $18

BAKED OYSTERS “YVONNE”

CHAMPAGNE CRAB &

@ HOLLEY’S SEAFOOD RESTAURANT & OYSTER BAR 3201 Louisiana, 713-491-2222, holleyshouston.com

CAVIAR, OH MY!

It is said that oysters harbor aphrodisiacal qualities, and this dish at Holley’s has a love story of its own. When chef/owner Mark Holley and his wife took a trip to New Orleans to explore oyster cookery, three recipes found their way onto his menu in Houston. Of those three, Holley says he wanted one to be extra special using “the finest ingredients and exquisite taste.” Once the recipe was perfected, he knew it was the one to name after his wife. Baked Oysters “Yvonne” incorporates Champagne, heavy cream, jumbo lump crab and caviar covering grilled Texas Gulf oysters. $18 PHOTO BY KEVIN McGOWAN

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MAC ’N’ CHEESE WITH G-TOWN FRIED OYSTER & BACON @ LIBERTy KITCHEN AT THE TREE HOUSE 963 Bunker Hill Road, 713-468-3745

It’s difficult to improve on a great rendition of pasta and cheese, but this version challenges that notion. The result is a splurge-worthy treat that hits every creamy, crunchy, savory note. The base recipe calls for medium sharp white cheddar and shell pasta, but the addition of crisp fried Texas oysters and smoky bacon takes it over the top. Sinful and scrumptious. $14

OYSTER STEW

@ DANTON’S GULF COAST SEAFOOD KITCHEN 4611 Montrose, 713-807-8883, dantonsseafood.com

Proprietor Kyle Teas says this classic – a menu staple since the restaurant opened nine years ago – is based on family recipes he ate growing up on the Gulf. The format provides a purist’s approach: Fresh oysters are sautéed in heavy cream cut only with oyster liquor (the briny juice surrounding an oyster in its shell) and seasoned with butter, salt, pepper, celery, green onion and a homemade version of Cajun spices. Every bowl is made to order, just like at the Grand Central Oyster Bar in New York. $7.95 FOR CUP/$11.95 FOR BOWL

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Ellie Sharp is a technical writer in oil and gas and freelance food and lifestyle writer and photographer for various print and online publications. Among her many bylines, she is the Zagat Houston editor. When she's not writing you can find her camping, hiking, crocheting and traveling.


eggnog uncracked the boozy, beaten holiday cocktail By Nicholas L. Hall Photography by Becca Wright CHRIS MORRIS' EGGNOG

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For a few years in my early 20s, November 1 was my favorite day of the year. At the time, I worked for a now-defunct local Bookstop that served Starbucks coffee in the cafe. November 1 was the day we started serving eggnog lattes. I didn’t actually care for the coffee, but my employee discount afforded me a nearly endless supply of cheap eggnog through the winter season. Truth be told, I may even have snuck a few small sips off the books. Don’t tell my old manager. These days, I have to look elsewhere for my eggnog fix. While the carton of Oak Farms that graces my fridge through most of the fall and winter does just fine in a pinch, I’ve recently begun expanding my eggnog horizons. There’s a whole world of eggnog out there, from simple homemade versions made with fresh eggs, dairy and customizable booze, to eggnog relatives like the warm and fluffy Tom & Jerry or the tropical riff of Puerto Rican coquito, to longaged nog for the brave of stomach. Much of the appeal of eggnog is circular. Eggnog is a festive drink, served almost exclusively during the winter holiday season. Naturally, then, we associate it with celebration and good cheer. It’s a sort of self-perpetuating cycle, tradition begetting itself one creamy cup at a time. “Even drinking some mass-produced carton eggnog, I just get thrown back to my grandma’s house on Christmas Eve,” says Chris Morris of Hunky Dory. Even the preparation of eggnog gives it a sort of gravitas, setting it apart from other beverages. Though you might find a made-to-order nog on a bar menu, the stuff is usually prepared in batches and consumed similarly. There’s advanced planning and dedication of large volumes of ingredients. It’s a production, and one that Morris relishes. “Despite batching over 40 liters of eggnog last year by hand [for Hunky Dory], I still did my own batches for Christmas dinner with the family.” Morris’ recipe follows a pretty straightforward path, with a few boozetweaks to his personal preference. That customization is one of the chief benefits of making your own. “Booze. Eggs.

Cream. Sugar. Spices. After that it’s a pretty malleable beverage, which is part of what makes it so fun,” says Morris. Along with the traditional whiskey and rum, Morris adds a fair amount of rich Cognac and nutty oloroso sherry. “With most classic drinks,” says Morris, “I like to take nods to tradition, so I love what the sherry and Cognac bring to the party. They’re certainly not required, and as long as you’re adding sufficient booze (say, two 750 ml bottles) I think it’s a good transparent base. As you can certainly notice, I also like a nog that has some strength to it.”

CHRIS MORRIS’ EGGNOG 12 eggs 2 cups sugar 4 cups whole milk 2 ½ cups heavy cream 1 heavy pinch kosher salt 750ml whisk(e)y 8 oz. Cognac 8 oz. oloroso sherry 4 oz. aged rum Separate egg yolks into mixing bowl. (Save whites for another use.) Beat yolks until pale. Whisk in sugar. Stir and incorporate dairy and salt. Add alcohol. Bottle and set in cooler to age (one week to one year). Served chilled and finish with grated nutmeg. METHOD:

You’ll note that Morris recommends aging his eggnog, at least briefly. This aging is designed to render the eggnog safe from any potential salmonella contamination, with the alcohol killing off the bugs. Back in 2009, NPR’s Science Friday tackled this very subject, partnering with Rockefeller University microbiologists to test the theory that the alcohol content of homemade eggnog is sufficient to eliminate any potential pathogens. The study prepared a batch of eggnog, then seeded it with the equivalent of approximately one to 10 eggs’ worth of salmonella. After one week, some reduction of bacteria was

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evident. After three weeks, all traces of contamination were gone. Back in late November 2015, I followed this guidance, preparing a batch of eggnog according to a recipe from food TV personality Alton Brown. It scared my family. When first I told them I’d had it sitting in the fridge for a month, everyone balked. Eventually, though, everyone tried it (aside from my scaredy-pants sister-in-law Sharon) and proclaimed it delicious. Nobody got sick. I have 750mL of the stuff still socked away for this Christmas, in what I hope becomes a family tradition of aged eggnog, and I’m not the only one. Around that same time, Alvin Schultz was putting away two different batches of eggnog, one from a recipe by food writer Michael Ruhlman and one from founding father George Washington. Schultz, a former MasterChef contestant, host of a popular series of pop-up dinners and recentlynamed consulting corporate chef for Berryhill Baja Grill, had already put up a Ruhlman batch back in January of that year, after having come across the Rockefeller University study. This October, Schultz invited me over to his home in EaDo to sample all three batches. “I’m terrified every time I drink this,” says Schultz, pouring samples of his January 2015 batch into a shaker. He’s mostly joking, and clearly confident in the safety of his nog. At this point, Schultz doesn’t even bother refrigerating the stuff, counting on the alcohol to do its job. “This batch was refrigerated for the first three weeks, then left out after that. The other batches have been entirely aged at room temp,” Schultz says, showing me his “eggnog cellar,” which consists of several cardboard pallets of quart-sized mason jars, wrapped in aluminum foil and labeled with green frog tape. “It’s actually more dangerous to drink an eggnog that a bartender makes for you fresh that day than it is – in theory – to drink this one that’s been sitting out since January 2015,” Schultz notes with a grin. He shakes the January 15 batch hard over ice, pouring it into two small cocktail glasses. It’s mellow and well


Morris recommends aging his eggnog, at least brieflY. This aging is designed to render the eggnog safe from any potential salmonella contamination.

AGE OG D EGGN

integrated. Despite its high ABV (Schultz calculates it at around 21 percent), it’s not overtly boozy. After the initial sweet creaminess, there’s a bit of warming spice and some subtle scrambled egg notes on the back end. It tastes like eggnog, just more relaxed. Like eggnog after it gets home from work, shrugs off its suit and slips into the sweatshirt it’s been holding onto since college, the fibers worn down and fuzzy-soft. “I think, just from memory, I think maybe it’s a little more mellow than the November, but I guess we’ll find out,” says Schultz, rinsing out his shaking tins and setting out another pair of glasses. He hard shakes the November 2015 batch, straining out a sample for each of us. “We’ll do the Washington batch last. It’s weird. If I remember correctly, it’s got bleu cheese on the nose, but when you shake it, it goes to goat cheese. But not in a terrible way. But that was 10 months ago, so …” The ellipsis hangs ominously in the air as we each take a sip of the fresher Ruhlman batch. Schultz’s memory was correct. It’s clearly the same recipe, but has a slightly more aggressive edge. More booze up front, less egg, less integrated. Each individual part stands out. You can taste milk, eggs, whisky and rum all separately. It is, of course, undeniably eggnog. That all changes

when Schultz breaks out the Washington batch. Schultz and I both take a sniff of the Washington nog, pre-shake. We look up at each other, laughing a bit. Perhaps nervously. It’s funky. Cheesy, rich, surprising. Under the funk, though, you can still smell all the familiar eggnog notes. He shakes and pours, and we smell again. It’s tamer on the nose, after shaking. It doesn’t taste tame, though. It tastes wild, feral almost. “It doesn’t taste off, though,” Schultz muses. “Yogurt-y.” He’s right. There’s a clear lactic tang to it, almost like a sour beer in character, but then there’s a vaguely gastric finish. Despite those notes flitting through the aroma in the background, there’s very little “nog” flavor at all. It has a slightly chalky finish. It’s not unpleasant, but very unexpected. “It’s like an eggnog sour,” says Schultz, taking a small, aspirated sip through his teeth, “that sour really cuts through.” Discussing the particulars of his process, Schultz muses that the transformation of the Washington nog from a lighter but still very recognizable eggnog into the oddity we’re drinking is almost certainly a facet of the recipe’s lower alcohol content, around 11 percent. I ask Schultz if he likes the Washington batch, in its current condition, and he pauses to consider the question, taking another small sip. “The Washington? I’d maybe

56 DECEMBER 2016 – JANUARY 2017

have two in a sitting. I wouldn’t have three. I think it’s an interesting product. I think it needs to not be in my possession after this year.” As for the Ruhlman batch, Schultz hopes to build at least a five-year “vertical.” I ask Schultz what he finds so fascinating about the idea of having a stash of vintage eggnog, and he points to a family history of preservation, which was largely the historical context in which eggnog began in the first place. “Basically, they had an abundance of eggs in the fall, but chickens don’t lay in the winter. So it was a preservation technique,” says Schultz. “My grandfather would put up cherries every summer. You’d just take a quart container, a mason jar, fill it with cherries and pour brandy over it. I remember, it was probably 2011 maybe, eating cherries from the 1970s. I thought that was the coolest thing. I remember when I was making this first batch, thinking that I wanted to make big enough batches every year that eventually I’ll be like 'Oh, let me go get the 2015 eggnog.' That’s the long-term, like what happens to it 10 years later?” Schultz takes a sip from the nearest glass. Surprise blooms across his face. “I forgot that was the Washington!” he splutters, giggling. From funky Revolutionary War eggnog, we turn to the tropics for a glass


of creamy, coconut-laced coquito. “Cross-cultural pollination is the history of the world. Eggnog, coquito, rompope or whatever else it is called in your home country, is part of that. Its beauty lies on family traditions that inadvertently connect us all,” says David Cedeno, a bartender at Prohibition Supper Club. “The tradition of coquito is very strong in Puerto Rico, but other Caribbean islands and Latin American countries do make variations. Without getting into etymology or origins, its heavy-dairy recipe has its roots in the European eggnog. That said, it’s eggnog with a bit of island ‘stilo,’ or style,” says Cedeno. That “stilo” brings a tropical flair through the introduction of coconut into a fairly traditional eggnog base, lending the coquito its unique character. “You look at traditional recipes of both, coquito and eggnog, and you’ll see a similar base of ingredients: eggs, dairy, liquor (brandy, whiskey or rum) and nutmeg. With coquito, what really changes is the type of dairy. Also, you won’t find whiskey in coquito, but you do find recipes with brandy and rum. However, the nuance that separates them the most is family recipe. Nobody makes a better coquito than your abuelita or tia,” says Cedeno. While most versions of coquito are egg-based, Cedeno’s own aunt makes an eggless version, using fresh coconut milk. “It’s the best coquito I’ve ever tasted,” says Cedeno. Some versions of coquito call for pitorro in place of the more eggnog-standard blend of rum and whiskey. Pitorro is a rustic Puerto Rican spirit flavored with a slate of warm spices. “You can call Pitorro Puerto Rican moonshine that is softened with spices, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, etc.,” says Cedeno. Those spices mirror the flavorings in coquito itself, which often comes loaded with cinnamon, vanilla and nutmeg. Cedeno plans to serve his coquito at Prohibition throughout the holidays, dosed out in small but potent portions. “Coquito is normally served after a holiday dinner as dessert. It is served in a shot glass as a small portion to tame the sweet palate. It does have a serious and delicious bite of rum, so you can’t have just one. The closest thing that I

DAVID CEDENO’S COQUITO 1 can coconut milk (not coconut water or coconut cream) 1 can sweetened condensed milk 1 cup whole milk 1 cup aged over-proof rum (or to taste) 1 stick cinnamon 4 egg yolks 2 tsp. vanilla extract (or to taste) nutmeg, as garnish Heat the coconut milk, condensed milk, whole milk and cinnamon. Bring to a simmer briefly, remove from the heat. METHOD:

can compare it to is a brandy Alexander, with coconut ice cream and rum.” If that sounds as good to you as it does to me, you can try your shot at a little holiday stilo with Cedeno’s own recipe for coquito. “I grew up with a version of coquito that is very heavy, creamy and boozy. This [recipe] is not too heavy and creamy, but I left the boozy,” he warns.

57 DECEMBER 2016 – JANUARY 2017

In a separate mixing bowl beat the egg yolks with a whisk, electric hand mixer or blender. While beating, drizzle about a cup of the hot mixture into the eggs. Return the milk/egg mixture to the saucepan, add cinnamon stick and bring back to a simmer. Remove from heat. Allow to cool completely before adding the rum. Store in the refrigerator; best when made one day in advance. Serve in shot glasses. Grate nutmeg on top before serving.

Nicholas L. Hall is a husband and father who earns his keep playing a video game that controls the U.S. power grid. He also writes about food, booze and music, in an attempt to keep the demons at bay. When he’s not busy keeping your lights on, he can usually be found making various messes in the kitchen, with apologies to his wife.


reviews

arthur ave ADDRESS 1111 Studewood at E. 11th TELEPHONE 832-582-7146 WEBSITE arthuravehou.com CUISINE Classic Italian with twists CREDIT CARDS All major HOURS Open 11 am-10 pm

Mon.-Thu., 11 am-11 pm Fri.-Sat., 5-9 pm Sun. RESERVATIONS Recommended NOISE LEVEL Intense when busy

BEST ON THE BLOCK By William Albright

I am not much of an explorer. When I visit New York City, I tend to stay put in Manhattan. Granted, I like to make my way to Brooklyn to treat myself to Junior’s famed cheesecake, but I have always been escorted there by friends who know how to get there and back. So I never realized the Big Apple has not one but two Little Italys: one in lower Manhattan next to Chinatown

and one in the Belmont section of the Bronx hard by the Bronx Zoo and New York Botanical Garden. The focal point of that enclave is Arthur Avenue, and that’s the name of the new Italian restaurant that opened July 29 in The Heights spot formerly occupied by Piatto Ristorante, next to Los Cucos. Calling itself simply Arthur Ave minus abbreviations’ customary period, it was created by the folks behind the much-lauded Helen Greek Food and Wine in Rice Village: Sharif Al-Amin, managing partner Tim Faiola, sommelier Evan Turner and executive chef William Wright. The American Planning Association has said of Arthur Avenue that “There is no better place to sample delicious bread, pasta, sausage or espresso,” and Arthur Ave’s publicity machine extravagantly claims the place “has the distinction of being the city’s first restaurant to bring the beloved ItalianAmerican tradition to local plates and will set the standard for the revival of the classic style.” Well, yes and no. My first dinnertime

visit was less than stellar, but a return trip deserved some hype. I never made it to Piatto, but an Arthur Ave staffer and a friend who had eaten there tell me that the re-do by cookbook author Erin Hicks was extensive. Big mirrors on the brick walls give the impression that the long, narrow dining room has windows. Antique-looking, seemingly dust-covered chandeliers provide muted light, and other accessories include vintage Italian posters and a framed quote by Sophia Loren that dubiously claims “Everything you see I owe to spaghetti.” Another placard translates an Italian saying (but for some reason leaves out the middle word) that insists “Years, lovers and glasses of wine must never be counted.” Those walls and the concrete floor (now a dark gray rather than Piatto’s flaming red) can make for a daunting noise level. When the place fills up, customers’ conversations completely drown out the none-too-pianissimo background music (things like Dean Martin and mandolin-and-guitar

CHEF WILLIAM WRIGHT

HAND-PULLED MOZZARELLA

PHOTOS BY BECCA WRIGHT

58 DECEMBER 2016 – JANUARY 2017


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versions of “La donna è mobile,” “O sole mio,” the “Carnival of Venice” Variations and “Ciribiribin”) and required louder chatting at my table. Chef Wright, who spent his teen years in rural Kentucky, devoted six months traveling in Italy to bone up on Italian food, and Arthur Ave says his kitchen is all about beloved tradition, classic red sauce and so on. But the operation is hardly hide-bound. The cocktail menu is highly inventive (Lainey Collum is the beverage director, and Pax Americana’s Shepard Ross consulted with Helen sommelier Evan Turner to assemble the extensive wine list), and some of the dishes I most enjoyed put considerable English on standard Italian dishes. The caprese salad ($16) was deliciously old-school. On a plate ringed with micro basil (replacing the advertised arugula) and filmed with balsamic vinegar and basil oil, halved grape tomatoes both red and yellow supported a big lump of fresh mozzarella pulled from the mother cheese when the dish was ordered.

Landry’s Signature Group (page 2)

But lemon-kissed ricotta – not a pizza topping I’ve encountered before – fetchingly sparked the 187th Street pie ($15) and lent a slightly dessertpizza vibe. The scatter of prosciutto and roasted mushrooms (including the funny-looking kind) established the dish’s savory bona fides, and the 12-incher’s thin crust neatly married crisp and soft. But again, micro basil replaced the menu-mentioned arugula. What, is Greens “R” Us closed for renovation? I liked that Arthur Ave’s uncommonly creamy tiramisu ($8) skews the balance of ingredients toward mascarpone, but I was less smitten with the cannoli ($8). Or rather cannolo. Instead of a couple of cylindrical, open-ended pastry shells filled with sweetened ricotta, tiny chocolate chips and such, there was something that looked like a miniature ice cream cone that fell on the plate pointy end up. That made sharing difficult, but I was more bothered by the threads of candied orange in the filling. Cannoli can be made with them, of course, but

59 DECEMBER 2016 – JANUARY 2017

I find them off-puttingly chewy, not to mention they get stuck in my teeth. Another departure from old-time standard operating procedure was an order of chicken marsala ($15). The bird was grilled with the skin on rather than breaded nude and sautéed. Again, more chewiness than I want. And does it honor tradition to congeal pudding-y polenta into polenta “fries” and stack them on a plate like a game of Jenga ($4)? The dish that most honors traditional Italian family dinners is the Sunday gravy ($42). Described by my server as an entrée that one hungry person could finish – and a guy next to me did put away every bite – the platter heaped with meats slow-braised in a hearty red sauce and delivered with some spaghetti on the side could easily feed multiple diners. The components apparently change slightly from day to day, but my order brimmed with chunks of excellent Italian sausage, a hunk of pork belly and a couple slabs of rib eye. I didn’t find any of the meatballs my server promised, but even eating only


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some of the bounty provided more than enough protein for one meal. Arthur Ave’s ravioli also are retooled every so often, and the version I got on my second visit was terrific. Filled with ricotta and sweet corn and bathed in brown butter sauce, the small pasta pillows ($16, price changes based on market offerings) were wonderfully light and refreshing. A more substantial and equally satisfying entrée is called Gulf Shrimp Fra Diavola (they mean Diavolo). For $26, pasta shells stuffed with spinach and ricotta are tumbled with bite-size shrimp in a spicy red sauce that warms the palate without scorching. If the food put out by the Italian eateries lining Arthur Avenue is as good as the best things Arthur Ave cooks, I am sorry I never made it to the Bronx.

texas shrimp shack ADDRESS

Dunlavy

1617 Richmond Ave. near

TELEPHONE 713-528-4920 WEBSITE texasshrimpshack.com CUISINE Shrimp every which way CREDIT CARDS All major HOURS Open 11 am-10 pm Sun.-Thu.,

11 am-midnight Fri.-Sat. RESERVATIONS Not needed NOISE LEVEL Varies during the day

$12 PURCHASE YOUR DECK AT MY-TABLE.COM WANT TO ORDER IN BULK? CALL 713-529-5500

ALL MIXED UP AT SHRIMP SHACK By Eric Gerber

Well, this is hard to beat. Sitting on the patio under a sheltering palapa, Houston’s sultry summer now replaced by a forgiving autumnal breeze, I have a Sauza-spiked margarita in one hand and the other hovering hesitantly over two platters of shrimp. Seems I’ve lost track of my rotation. Let’s see … I just ate one of the nicely-breaded fried shrimp, slathered in mango habanero sauce, last time, right? So, now it’s time for another boiled shrimp shining with garlic butter. And swish it through the tartar sauce just to give it a little boost. But, 60 DECEMBER 2016 – JANUARY 2017

wait. Maybe that’s what I just had and I’m really supposed to have another crunchy-good fried shrimp right now? For an instant, I am torn asunder with doubt. Decisions, decisions. Fortunately, no one is judging me. (Not about my shrimp-eating strategy, anyway; these teal Crocs are another matter.) So even if I get the rotation wrong, hey, that’s all right. One of the attractions of the Texas Shrimp Shack is its laissez-faire approach, one more associated with a waterfront dive in San Leon than a venue on Lower Richmond in the Montrose and Museum District area. But we take our pleasures where we can find them and, right now, getting all messy-mouthed with an abundance of fresh Gulf shrimp and cold adult beverages has won me over. Frankly, I had mixed feelings at first about coming here. For years – 14 of them, actually – this location was home to Maria Selma, a Mexican restaurant that opened with idealistic intentions of serving Mexico City-styled recipes that were a cut above (or at least different from) typical Tex-Mex fare. The establishment, it seemed, did well enough to stay in business, but never became a breakout success. They gamely rebooted the menu a few times, trying to find the sweet spot between popular appeal and individual identity, but to little avail. I enjoyed myself well enough during occasional drop-ins over the years, but it was as much a response to the amiable atmosphere and sweet-natured staff as it was to the food. Still, I was disheartened when I first heard good ol’ Maria Selma was calling it quits. Sic transit gloria menudo, you know? Learning it was going to be replaced by some tacky upstart calling itself Texas Shrimp Shack gave me a case of the sentimental grumbles. Of course, that was before I realized that Maria Selma was the Texas Shrimp Shack. Longtime Maria Selma chef/owner Rene Hidalgo had surveyed the enemy forces encircling him – El Pueblito, La Tapatia, Pappasito’s, El Real and, most recently, Pico’s, all within a few blocks – and raised the white flag. Then,


presto change-o, his venue became Texas Shrimp Shack almost overnight. “Too much competition,” Hidalgo said philosophically – or as philosophical as you can be delivering a zesty, super-sized Shrimp Cocktail Acapulco ($14.95) to our table. “Harder and harder to keep well-trained staff. Food costs for our kind of menu kept going up. It just made sense to make this change.” A new sign was displayed. A few pieces of nautical decoration were hastily added to the existing array of colorful Day of the Dead skulls and Southwestern décor. The Texans’ football signage sprang up. The soundtrack began to pour forth a loud, steady stream of zydeco. And, notably, most of the Mexican dishes said adios and were replaced by shrimp, shrimp and more shrimp, sold mostly in pound and half-pound increments at prevailing market prices. (Hidalgo indicated he has a regional supplier and most of what he serves is coming fresh from the Gulf.) You pick the style – fried, boiled or grilled – the sauces and

the spiciness, which ranges from Not to OMG. After that, it’s smooth sailing. Instructions: 1) Open mouth 2) Insert shrimp 3) Repeat. Now, a few remnants of a Mexican menu remain – enchiladas (shrimp, of course), ceviche, fish tacos – but the bulk of the bill of fare is devoted to shrimp. Fortunately, I like shrimp. They might have been referring to me, not George Costanza, when they said, “Hey, the ocean called. They’re running out of shrimp.” So, this place suits me to a T. As much as I applaud the wealth of well-prepared shrimp at reasonable prices in a cool, casual setting, I do wish the conversion had been a tad more confident and unwavering. Keeping a few Mexican selections around for old time’s sake is understandable. But the menu is also cluttered with a burger ($9.95), a ribeye ($18.95), a linguini with lobster tail dish ($19.95) and something I was terrified to order called “BBQ Pork Wings with Mac & Cheese” ($12.95). Heck, there’s even

steamed broccoli ($2.95). This bespeaks an establishment trying to hedge its bets. I mean, you’re going to label yourself a “shack,” but you also have lobster and broccoli available … just in case? Nevertheless, I have to admit Texas Shrimp Shack has become an official contender in Houston’s Oddest Restaurants Sweepstakes, one where accordion-fueled Cajun music ricochets madly off the Mexican décor and a crazy-quilt menu makes you seriously wonder what it’s like to put chipotle mayo and jalapeño ranch dressing on a piece of coconut shrimp perched atop a slice of fried avocado. At Texas Shrimp Shack, you’re encouraged to find out, and that’s got to count for something. William Albright has reviewed local restaurants for more than 20 years for The Houston Post, Inside Houston, Houston Business Journal and others. Eric Gerber is the director of communications at the University of Houston.

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– Migrating Taste –

Plumbing Tom Yum By Sarah Bronson

TOM YUM NOODLE SOUP

It might require a considerable trek for some Houstonians to get to Banh Somtum – it’s out around where Tomball Parkway begins – but you should do it. Within a year of opening, the place is hopping, and for good reason. Another externally nondescript spot, Banh Somtum is lovely inside. Pretend papaya trees flank the doorway, and canvas paintings of Southeast Asian scenes dominate each wall and gleam in afternoon light. The menu combines two overlapping cuisines, yet dishes unique to Laos and to Thailand shine independently. Salad here doesn’t mean greens with dressing. It could mean a heap of cold minced beef draped with tripe, a Laotian dish called larb. The meat is made refreshing with citrus juice, a rustle of herbs and green onion and turned lively with spicy chili pepper and crunching crumbs of toasted rice powder. Another Laotian salad means spaghetti-like shreds of pale green unripe papaya as crisp and mild as daikon radish but hinting toward the sweeter, ripe papaya to come, all drenched in funky fermented fish and lime juice. It’s topped with a bunch of long water spinach leaves and, my

favorite part, airy pork rinds, which are so different from the rest of the dish that they fit perfectly. Entrees range from curry to fried fish, both worthy here. But aromatic broths beckoned, and soon I was deep in soups. If comfort’s what you seek, try khao piak sen. You might call it Laotian chicken noodle soup, but that doesn’t convey the calming galangal and lime, the fried garlic you will hunt down every bit of, and the plentiful cilantro, green onion and sprouts. Then there’s the deep brown gelatin chunks bobbing beneath the noodles: These are made from duck blood. The soft blobs are muted in flavor, maybe outdone by the intensity of the soup, and would probably slip down easily for someone a little under the weather. To really get your duck blood on, choose Thai boat noodles with the dark broth. The blood soup mixes sweet, earthy and spicy and holds beef and your choice of noodles. On top floats the usual fresh mix of herbs, onions and sprouts along with more pork rinds. The bowl rewards each trawling of the depths: here a strip of stomach, there a meatball textured like sausage, here some hot little red chiles. My last liquid stop was amid tom yum noodles. Hot reddish broth

62 DECEMBER 2016 – JANUARY 2017

invigorates, carrying a powerful chili taste and a sour tinge like tamarind. Chicken, shrimp, cilantro and crushed peanuts join in, but I could have been content just drawing spoonfuls of bracing broth while munching green onion. Back on land, do not miss the chunky Laotian sausage bursting with hot juice, studded with herbs and onions, and tasting of pepper and lemon. A straw tube’s worth of delicious sticky rice can be plopped beside the sausages, and fresh spicy tomato sauce can be spooned over both for a flavor profile like a firework. There’s much more to delve into here, like chicken satay, fried ice cream and massive variety trays. Instead I carried home an iced Thai coffee, or oliang – strong but sweet, cut starkly with slowly unfurling milk. Until the next dive in. BANH SOMTUM, 13420 TEXAS 249 BET. ANTOINE & N. HOUSTON ROSSLYN RD., 832-617-5803 Sarah Bronson is a professional word wrestler. See her head-desking about language and life on @usewordsbetter.


RIVER OAKS HOUSTON

A backyard with a view. In Houston, buying and selling property reaches its zenith in River Oaks, where homes are often stunning … with prices to match. It is the most intensive level of residential real estate. And it’s an area that requires a greater range of skills than ever before. We are the chain that links your property, advertising, sales promotion, persuasion, negotiation and successful closure.

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– Tasting the Town –

crowning glory By Robin Barr Sussman • Illustration by Chris Hsu

Love caviar but can’t afford full-blown imported, by-the-ounce caviar service eaten with a pearl spoon? Dig into these decadent dishes that incorporate rich, salty beads of caviar to wondrous effect. A score of 10 means caviar nirvana. BISTRO MENIL

1513 W. Alabama, 713-904-3537

Caviar city. With brunch dish Julia’s Eggs, chef Greg Martin pays homage to cooking icon Julia Child, who personally shared her egg tips with him. The rich scrambled eggs are crowned with American black caviar and crème fraîche, but you must like soft, ultra-moist eggs to appreciate it. Also find salmon with potato latkes and deviled eggs garnished with caviar, as well as caviar dishes at dinner. With all this caviar, you’ll need the Champagne service, complete with long-stem coupe glassware. PRICE: $20/JULIA’S EGGS SCORE: 8 CAFE AZUR

4315 Montrose, 713-524-0070

Luxurious layers. At this new French gem, jumbo sea scallops are simply seared and crowned with black caviar from American Caviar Company. The scallops rest on buttery mashed potatoes, surrounded by steamed asparagus, crisped pancetta and a pool of rich green leek sauce. Wow. We can’t think of a better way to make scallops pop with fresh sea flavor and added texture. PRICE: $36 SCORE: 10

HOLLEY’S SEAFOOD RESTAURANT & OYSTER BAR

3201 Louisiana, 713-491-2222

Pearly pick. Oysters Yvonne comes with five charbroiled Texas oysters topped with crabmeat, Champagne-fennel cream and American caviar. Yes, it’s as decadent as it sounds. The “Minimalist” ($16) is grouper crudo glossed with truffle oil and American caviar but, alas, ours was a bit heavy on the truffle oil. PRICE: OYSTERS YVONNE/$18 SCORE: 9

is served with tomato, onion, capers, fresh tomatoes, boiled egg and whipped cream cheese with citrus. The paper-thin vodka-cured gravlax topped with fresh dill is exceptional, and the salty pearls of black American caviar take it over the top. At dinner, there’s a French onion dip appetizer crowned with caviar and served with potato chips. PRICE: GRAVLAX $16/ $31 WITH CAVIAR SCORE: 10 TONY’S OF HOUSTON

KATA ROBATA

3600 Kirby, 713-526-8858

Lovin’ spoonfuls. A long-time menu favorite, the uni crab is presented in a chilled white porcelain spoon holding a chunk of delicate king crab moistened with tangy dashi vinaigrette, draped with sea urchin and garnished with a smidgen of black caviar. It’s a silky, crazy good flavor combo – we only wished the uni was a bit fresher. PRICE: $7.50/SPOON SCORE: 8

3755 Richmond, 713-622-6778

LEARN TO MAKE THIS DIP & MORE CAVIAR RECIPES ON PAGE 44

Stuffed silly. Looking for a splurge? At this upscale Italian landmark, a small but mighty Kennebec baked potato is completely stuffed with shiny black Russian ossetra caviar and topped with a bit of sour cream. Sounds simple, but salty rich caviar and buttery potato is a match made in heaven. PRICE: $95 SCORE: 10

SALTAIR KITCHEN

3029 Kirby, 713-521-3333

Seafood heaven. On the new brunch menu, glorious house-smoked gravlax

64 DECEMBER 2016 – JANUARY 2017

Robin Barr Sussman is a freelance food writer with a culinary mission: great taste.


PICOS

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DECEMBER 2016 – JANUARY 2017


66 DECEMBER 2016 – JANUARY 2017

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