As the fourth course of the meal was set in front of me, I marveled at its elegant construction but was more struck by a far subtler thing: Every ingredient in the dish had been plucked fresh from the organic garden outside, no more than a few hundred yards from where I sat, that morning. The first course of tomato salad with house-made chevre and the second course of risotto with sweet basil puree and homemade remoulade had shone brightly, but the fourth course was breathtaking.
The plump round of ratatouille on the plate was wrapped in paper-thin slices of bright cucumber and accented with a snappy emulsion of elephant garlic, while a lively mound of microgreens in balsamic vinegar kept it company in one corner. There was no mistaking the freshness of the vegetables in every crisp bite, bursting with the underlying taste of country soil and hot, summer air.
Tucked away in acres of Hill Country pasture outside of Brenham is the Inn at Dos Brisas. Aside from its obvious accolades -- it's the only Relaix and Château destination in Texas (and one of few in the United States), and it houses the only Mobil five-star restaurant in the state, which keeps it in company with Charlie Trotter and Jean-Georges -- the property and its restaurant offer something more intriguing to genuine lovers of great food: the opportunity to eat meal that's not just farm-to-table, but table-on-a-farm.
Nearly all of the produce used in the restaurant to prepare each day's three meals is grown on site, in organically certified gardens overseen by Johnnie Boyd Baker, who personally tends each patch of vegetables, each clump of herbs and each fruit tree on the property with her crew of four employees.
Aside from the produce, all of the inn's cheese is made on-site with local milk; its bread is baked fresh each day; and they're even experimenting with making their own soft drinks. You'd think that the house-made cheese would be amateurish, but it's some of the finest cheese I've ever tasted. And you'd think that such a focus on vegetables would be boring, but it's actually a revelation. The Inn is a veritable food epiphany.
The Inn at Dos Brisas is a labor of love from two Houstonians, Doug and Jennifer Bosch, who first purchased the 300 acres as a retreat for their family. The ranch already had a large stable for horses, one of Doug's passions which he calls "living artwork," and over time, the acreage developed into not only a weekend getaway for their family, but for friends as well. The Boschs built four casitas -- elegantly appointed guest houses -- for overnight guests and began construction on a pool and main lodge for gatherings. This undertaking quickly evolved into full-scale plans to turn the ranch into the Inn that it is today.
In 2004, the Inn opened to the public for the first time. Doug's dedicated interest in organic farming grew from a few vegetable patches and fruit trees to an all-out farm and orchard, with guests being treated to organic gardening lessons and farm-fresh meals. The tanks on the property were stocked with catfish and bass for leisurely fishing, and the horse stables and arena are now filled with dozens of Arabians and quarterhorses for guests to ride.
But the restaurant is truly where the Inn shines. Guests can accompany Chef Jason Robinson to pick the veggies for their meal that night -- there are 463 different varieties of vegetables grown on site (150 of them tomatoes!). And if getting down and dirty isn't their thing -- as I imagine it's not for most of the guests, who are paying the $575 per night fee to stay at the Inn -- the wine cellar offers a staggering 4,500 bottles to choose from (some of them from as far back as Andrew Jackson's administration), and there's a chef's tasting menu to enjoy in the main dining room, surrounded by Bernaudaud china and an 18th-century fireplace imported from the Loire Valley. Yes, you'll need to wear a tie for this dinner.
You won't need to pay the nearly $600 per night fee to enjoy the Inn, however. A leisurely drive to Chappell Hill from Houston for the chef's Seasonal Tasting Menu for only $85 is perhaps the greatest fine-dining deal Texas has to offer. The Quentin Tarantino of chefs
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(Jason Robinson was a clerk at a 7-11 only seven short years ago, before getting into the culinary trade at Tru in Chicago) and one of the finest sommeliers / cheesemakers in the country (Christopher Bates) dote on their guests and provide a truly unforgettable meal.
As I finished off the last course -- an enormously inventive and surprisingly delicous eggplant beignet with eggplant cardamom ice cream and caramel -- and sipped the remnants of my garden-fresh Bloody Mary while gazing fondly at the rolling pastures and wildflowers just outside, I ruminated on what is a truly and remarkably Texan take on Thomas Keller's French Laundry the Inn at Dos Brisas is, and why it had taken me so long to get there.
To see more photos from the Inn, visit J.C. Reid's photo set.