By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Minh T Truong
By Molly Dunn
By Brooke Viggiano
By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Molly Dunn
By Molly Dunn
By Eating Our Words
The Houston Noé is the sister restaurant of the original Noé in Los Angeles, which is located in another Omni hotel. When it first opened there, the extremely cutting-edge cuisine baffled and amazed the critics. Old-guard types like John Mariani hated it. Jonathan Gold, the restaurant critic at the L.A. Weekly, was blown away by it. Gadsby was making a splash with the first Noé, and he wanted to convince the world that he still had a few tricks up his sleeve.
Born in Bedford, England, to parents from the Caribbean, Gadsby attended culinary school in London, then apprenticed under the top chefs of France. Then, in a career move reminiscent of Jean-Georges Vongerichten, he went to work in Asia. Gadsby first went to Los Angeles to work with chef Thomas Keller in the '80s. He wowed Hollywood in the late '90s with one of the city's most innovative restaurants, Gadsby's, which closed a few years later.
L.A. was already acquainted with the wildly creative Gadsby. Houston is still trying to figure him out. No doubt Gadsby spent lots of time in the dining room at the original Noé talking to patrons and relaunching his career. Too bad we aren't getting much of that treatment here. What's now old hat in Los Angeles still needs a little bit of an introduction in Houston.
Houston, TX 77056
Crab napoleon: $15
Squash-and-lobster soup: $12
Foie gras three ways: $21
Gadsby wasn't around that Friday night. That's okay -- he's hired some talented people in Houston to fill in for him. The half-Japanese, half-Lithuanian fusion genius Mike Potowski left Mantra to go to Noé and work with Gadsby. But unfortunately, chef Potowski didn't make any appearances in the dining room that night either.
I guess Gadsby wants us to figure out his menu poetry for ourselves. I gave it a try with an appetizer the chef calls "foie gras three preparations yesterday-today-tomorrow."
What came to the table was a rectangular dish with three servings of foie gras. On the left was a classic foie gras au torchon, with a tiny toast point stuck in it. This is an old-fashioned preparation in which the whole lobe of goose liver is wrapped in muslin, poached in wine and served on toast. Okay, that makes sense for the yesterday part.
Next to that, in the middle, was the teeniest cast-iron skillet you have ever seen. And in the little skillet was a tiny mound of scrambled eggs with a little chunk of lightly seared fresh foie gras on top. Fresh foie gras is much more exciting than the old-fashioned long-cooked stuff and has only been available in this country since the '80s, so that makes sense for today.
To the right of the skillet was a little round bowl filled with some kind of pistachio custard. I was told it also had cubes of cooked foie gras in it, but I couldn't find them. I couldn't taste them either. Maybe Gadsby was trying to tell me that in the future there won't be any foie gras? Or that I will have to use my imagination to taste it?
The larger question this study in foie gras presented was what to drink with it. Gadsby often serves little glasses of fruit juice or cocktails with his food, and he missed an opportunity here. What will we be drinking with foie gras tomorrow? And of more immediate concern, what was I supposed to drink with this appetizer right now?
I asked my waitress to make a recommendation. She knew that a sweet white wine like Sauternes is considered the classic combination with foie gras. But none was offered by the glass on Noé's wine list. She said it was too bad there wasn't any Riesling available by the glass at the moment, since that wine has some sweetness and also would go well with the foie gras. She said she would ask the manager if she could open a bottle. But she returned with a bottle of Pinot Gris and told me her manager had recommended it.
Pinot Gris, known in Italian as Pinot Grigio, is usually pretty low in acid and fruit. I asked the waitress if this one was different, but she had no information. I suspected it was simply the white wine the manager most wanted to get rid of.
So I persisted: Did chef Gadsby have a cocktail or something he recommended with the foie gras three ways? The waitress went back to the manager again. Finally, my stubbornness was rewarded. The manager suddenly remembered there was an open half-bottle of Sauternes in the kitchen refrigerator. So I finally got a glass of sweet white wine to accompany the foie gras. But getting an appropriate beverage turned out to be a bigger head game than figuring out the foie gras.
Noé is a playful, challenging restaurant. Much of the food is astonishing. Some of it is transcendental. Sure, the menu reads like a list of culinary crossword puzzle clues. But luckily for sybarites, you don't need to get the chef's jokes to enjoy a mouthful of succulent lobster. And all those food geeks who are familiar with words like quince, quinoa, tataki and pot-au-feu will enjoy the place even more.
Just don't go expecting an education. You have to figure Noé out for yourself.