The Top 10 Houston Dishes of 2016

Roasted truffle butter cornish game hen by Ryan Hildebrand at Triniti.EXPAND
Roasted truffle butter cornish game hen by Ryan Hildebrand at Triniti.
Photo by Mai Pham

5. Roasted truffle butter cornish game hen at Triniti
One of my biggest regrets this year is not having time to go back for chef Ryan Hildebrand’s whole roasted cornish game hen from his summer menu. Served on a cast-iron skillet on a bed of roasted mushroom, eggplant and summer squash, from conception to presentation, the bird was magnificent. And no wonder. According to Hildebrand, “The hen is bagged with truffled butter, garlic and herbs, then roasted and glazed with truffle butter once more.” Cutting into the plump, moist hen let out a gush of heady, truffle-scented steam that only served to heighten the experience. As if the truffle butter weren’t enough, the dish came with a small copper pan of mustard gravy fortified with giblets.

Caramelle pasta stuffed with roasted veal bone marrow with porcini Sangiovese ristretto by Kate McLean at Tony's.EXPAND
Caramelle pasta stuffed with roasted veal bone marrow with porcini Sangiovese ristretto by Kate McLean at Tony's.
Photo by Mai Pham

4. Caramelle pasta stuffed with veal bone marrow with a porcini Sangiovese ristretto at Tony’s
One of the things about fine dining that most people don’t realize is that it can be a lot of fun. Such was the case when I was presented with a course of caramelle pasta by chef Kate McLean during a tasting menu dinner at Tony’s. Shaped like a long candy, and topped with what looked like chocolate sauce so that it gave off the expectation of something sweet, the handmade pasta was in fact stuffed with veal bone marrow and liberally topped with a porcini Sangiovese ristretto. Decadent, earthy, delightfully surprising and totally unforgettable.

Pork belly burnt ends by Ronnie Killen at Killen's STQ.EXPAND
Pork belly burnt ends by Ronnie Killen at Killen's STQ.
Photo by Mai Pham

3. Pork belly burnt ends at Killen's STQ
It was a tough job figuring out which dish won the night when I dined at Ronnie Killen’s new Killen’s STQ recently. Was it the Japanese A5 Wagyu, seared until a crust formed around a molten center, with shaved truffle and caramelized onion? Or was it the lobster, grilled and served two ways, with butter-poached claws and a grilled tail topped with beurre blanc? In the end, the one that shone most brightly was the one that showed us what a master he is with meat: his smoked pork belly burnt ends. Enrobed in Killen’s barbecue sauce with a touch of honey and brown sugar, the pork belly had been smoked until charred, then deep-fried to give each bit an outer crust. The result was a crispy-on-the-outside, molten-on-the-inside bite that exploded with a rock-your-world intensity of flavor. So, so good.

Espardenya (giant Catalonian sea cucumber) over lobster rice by Luis Roger of BCN Taste & Tradition.EXPAND
Espardenya (giant Catalonian sea cucumber) over lobster rice by Luis Roger of BCN Taste & Tradition.
Photo by Mai Pham

2. Sea cucumber and bomba rice Calasparra with lobster reduction at BCN Taste & Tradition
A little-known fact about chef Luis Roger of BCN: During the time that he apprenticed under Ferran Adria at El Bulli, one of his tasks was to clean and prep espardenya, a type of “king” sea cucumber found off the coast of Spain, over and over and over until he’d perfected his technique. Well, I got to experience that technique when he got his hands on a small shipment from Spain. It was flown in especially for a private wine dinner with the president of the venerable Spanish winery Vega Sicilia, and it was just my luck that he had some left over when I celebrated a late birthday dinner there a week later. How do you encapsulate the taste of the ocean in a dish? Roger did it with his “Espardenyas amb bomba de Calasparra i la reduccio de la llagosta.” Utterly sublime in its simplicity, the focus of the dish was the sea cucumber, delicate and crisp, like a young calamari that had just been fished from the ocean, complemented by firm kernels of bomba rice Calasparra (a special Catalan preparation) swathed in a lobster reduction. 

Hokkaido scallop and hokkaido uni with dashi air by Austin Simmons at Cureight in The Woodlands.EXPAND
Hokkaido scallop and hokkaido uni with dashi air by Austin Simmons at Cureight in The Woodlands.
Photo by Mai Pham

1. Hokkaido scallop, torched Hokkaido uni and dashi air at Cureight
It’s somewhat ironic that the most memorable dish I had this year was served as an amuse-bouche, but you know what they say about first impressions? They last. In this case, the chef was Austin Simmons, the menu was from his 16-seat tasting-menu-only restaurant, Cureight, located inside Hubbell & Hudson Bistro in The Woodlands, and the dish — an Hokkaido scallop with torched uni (sea urchin) so perfectly constructed, I knew the moment that I had it that he was going to work hard to top it for the rest of the evening. Simple yet complex at the same time, with these intricate textures and plays on creamy and clarified, salty and sweet, crispy and silky, and positively bursting with an exquisite umami, all the elements merged together to form one mind-blowing bite. Inspired by his travels to Japan, Simmons says that his intent was to make a wholly Japanese dish entirely of Japanese ingredients. So he sourced some beautiful, sweet Hokkaido scallop, then bought Hokkaido uni, which he torched and added to the dish. The base was a Japanese dashi broth and dashi “air” (which looked like foam on the plate), with the final touches being a crispy kombu chicharrón (made from the kombu that had been dehydrated and fried) and small pearls of wasabi tobiko.


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Related Locations

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Tony's Restaurant

3755 Richmond Ave.
Houston, Texas 77098

713-942-9500

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Hubbell & Hudson Bistro

24 Waterway Ave.
The Woodlands, TX 77380

281-203-5641

www.hubbellandhudson.com

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Charivari Restaurant

2521 Bagby St.
Houston, TX 77006

713-521-7231

www.charivarirest.com

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Cafe Azur

4315 Montrose Blvd
Houston, TX 77006

713-524-0070

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La Table

1800 Post Oak, #6110
Houston, TX 77056

713-439-1000

latablehouston.com

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BCN Taste and Tradition

4210 Roseland St
Houston, TX 77006

832-834-3411

www.bcnhouston.com


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