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

Erin Smith Plonk Bistro 1214 West 43rd Street 713-290-1070 www.plonkbistro.com

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.

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