Chef Chat

Chef Chat, Part 3: Joe Macri of Up Restaurant and His Melting Pot of Cuisines

This is Part 3 of a three-part Chef Chat series. If you missed the previous posts, you can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

This week we chatted with Joe Macri of Up Restaurant, finding out about his Italian roots and his quick decision to leave the East Coast for Houston a little more than a year ago. We also learned a bit about his food philosophy, how he tries to make food safe for everyone, sourcing the best ingredients possible to create a "melting pot of cuisines." Today we get a glimpse into the extensive menu on offer at Up.

We started with a blue fin tuna tartare, elegantly served in a martini glass and topped with a generous mound of caviar. The tuna sat on a bed of yuzu brown butter sauce, which acted like a light fish marinade, the flavor profile of the dish simple but elegant. The sauce was well-balanced, with citrus-y acidity and a more earthy butteriness. Very nice.

Next, we sampled the fresh buffalo mozzarella with cherry tomato salad -- essentially a caprese salad. I absolutely loved this salad. The mozzarella was so fresh and creamy, it could almost have been mistaken for a burrata. It was topped with a slightly sweet glaze with little chunks of red peppers, and stuffed with a crispy fried chunk of braseola in the middle; the braseola broke down like a bacon to give a nice textural contrast to the creamy cheese. The pretty heirloom tomato salad was simply seasoned with a white balsamic vinegar, basil pesto and extra virgin olive oil, so you had alternating bites of tangy, firm tomato and creamy mozzarella -- a total winner.

We continued with one of Up's sushi rolls, filled with jumbo lump crab meat seasoned with a ginger lime sauce and chunks of avocado and topped with a baked spicy mayo sauce with a little Parmesan for saltiness. It was essentially a fancied-up California roll, and I appreciated the dish's use of jumbo lump crab, thinking this was a fine roll to share as an appetizer. The slightly charred, creamy, spicy topping reminded me of the baked scallop sauce you'll often find at sushi restaurants, and three dollops of sesame orange dressing complemented the roll very well flavor-wise.

For our main, we had an absolutely delicious snapper, pan seared to perfection with the skin side up. The skin was crispy and flavorful, with just a slight hint of oceanic flavors, while the white fish was moist and flaky. Topped with slivers of ginger and crisped ovals of garlic, the fish was served on top of an Asian-influenced deep orange sauce of ginger garlic cilantro that was savory and aromatic.

To finish, Macri brought out these jumbo French macarons, made gluten-free with almond flower. The quad-assortment included a rose macaron filled with raspberry, a salted caramel macaron, a lemon curd with white chocolate ganache and a chocolate macaron with chocolate ganache.

So what exactly is a melting pot of cuisines? I think the tasting summed things up pretty neatly, with flavors and influences all blending together to create a whole meal that included hints of Japanese, Chinese, French and Italian. Macri's food, if I were to describe it, would be this: lots of fresh seafood and quality ingredients, prepared with good technique and flavors from around the world.

Up Restaurant 3995 Westheimer Tel: 713-640-5416

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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