The last two days, we've been chatting with 25-year-old Executive Chef Grant Gordon of Tony's. See our chats here and here. Today, we'll sample some of the selections from his chef's tasting menu and nightly creations.
We started with a Mediterranean branzino crudo with crispy skin. Set atop tasteful swooshes of deep violet-colored huckleberry vinaigrette, two rather plain-looking rectangular pieces of fish looked up at me, while slivers of charred red peppers arranged in a snakelike pattern and a small fan of Cerignola olive slices added small splashes of color. The simplicity of the presentation belied what I would experience on first bite: the warm, wafer-crisp skin gave way to a succulent and firm, but cold raw fish, while the huckleberry's raspy tartness was tempered by the sweet, smooth smokiness of the charred red peppers. I loved the temperatures and textures as they unveiled themselves -- warm, crispy, cold, firm, smooth, silky -- it was perfection.
Next came the cappelletti alla vodka. On presentation of this dish, Gordon said "this is one of the dishes that we created by committee," explaining that they used a classic Vallone vodka sauce recipe, but changed it up by incorporating Tito's Infused Vodka. The house-made pasta pockets were prettily arranged into a wreath-like pattern on the plate and topped with toasted pistachio and caviar.
The vodka cream sauce was without a doubt superb, and I can see why it was a classic Vallone recipe. Creamy but not heavily so, the sauce was light and had just a hint of sweetness, while the cappelletti were small and oh-so-delicate. I had thought this to be a good dish, and it lived up to this expectation: everything was executed exceedingly well, and I venture to say that it would have held up well against pasta made in Italy. The only thing I didn't really care for was the caviar. Though decadent, it added a bit of fishy brininess to the pasta that I could have done without. But then, that's just me. I don't care for anything with a fishy aroma. Lovers of caviar would appreciate its addition much more than me.
The chef decided to serve me two entrees, so next came an involtini di pollo. Here, chicken breast had been flattened, rolled and stuffed with Vallone Italian sausage, then cooked sous vide before being finished on the pan. The result was a column of moist and succulent chicken with the thinnest of crisped outer shells. A puree of cipollini onions, whole roasted cipollini, and Brussels sprout leaves finished off this beautiful dish, a home run, in my opinion. Above and beyond the flavor and taste, you could see technique, style, and presentation here, glimpses of his classic French training in Sonoma and NYC.
The final course was a seared American Kobe Beef tenderloin topped with a ponzu beef jus glaze and whole edamame. On the side was a bit of edamame puree and small chunk of ahi tuna. The chef called this an example of doing it "old school" to let the meat show through, a lovely exercise in restraint. The beef was succulent and fatty as a Kobe beef should be, the ponzu glaze and edamame evidence of his adeptness with sauces.
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Gordon's youth is not a reflection of his maturity as a chef. My impression while talking to him is that he has strong core values that guide him not only in his work ethic but also in his approach to his cuisine. There is a marriage here of classics --the Vallone stamp, no doubt--and the modern Californian, French, Progressive American.
As we were finishing our chat, Gordon said, "I love it when people in the industry come eat, or just young foodie types -- it's great. All we need is for people to come in and see what we're doing." And you can do that, literally. On the far back wall of the main dining area is a large window that looks directly into the kitchen. It's like a large live TV screen where you can see all the action happening in the kitchen, with Gordon prominently featured in the title role. So it may be a bit of a splurge -- the three-course chef's tasting is $65, and the five-course is $95 -- but go to Tony's and you'll be rewarded not only with a superbly executed meal, but also some impeccable service, and a reality kitchen show to boot.