Chef Chat

Chef Chat, Part 3: Soren Pedersen of Sorrel Urban Bistro - The Tasting

The last two days we've been chatting with Chef Soren Pedersen of Sorrel Urban Bistro about his background, the things that inspire him, and his general philosophy about cooking with fresh ingredients. You can read about it here and here. Today we'll taste some of his food.

I've actually visited Sorrel several times since it's been open, and one of the greatest things about it is that the menu is constantly changing. And I don't mean quarterly; we're talking day to day, depending on what is available. That means that the lovely snapper you had last week may not be on the menu this week, and that you could literally come in every day and eat something different.

Just last week, I was in the restaurant and had these gorgeous elk sliders topped with Dana blue cheese and blueberry jam, served atop house-made crisped brioche and a side of sweet potato chips. The slider itself was juicy and moist, not as gamey as I would have expected, while the blueberry/blue cheese topping was a bit salty and sweet at the same time. The brioche was fluffy and airy, yet crisp, lighter than a traditional slider bun and delicious.

For our tasting this week, it was not difficult for the chef to come up with different dishes. We started with fried green tomatoes, spicy remoulade, and saffron aoili. Batter-fried to somewhere between a fish 'n chips and a tempura consistency, the tomatoes were crisped on the outside while plump and juicy inside. The spicy remoulade and saffron aoili reminded me of Indian food, perhaps because of the saffron. By giving the very traditional southern fried green tomatoes a bit of an ethnic fusion-type spin, Pedersen showed me what he meant about taking familiar ingredients and changing them up,.

Next up was a local grilled pork loin with a butternut squash and celery root hash, jalapeno cream and basil oil, and sunflower sprouts. Not quite as colorful as some of his other dishes visually, this dish was actually beautiful in the marriage of flavors and textures.

The loin was very lean, almost to the point of being too lean, but was still tender and flavorful. For the hash, the butternut squash's kind of mushy texture was balanced out by the chewy firmness of the celery root, while the sweetness of the butternut squash was softened by the slight bitterness in the root. What pulled everything together, though, was the jalapeno cream and basil oil. I didn't really taste the jalapeno, but the consistency of the creaminess -- not too runny, not too thick -- coated each bite with nice dose of savoriness that was empirically good. Two thumbs up for the saucier, because I just loved the overall flavor.

The final course of my tasting was a trio of desserts: a pear tart, some sugar cookies, and a panna cotta garnished with fresh berries. I've had several excellent pear desserts (if you ever see the pear compote with mascarpone cream and almond cookie, get it), and this pear tart was no exception, with a lovely flaky crust, coffee-cake-like crumble on top, and glistening, delicate slices of pear inside. The panna cotta was smooth, creamy and light, and the sugar cookies had that just-baked crispness that washed down well with my cappuccino.

In the end, the feeling I had when I left was the same as I always feel when I dine at Sorrel: that happiness you get when you thoroughly enjoy a good meal. Pedersen always takes care to ensure that his plating is beautifully arranged. You can taste the freshness of the ingredients as you're eating, whether it's a freshly caught fish, or a farm-raised pork loin. I like it that no matter how much I eat, I know that I'm putting something organic or fresh in my body.

Even though what I had was was arguably a "heavier" type of meal for lunch, I didn't feel weighed down or heavy. It's a meal that I would readily repeat. My only wish is that when I try something I love, I have this tendency to want to go back and get the same thing, and with Sorrel's ever-changing menu, this is not likely to happen. But no matter, on each of my visits to Sorrel, the menu has always been so appetizing that I've never had any trouble finding something new to enjoy.

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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