100 Favorite Dishes 2013-2014: No. 8, Pickled Butternut Squash Salad at Coltivare
These ingredients shouldn't go together, but they really, really do.
Photo by Kaitlin Steinberg
This year, leading up to our annual Menu of Menus® issue, Kaitlin Steinberg counts down her 100 favorite dishes as she eats her way through Houston. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most awesome, most creative and, of course, most delicious in town. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that seem particularly indicative of the ever-changing Houston foodscape.
On any given night (except, oddly, Tuesdays) the line of people snaking out the door and crowding in the entrance might seem perplexing to the average, first-time diner at Coltivare. The new Heights-area restaurant from the folks who brought us Revival Market has been packed since day one, but once you try the food, it's easy to see why.
The small menu (fewer than 50 items in all, including sides and desserts) is carefully crafted to bring out the maximum amount of flavor from simple ingredients combined into artful dishes. The basic cacio e pepe pasta is the best in town, while the homegrown greens are about as fresh as can be: They're plucked right out of the backyard garden for dinner each evening.
There's one particular dish that haunts my dreams, though, in the best way possible. I crave it at all hours of the day. It's healthy enough to make me think, "Yeah, I could eat that for a nice, light lunch," and decadent enough to satisfy even when I'm wanting something a little fancy.
The pickled butternut squash salad is my favorite thing on a menu of hits at Coltivare. When I first encountered it, I thought it sounded strange and unappetizing. Butternut squash, I thought, should be reserved for ravioli filling then topped with a sage and brown butter sauce. It should be baked and sprinkled with brown sugar as a Thanksgiving side dish. But pickled? Much to my surprise, pickling butternut squash brings out the natural flavors in an incredible way. It's not as sweet, of course, but it's still deep and earthy, and because it's essentially raw, it's got an interesting crisp bite to it.
Paired with the pickled butternut squash are a few halves of roasted, lightly browned Brussels sprouts, whole walnuts, buttery homemade croutons, balsamic shallots and a drizzle of a balsamic vinegar reduction. The result is a lot of acid from the vinegar and butternut squash tempered by the meaty walnuts and warm, green Brussels sprouts. The shallots add a hit of unique, savory umami that lingers in your mouth even after you've moved on to another course.
In theory, the dish is alarmingly simple. It's the unusual pairing of ingredients that makes it such a standout salad. Coltivare is full of dishes that make me think, "Of course those things go together! Why didn't I think of that?" And the pickled squash salad is no exception.
Order it as an appetizer (though don't plan to share) or enjoy it for a light dinner, then follow up with a delectable dessert. Whatever you do, though, get this dish at Coltivare. I imagine that, like me, you'll be very pleasantly surprised.
See the full list of favorites on the next page.
The list so far: No. 9: Uni Chawanmushi at Kata Robata No. 10: Seafood Gumbo at Danton's Gulf Coast Seafood Kitchen No. 11: Grilled Fish Masala at Himalaya Restaurant No. 12: Curry Noodle Soup at Mamak Malaysian Restaurant No. 13: Foie Gras au Torchon at Étoile Cuisine et Bar No. 14: Caramelized Pork Spare Ribs at Cafe TH No. 15: Kobe Beef at Nara No. 16: Okra With Crème Fraîche at Oxheart No. 17: Alba White Truffle Soufflé at Tony's No. 18: Phat Ass Ham Hock at Goro & Gun No. 19: Dahi Puri at Shri Balaji Bhavan No. 20: Fried Catfish and Cajun Crawfish at The Cajun Stop No. 21: Foie Gras Crème Caramel at Just Dinner No. 22: Roasted Pear Salad at Backstreet Cafe No. 23: Fluffernutters at Fluff Bake Bar No. 24: Som Tam at Vieng Thai No. 25: Chips and Queso at Fusion Taco No. 26: Spicy Miso Ramen at Soma Sushi No. 27: Kim Cheese Fries at Coreanos No. 28: Fried Cauliflower at Roost No. 29: Caesar Wedge Salad at Provisions No. 30: Ice Cream in a Waffle Cone at Fat Cat Creamery No. 31: Cochito con Mole Xico at Hugo's No. 32: Carnitas at Molina's Cantina No. 33: Taleggio Pizza at Dolce Vita No. 34: Chiles de Padron Asados at Caracol No. 35: Morning Thali at Pondicheri No. 36: Fried Mini Fish at House of Bowls No. 37: Trompo Tacos at Taqueria La Macro No. 38: Spicy Tamale Plate at La Mexicana No. 39: Mum's Chicken Curry At The Queen Vic Pub No. 40: Canestri alla Funghi at Paulie's No. 41: Biscuit with Marmalade and Crème Fraîche at Blacksmith No. 42: Fried Oyster Po'Boy at Goode Company Seafood No. 43: Roasted Duck Red Curry at Morningside Thai No. 44: BBQ Pulled Wild Boar Sandwich at Sammy's Wild Game Grill No. 45: Guanciale Burger at Plonk No. 46: Parma 600 Pizza at Pizzeria Solario No. 47: CFC Deviled Eggs at Liberty Kitchen & Oyster Bar No. 48: The El Real Burger at El Real Tex-Mex Cafe No. 49: Custard Sandwich at Petite Sweets No. 50: Black Pepper Beer Lobster at Hai Cang Seafood Restaurant No. 51: Red Dragon Roll at Michiru Sushi No. 52: Fried Bananas Foster at Custom Confections No. 53: Bánh Canh Hue at Simply Pho No. 54: Kimchi Koagie at Koagie Hots No. 55: The Juicy Lucy Burger at Lowbrow No. 56: Eggplant Fries at Batanga No. 57: Macarons at Ganache Dessert Bar No. 58: Grilled Cheese at The Golden Grill No. 59: Baklava French Toast at Harry's Restaurant & Cafe No. 60: Patata e Funghi Pizza at Pizaro's No. 61: Old Fashioned Frito Pie at Armadillo Palace No. 62: Korean Spiced Brisket Plate at Revival Market No. 63: Bánh Mì at Les Givral's Sandwich and Cafe No. 64: Squirrel Master Burger at Cottonwood No. 65: Shorty Mac at H-Town StrEATS No. 66: Enchiladas de Mole at La Guadalupana No. 67: Bad Ass Hambur-Torta at Pistolero's No. 68: Green "Hurry Curry" at Nit Noi No. 69: Dozen Raw Oysters at Pappas Seafood No 70: Banana Split at Cloud 10 Creamery No. 71: Lazy Lane Frites at Brasserie 19 No. 72: Chicken Pot Pie at Kenny & Ziggy's No. 73: Chili Cheese Mac from Jus' Mac No. 74: Taco al Pastor at Taco Keto No. 75: 'Date With a Pig' at Sparrow Bar + Cookshop No. 76: The Heights Burger at Gratifi No. 77: Lamb Lollipops at Américas No. 78: Mortadella Sandwich at 13 Celsius No. 79: Carnissima Pizza at Coppa Osteria No. 80: The Marie Laveau Sandwich at Sandy Witch No. 81: Catfish and Grits at The Breakfast Klub No. 82: Grilled Ahi Tuna at St. John's Fire No. 83: Lobster Roll at Maine-ly Sandwiches No. 84: Greek Burger at Hubcap Grill No. 85: Pork Tamales at Irma's No. 86: Ham, Egg & Cheese Crepe at Melange Creperie No. 87: Crab Daddy Bao at Fat Bao No. 88: Sesame Soft Balls at Golden Dim Sum No. 89: Porchetta e Fagioli at Giacomo's Cibo e Vino No. 90: Uncle Daryl's Cake at The Chocolate Bar No. 91: Lobster Cake Benedict at Sorrel Urban Bistro No. 92: Homeroom at Bernie's Burger Bus No. 93: Vuelve a la Vida Soup at Connie's Seafood No. 94: Foie Gras Mac & Cheese at BRC Gastropub No. 95: Sweet Potato Gnocchi at Brooklyn Athletic Club No. 96: Chicken and Waffles at Adair Kitchen No. 97: Soft Pretzel from Mongoose Versus Cobra No. 98: Bulgogi Tacos with Kimchi at Chi'Lantro No. 99: Almond Croissant at Phoenicia No. 100: Bangkok Fries at Boheme
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Houston dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.