Some of the best food to be had in Houston is happening in a small kitchen at Grand Prize, and a trailer in front of Liberty Station.
The Modular (as reported on previously by Minh Truong and Mai Pham) is the brainchild of Joshua Martinez, formerly the General Manager at Kata Robata. It has garnered a reputation for being a waystation for talented chefs in between permanent gigs. Lyle Bento (formerly of Feast) is the current head chef.
It's one of a rapidly expanding group that is changing Houston's dining scene and blowing up perceptions of truck food. They are making high-end, chef-driven, creative food at probably half of what you might pay for a comparable dish at a normal restaurant.
As part of Houston Beer Week, The Modular hosted a dinner upstairs at Grand Prize featuring Redstone Meadery, and one of the first courses was bone marrow. I've had bone marrow at a few places, and I love the richness and simplicity of this rustic dish. The only complaint I have ever had is there's never enough of the succulent, salty goodness. Generally, the halved, roasted bones only provide about 50 percent of the portion size that I actually want.
The folks at The Modular love doing things in a big way, and diners at the mead dinner were treated to roasted halves of entire cow femurs. It was wonderful to have plenty of marrow to try by itself, spread on bread, or follow with the bright parsley, caper and onion salad served alongside.
The problem with special dinners is often one gets to try something wonderful only to never have it again. I spoke with Chef Bento about my concern. "Lyle, I'm mad at you ," I said. He looked a little shocked and asked why. "I can't ORDER this anywhere," I replied. I was comforted when Lyle said that they were thinking about offering it as a menu item. "Would you pay $15 for this?" he asked. "HELL YEAH I WOULD!" I said.
True to his word, "Caveman Bone Marrow" (as I like to call it) showed up on the menu at The Modular a week later.
The Modular's menu generally has four to eight items on it at a time, and nicely bridges the gap between "bar food" and "chef food" by offering items ranging from whole lobster with risotto to chili cheese fries. It's great for "foodies" or for folks that just want something to nosh on with a beer.
On my most recent two visits, I tried the vaunted lobster and risotto. I am unaware of any restaurant where one can get such a dish for a mere $15, which is what it sold for at The Modular that night. The split, salted and broiled lobster was a treat, but what blew me away was the risotto. It was creamy and decadent, without being too rich, and was topped with two beautiful specimens of butter-poached lobster claw meat. I would have paid $15 just for the risotto.
The first time I tried the Modular Burger, I was underwhelmed. The burger was huge, but the meat lacked seasoning. Chef Bento has since tweaked the recipe, and the burger I had at a recent Liberty Station visit rivaled those at some of Houston's most famous burger joints.
There is a saying attributed to the Dalai Lama: "Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively." The folks at The Modular know the rules and smash them into little pieces, all to provide their customers with outlandishly fun (and sometimes even luxurious) dining experiences. I cannot wait to taste the results of the rule they break next.