The perverse imp in me has always wanted to eat haggis, and on January 25 -- Scottish bard Robbie Burns' birthday -- I finally got to. The celebrated mega-sausage of sheep's entrails cooked with oats inside a sheep's stomach was a featured attraction at Michael and Glenn Cordua's second annual Burns dinner, an occasion less unlikely than it sounds: Houston's Nicaraguan churrasco kings are one-eighth Scottish, courtesy of a maternal great-grandfather named Graham. So the presence of 100-plus Scottish enthusiasts, kilt-wearers and single-malt Scotch whiskey connoisseurs at the Corduas' pan-American Americas restaurant -- along with bagpipers, Highland flingers and a boombox emitting Burns songs -- makes as much skewed sense as anything does here in Melting Pot City.
About that haggis: it's no scarier than Cajun dirty rice, to which it bears an odd resemblance -- especially in its latter-day incarnation devised by Pete Webster, a retired Channelview millwright who is Houston's haggis-maker extraordinaire. Webster, who also supplies haggis for the Heather & Thistle Society's huge Burns Supper every year, eschews the authentic approach involving sheep's lungs, brains, liver, heart and tripe; instead he stuffs a less alarming, peppery mix of ground-up beef, pork, liver and pearly little steel-cut oats inside plastic cooking bags. "Where would I get a sheep's stomach?" Webster asks pragmatically. He likens the results to boudin -- "poor people's food," he explains; like gizzard-and-liver-crammed dirty rice, haggis constitutes creative use of what's left over after the rich folks' cuts are removed.
Rich folks' cuts like the lamb churrasco served up later. This production number is spectacular enough to support its $25 price tag: half a rack of lamb is served with the rib bones separated from the butterflied loin, both of them basted with garlicky chimichurri sauce and grilled to a gorgeous medium-rare. Perhaps there is a better lamb dish in town, but I rather doubt it.
I also doubt that there is better entertainment to be found than in the cross-cultural dissonances of our own endlessly weird city. Case in point: the whipped potato-and-rutabaga concoction called clapshot that is the traditional accompaniment to haggis was served cold, to the considerable mortification of Glenn Cordua. It seems a kitchen staffer from San Luis Potosi assumed it was a potato salad and stashed it in the freezer to chill out. The mishap seemed as quintessentially Houstonian as the beautiful Pakistani girl who proved to be the best Highland flinger of them all.
-- Alison Cook
Americas, 1800 Post Oak Blvd., The Pavilion, 961-1492.
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