This year, leading up to our annual Menu of Menus issue, Kaitlin Steinberg counts down her 100 favorite dishes as she eats her way through Houston. Just as Katharine Shilcutt did before her, and Robb Walsh before that, Kaitlin will eat and learn as she goes, compiling a list of the 100 dishes she thinks are the most awesome, most creative and, of course, most delicious in Houston. It's a list of her personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that seem particularly indicative of the ever-changing Houston food-scape. It's a list to drool over.
I've had a weird relationship with foie gras ever since my family took me to a goose farm that made the stuff when I was seven. I don't know why they thought it would be a good idea to let the child play with the funny geese, then sit her down and feed the funny geese to her, but they did. And I know all the controversy surrounding foie gras and the inhumane way in which geese are force-fed (most of the time, but not always) to make it. A little part of me feels like a terrible person every time I eat foie gras, which isn't that often.
So why do I keep eating it? Because it's just so damn good.
Last week I was on the hunt for some good old-fashioned comfort food when I stumbled across the menu for BRC Gastropub online. At first, I was thought to myself, "Classic American and Aged Cheddar Mac & Cheese not from a Kraft blue box?! Hell yeah!" Then I kept reading and saw "Duck Fat, Raclette Swiss and Foie Gras Mac & Cheese," and I was in my car faster than you can say "Velveeta."
I sat at the bar, where the bartender and manager were both very helpful in guiding me toward a beer that would pair well with the sweet fat of the foie gras and the funkiness of the raclette. For the record, we settled on Redhook Wit, but I pretty much forgot about the beer once the mac 'n' cheese arrived.
It was served in a dangerously hot cast-iron skillet and topped with bread crumbs, more melted cheese, green onions and three oyster-sized ovals of decadent seared duck foie gras. Initially it was too hot to eat, but I ate it anyway and cared not about the stupid faces I was making while simultaneously trying to chew and inhale cool air through my mouth to temper the heat.
The macaroni was not overcooked and mushy as some macaroni can be when topped with liquefied cheese and baked. I'm not sure if the duck fat was mixed in with the cheese as the pasta cooked or if it was added at some other point in the preparation, but it was definitely present in the form of a velvety, meaty enhancement to the nutty and buttery raclette. With every bite, I tried to create a perfect balance of macaroni and cheese, green onion and foie gras on my fork, and when the three came together, it was like eating at a decadent party in a ski lodge in the Swiss Alps.
The dish is more than enough food for one reasonably hungry person, so I took home my leftovers, added a little more cheese ('cause why not?) and reheated them in a skillet the next day. They were just as good.
The manager, Brian, told me that the recipe is still sort of in development and that the chefs are playing with the ratio of cheese to pasta to foie gras. He was concerned that too much raclette would be overpowering in the dish, but I'd just like to say, "Bring it on!" It's a near perfect plate of food as is; if the chefs commit to going all out with the Swiss raclette, it could be a downright masterpiece.