Chef Chat

Chef Chat, Part 3: Juan Carlos Gonzalez of Bistro Alex in City Centre

The last couple of days, we've been chatting with Chef Juan Carlos Gonzalez at Bistro Alex (see our conversation here and here). Today, we'll taste cuisine he describes as "modern Creole with a twist."

I started with his signature dish, the Duck Debris and Butternut Waffle. Brilliantly conceived, the slightly sweet three-onion jam mixed with smoky, shredded, coffee-braised duck was the perfect blend of sweet and savory. Texturally, the softer texture of the shredded duck provided a pleasing contrast to the slightly crisp, springy texture of the waffle. Add a chicory coffee ganache and foie gras fondue sauce with a sunny side up quail egg, and I could literally feel an endorphin rush as my brain registered the deliciousness of what I was eating.

"I took the duck waffle off the menu last summer for a month, but so many people complained that it's now on the menu permanently," Gonzalez said. I could see why. This is a dish that I will remember, that I will no doubt crave, and that I'll come back to taste again and again.

For the main entree, he brought out his Scallops and Crawfish, a vision of orange, glistening brown, and bright, almost-neon yellow.

Two large and meaty three-inch diver scallops with the most beautiful, juicy, golden-brown sear and one perfectly cooked crawfish stared up at me, set atop a bed of Breaux Bridge crawfish which he had "wilted' in a bacon fat vinaigrette, a warm three potato salad, and a bright-yellow sweet corn sauce. The colors were vibrant, the sight mouthwatering. Gonzalez used a bit of Creole seasoning to give the dish a slight kick, but here again, there was a melange of sweet and savory that was bold and strong.

Next came blackened Maple Leaf Farms duck breast served with a dirty duck debris and green onion quiche, a ring of cherries jubilee and foie gras emulsion.

Duck breast and foie gras are two of my favorite things to eat, so this dish was right up my alley. The skin of the breast was blackened to a char and sliced thinly in classic French preparation. It was a bit rare, but that didn't mar my enjoyment one bit. The surprising part of this dish was the quiche. Like a savory egg custard wrapped in a thin layer of puff pastry, the quiche was delicate but crisped on the outside, and the duck debris, which included some duck liver, gave the quiche a deep richness. The cherries jubilee and the duck fat emulsion took this dish over the top, and no wonder: "The foie gras emulsion has more duck fat than foie gras," Gonzalez told me.

I cleaned these three plates entirely, barely leaving a hint of sauce on each plate.

By the time the dessert came out, a milk chocolate mousse dome on top of a thin layer of almond-and-orange-scented tea cake, served with a coffee-flavored Maker's Mark chocolate caramel sauce, and topped with a beautifully shaped tuile, I had to let my eyes do the appreciation, taking just a few bites before I threw in the towel.

Gonzalez's cooking is bold --it simultaneously assaults one's sense of sight, taste and smell. If you want the works, make a reservation at the chef's bar overlooking the kitchen, where you can request a chef's tasting menu and watch the action. Gonzalez can seat up seven people at the bar, and you'll not only get a chance to sample his unique cuisine style but meet the man himself.

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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