By Molly Dunn
By Catherine Gillespie
By Brooke Viggiano
By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Mai Pham
By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Minh T Truong
With new restaurants and bars alongside adventurous live-music venues such as Walters, Super Happy Fun Land, The White Swan and, hell, even House of Creeps already in the area, the East End is shaping up to be Houston's new Montrose within a few years, now that Montrose is getting all fresh and fancy.
Speaking of Montrose, Dolce Vita reopened last week after being closed since May 23. A fire set in the Dumpster behind Marco Wiles's beloved pizza place heavily damaged the restaurant; Jacob Colby Garvin was eventually arrested in connection with the fire and charged with felony criminal mischief and felony arson.
Down the street, Korean-Japanese fusion joint Nabi has now closed for good. Owner/chef Ji Kang verified that he'd sold Nabi to another party but couldn't disclose who. That isn't the end of Kang's run here in Houston, however. The chef has another project in the works that's absolutely unlike anything else we have in the city — and one of the things we're sorely missing, which other cities have in spades. Anyone want to hazard a guess?
In other semi-blind news, I keep hearing rumors from solid sources who've indicated that New Orleans celebrity chef John Besh will soon be opening a restaurant in Houston. My last source even said that Besh had already chosen the spot — in River Oaks. Which would make complete sense were it true. I spoke with Besh's representatives last week, who said that the chef has no plans to open a place in Houston. Is that anything like In-N-Out Burger "not" coming to Houston anytime soon?
Last but not least, the restaurant that replaced Cabo's has been open for a couple of weeks. But it hasn't had its sign up until now: Pepper Jack's left the fiberglass marlin component of Cabo's old sign intact, which is now lighting up the downtown sky at Travis and Prairie once again. Katharine Shilcutt
On the Menu
New Specials at Brasserie 19
Chef Amanda McGraw wows.
A perfectly poached 63-degree egg — one of only two things that Chef Amanda McGraw cooks in her sous vide machine at Brasserie 19, the other being a giant pork chop — is spilling its saffron-colored yolk across the crispy top of a parmesan custard inside a shallow white ramekin. Off to one side, a couple of spoonfuls of caviar rest gently.
The yolk is slowly beginning to reach the tiny, gunmetal-colored pile of roe. But before it can do so, I scoop all three components up with my spoon — viscous yolk, creamy custard, salty eggs — and spread it across a piece of warm, soft baguette. The flavors are sudden and sharp, all bright brininess from the caviar and a softly salty lift of creamy parmesan custard underneath. Only the egg yolk serves to temper the two contrastingly salty flavors, soaking them up and rendering them elegant, refined and fascinating.
It's such a fun study in texture, temperature and taste, made all the more so by its unexpectedness here at the country-clubbish Brasserie 19. The moneyed River Oaks restaurant normally specializes in steak frites, raw oysters and trout almondine — traditional Brasserie food served to patrons with old-school appetites — but McGraw is intent on shaking things up with her off-menu specials.
It's this blend of traditional dishes along with more adventurous platings of rainbow runner crudo or pickled shrimp with smoked crème fraîche that makes Brasserie 19 such an intriguing place to eat right now.
You get the sense that, if left to her own devices, McGraw would transform the entire menu in this way. But then it wouldn't be a brasserie. Instead, McGraw continues to make sure the brasserie basics are cooked perfectly so that she's allowed the leeway to experiment with more of these "fun" dishes.
Pickled shrimp with smoked crème fraîche are among those fun little treats available right now. The shrimp is fresh from the Gulf, pickled very lightly and served atop a shaved fennel salad with earthy pops of celery — all of which would be good in and of itself. But McGraw takes it a step further by smoking crème fraîche in a hotel pan with wood chips, a process which imparts a woodsy aroma and wonderfully charred flavor to the normally sour, tangy cream. That signature tang is still there, of course; it's just softened a smidge with that irresistible allure of campfires or well-seasoned barbecue smokers.
Like the shrimp, the soft pink rainbow runner she uses in a fanciful crudo is straight from the Gulf courtesy of local fishmonger P.J. Stoops and barely requires a cure. Instead, mandolined slices of even brighter pink watermelon are draped across the fish, then crowned with equally summery components: punches of micro cilantro and the citrusy pop of yuzu. A sprinkling of crushed hazelnuts on top gives the dish all of the subtle crunch and saltiness it needs.
But even with these new specials, McGraw manages to stay true to the brasserie format: good seafood and good French food are still held tightly in focus. It's this sort of dedication that's kept her at Brasserie 19 as chef de cuisine through three different chefs since it opened a little over a year ago. And it's her talent which finally led owners Charles Clark and Grant Cooper to allow her to take over the kitchen as head chef in June. Along with Coppa chef Brandi Key (who, coincidentally, happens to be McGraw's long-term girlfriend), she is one of two female executive chefs in Clark and Cooper's restaurant empire here in Houston.