100 Favorite Dishes

100 Favorite Dishes 2012: No. 3, Roast Summer Squash at Oxheart

This year leading up to our annual Best of Houston® issue, we're counting down our 100 favorite dishes in Houston. This list comprises our favorite dishes from the last year, dishes that are essential to Houston's cultural landscape and/or dishes that any visitor (or resident) should try at least once.

Oxheart specializes in the unexpected. Justin Yu and Karen Man take otherwise familiar foods and transform them into something uniquely theirs -- squash blossoms not stuffed, but made into a rich soubise sauce, okra not served in coins or covered in batter, but stood on end at attention like vegetable soldiers in a war against needlessly meat-heavy menus -- but they also specialize in introducing unfamiliar ingredients or techniques with straightforward, unpretentious cheer.

Don't know sofrito? It's that velvety, plush green sauce under your roasted potatoes that adds a sweet, earthy note to the dish. Never heard of namalaka? It's that ganache -- a Japanese version of the stuff -- in your chocolate-and-beet dessert. Wait, there were beets in that dessert? It tasted too sweet, too dense, too decadent to have vegetables in it! These are the very things that make Oxheart such a fun, adventurous place to dine, and the reason that it's been placed on every Best New Restaurant list from Alison Cook's to Bon Appétit's.

And while others have spotlighted that okra dish as an example of the best dish at the vegetable-heavy restaurant that seats only 30-odd people, my personal favorite from the stunning menu I tried in June was a simple dish of roasted summer squash with vadouvan and a squash blossom soubise.

Vadouvan is another of those on-trend ingredients that Oxheart uses to great aplomb, but never in an obnoxious way. Instead, it's combined in a way that makes sense: Here, the French-Indian spice blend -- bracing and strong with notes of sweet fenugreek, turmeric, cloves and nutmeg against smoky cumin and musky curry leaves -- is used to further enhance the rich caramel flavors that emerge when roasting a simple length of green squash, split in two like a spindly piece of firewood.

Underneath is just enough of that creamy, buttery soubise to make you crave another spoonful, amply coating each bite of oven-softened squash, making you feel a bit selfish for wanting more. The selfishness is washed away, however, by the realization that good, honest food -- local produce, bought in season, from a farmer not far from your own home or Gulf seafood from nearby fishermen or Texas meat from a friendly rancher -- can be every bit as magical and transporting as the most expensive, exotic ingredients when handled with care and keen vision.

Oxheart's food also serves as a reminder that we don't often enjoy vegetables on their own merits, instead relegating them to a side dish or covering them with cheese. Oven-roasted vegetables are some of my favorite things to eat: healthy, delicious, easy and completely accessible. Even if they're not as artfully presented as the ones you get at Oxheart, dining there is an inspiration to enjoy these simple treasures and to find more beauty in everyday life. Go home, roast a squash, be happy.

The list so far:

No. 100: Chili cheese mac at Jus' Mac No. 99: Texas turkey sandwich at Spec's No. 98: Custard at Petite Sweets No. 97: Caprichos mixtos at Taqueria Monterrey Chiquito No. 96: Pineapple-wasabi burger at Lankford Grocery No. 95: Farmer's MKT Pizza at Phoenicia's MKT Bar No. 94: Potatoes at Money Cat Brunch No. 93: Breakfast tacos at Sunrise Taquito No. 92: Hot dog at Tacos D.F. No. 91: Avocado gelato at Frozen Cafe No. 90: Chicken sandwich at JerryBuilt Homegrown Burgers No. 89: Beer-battered asparagus at Hearsay No. 88: Honey Badger omelet at Kraftsmen Cafe No. 87: Pastelitos de carne at El Jalapeño No. 86: Pancakes at Union Kitchen No. 85: Wild boar and crab pizza at Boheme No. 84: Breakfast croissant at BB Donuts No. 83: Pretzel at Anvil Bar & Refuge No. 82: Short rib sandwich at Shepherd Park Draught House No. 81: Grilled shrimp po-boy at Pappadeaux No. 80: Dahi puri at Shiv Sagar No. 79: Aporreado at Los Corrales No. 78: Oxtail francobolli at Aldo's Cucina Italiana No. 77: Tonkotsu at Cafe Kubo's No. 76: Spinach danish from Angela's Oven No. 75: Pupusas at El Petate No. 74: Pheasant dog at Sammy's Wild Game Grill No. 73: X-Tudo burger at Friends Pizzeria No. 72: Esparragos gratinados at Tintos No. 71: Gua bao at Yummy Kitchen No. 70: Geisha dog at Happy Endings No. 69: Oyster po-boy and gumbo at Goode Co. Seafood No. 68: Ceviche at Sirena Seafood No. 67: Caldo de mariscos at Taqueria Arandas No. 66: Banana pudding at Pizzitola's No. 65: Fried catfish and gumbo at Cafe-A-La No. 64: Soft-shell crabs at Banana Leaf No. 63: Macaroni and cheese at Vic & Anthony's Steakhouse No. 62: Torta burger at El Gran Malo No. 61: Black bean burger at Ziggy's No. 60: Parillada at Pampa Grill No. 59: Peanut butter and jalapeño jelly burger at Wicked Whisk No. 58: Eggplant involtini at Giacomo's Cibo e Vino No. 57: Lone Star dog at James Coney Island No. 56: Sushi at Sushi Miyagi No. 55: Palestinian chicken at Al Aseel No. 54: Roast beef sandwich at Local Foods No. 53: Mexico City plate at Molina's Cantina No. 52: Tacos at Brothers Taco House No. 51: Branzino at Lucio's BYOB No. 50: Beef sweetbreads at Feast No. 49: Golden Doomba Special at the Rice Box Truck No. 48: Malted waffle at City Cafe No. 47: Banh mi bo kho at Cafe TH No. 46: Chicken fried steak at Triple A No. 45: Larissa plate at Harry's No. 44: Spaghetti carbonara at Coppa Ristorante Italiano No. 43: Wings and grits at The Breakfast Klub No. 42: Frito pie at C&D Burger Shoppe No. 41: Pollo con mole at El Gallo de Jalisco No. 40: Fried avocado taco at H-Town StrEATs No. 39: Rigatoni in bolognese sauce at Paulie's No. 38: Chorizo kolaches at Peña's Donut Heaven No. 37: Sashimi at Dadami No. 36: Half-pound burger at benjy's No. 35: Fried chicken at Haven No. 34: Whole-fried speckled trout at Liberty Kitchen No. 33: Moules congolaise at Jeannine's Bistro No. 32: Pancakes at Fountain View Cafe No. 31: Pineapple with chile en polvo at Canino's No. 30: Fried chicken at Barbecue Inn No. 29: Dirty Burque at Green Seed Vegan No. 28: Egusi at Finger Licking Bukateria No. 27: Brisket and turkey at CorkScrew BBQ No. 26: Menudo at La Mexicana No. 25: Shrimp and grits at Shade No. 24: Kinilaw at Reef No. 23: Lamb at El Hidalguense No. 22: Gumbo at Danton's No. 21: Chicken-fried water buffalo at The Hay Merchant No. 20: Roasted cauliflower at Roost No. 19: Truffled egg toast at Dolce Vita No. 18: 63-degree egg at Brasserie 19 No. 17: Drunken foie gras at Philippe No. 16: Beet salad at Triniti No. 15: Yogi thali at Pondicheri No. 14: Bialy and lox at The Hot Bagel Shop No. 13: Ribs at Gatlin's No. 12: Venison carpaccio at Thanh Phuong No. 11: Camarones henesy en hamaca at Arturo Boada Cuisine No. 10: Prosciutto and arugula pizza at Pizaro's Pizza Napoletana No. 9: Crawfish at The Hideaway on Dunvale No. 8: Pho at Pho Binh No. 7: Ceviche at La Fisheria No. 6: Ma po tofu at Mala Sichuan No. 5: Machi cure at Uchi No. 4: Tuna and bottarga at Tony's

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Katharine Shilcutt