Chef Chat

Chef Chat, Part 3: Erin Smith of Plonk Bistro -- The Tasting

Erin Smith Plonk Bistro 1214 West 43rd Street 713-290-1070

This is the third and final part of a three-part chef chat series. Part 1 and Part 2 ran in this space over the last couple of days.

This week, we've been chatting with Erin Smith of Plonk, who has emerged as a young, highly intelligent, talented chef. Her résumé thus far is one that could inspire envy; she has worked in some of our country's finest kitchens. As the Executive Chef at Plonk, she's been given free rein to create the menu however she sees fit, and today, we get to taste some of her creations.

We started with a beautifully plated citrus scallop dish, arranged so artfully it could have been the subject of a watercolor painting. Golden seared scallops sat atop a bed of crispy fresh watercress, whose bitterness was softened by the creamy sweetness of avocado and tangy fruitfulness of pinkish-orange pluots. Juicy, sweet grapefruit wedges topped the dish, their slight bitterness offset by the sweetness in the gel-like citrus coulis dressing, the flavor a good complement to the delicate seafood flavor of the scallops. Just lovely.

Vegans will appreciate the well-portioned panzanella salad, made with differing shades of yellow, orange and red heirloom tomatoes, punctuated by three types of fragrant basil, red onion and crispy wedges of panzanella croutons tossed in a red wine vinaigrette. The different tomatoes exhibited varying degrees of firmness and fragrance that were well-accented by the peppery aromatics of the basil. The effect was as if someone had captured the essence of summer in a light, yet wholesome, visually compelling dish.

The rabbit vindaloo was another artfully presented dish, only this one had the surrealistic feel of a Dali sculpture. Purple carrots jutting out at all different angles looked like small tree branches emerging from the center of the dish, while large drops of orange vindaloo sauce dotted the plate as paint would on canvas. The rabbit itself was flavorful and tender, and the vindaloo sauce sweet yet savory at the same time, with pleasant accents of coconut flavor.

I'm not surprised at the quality of Plonk's food given Smith's pedigree. I'd had a picture of burgers and pizza in my head as the mainstays at Plonk, and while those are definitely the more popular dishes, menu items such as the ones I sampled are not to be missed. It's obvious, after tasting these dishes, that if you're willing to wait patiently, Smith can definitely deliver an excellent meal. I can't wait to see what happens when she has the freedom of creating dishes using a bona-fide stove top.

Follow Eating Our Words on Facebook and on Twitter @EatingOurWords

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Mai Pham is a contributing freelance food writer and food critic for the Houston Press whose adventurous palate has taken her from Argentina to Thailand and everywhere in between -- Peru, Spain, Hong Kong and more -- in pursuit of the most memorable bite. Her work appears in numerous outlets at the local, state and national level, where she is also a luxury travel correspondent for Forbes Travel Guide.
Contact: Mai Pham