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100 Favorite Dishes 2013: No. 99, Almond Croissant at Phoenicia

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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 1oo 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.

When I was in middle school, I spent a summer traveling around Morocco with my parents. We started in the Sahara in the south and made our way up to the Strait of Gibraltar connecting the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, eating every traditional food we could in between. One of the things that my 12-year-old self fell in love with was almond paste. Moroccans use it as a filling in a variety of desserts, including a "snake cake" or m'hanncha. Traditional Moroccan almond paste is a lot like marzipan, but it uses orange flower water or rose water for a little extra exotic flavor.

The almond paste filling Phoenicia's almond croissant is more French than Moroccan, but it still brought me back to that summer eating snake cake in a crowded medina. It also brought me back to stuffing my face at incredible pâtisseries in France. Eating this almond croissant in my car before work was an emotional experience.

It has the same rich, buttery flavor as a croissant, but with the added bonus of almonds. Lots and lots of almonds. It's cooked perfectly: crispy at the ends and on the outermost layer of dough and fluffy on the inside. The croissant is topped with toasted almonds and powdered sugar for an incredible crunchy crust, and there's yet more almond-y goodness in the form of almond paste spread throughout the middle. The paste is sweet and smooth and has the texture of creamed honey. It's a revelation. I initially thought the croissant was merely topped with almonds, but it's so much more.

There are many out there who are croissant purists. They don't want any of that chocolate-filled business and don't even talk about fruit or nuts. I get that. I love a perfect, buttery croissant with my morning tea. But to those purists out there, I say, trust me. This croissant is worth its weight in gold (and it weighs about a pound). Eat it, love it and be transported.

Note: Do not eat this croissant over your lap while wearing black, unless you want to walk into work looking like you've been partaking in recreational drug use at 9 a.m. People might ask questions.

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