Everybody loves a good show at dinner, and in honor of Pride Week here in Houston, we're looking at some of the most
flamboyant flammable dishes in town.
To flambé a dish is to do more than merely set food in a pan on fire. In order for something to be flambéed, sauce containing alcohol must be lit on fire, either with a match or lighter or by tilting the edge of the alcohol-filled pan toward the burner until the heat ignites the liquid.
The surface of burning alcohol reaches temperatures greater than 500 degrees Fahrenheit, which causes chemical reactions to take place in the food/sauce that's been ignited. The technique is frequently used in the preparation of desserts, because heating the sugar to such temperatures causes it to caramelize.
Whether it's a dessert, a main dish or a drink, though, a little fire sure makes things more exciting.
Baked Alaska at Oceanaire Seafood Room Baked Alaska is a classic dessert so named because the ice cream topped with sponge cake topped with meringue was originally baked in a very hot oven for a short amount of time--just long enough to firm up and brown the meringue without melting the ice cream beneath. Nowadays, it's a bit of an old fashioned showpiece. The dessert is often presented to diners (as it is at Oceanaire) with the meringue still raw. It then gets a rum bath before being lit on fire. As the alcohol burns off, the meringue browns, leaving the ice cream inside still frozen. At Oceanaire, this fabulous classic is still lit on fire tableside.
Bananas Foster at Brennan's of Houston Brennan's in New Orleans is famous for inventing bananas foster, now a popular dessert across the country. It's still prepared at your table at Brennan's in New Orleans and the offshoot here in Houston. A cart with all the fixings is rolled out, and a dapper server proceeds to cook butter, sugar, cinnamon and banana liqueur in a hot pan, before adding slices of bananas to the mix. Once the bananas begin to brown, rum is added. The server then carefully tilts the pan, igniting the rum, which caramelizes the sugar-coated bananas. This is almost always served a la mode.
Bloody Maui (and many other drinks) at Lei Low In the short time it has been open, Houston's only tiki bar has become known for its strong rum drinks and the flair with which they're prepared. A number of drinks on the menu--from the Mai Tai to the Volcano--are lit on fire before being served. Or, more accurately, a garnish is lit on fire. There are a few drinks like the special Bloody "Maui" that call for a fiery garnish, but if you want a little fire with your Pago Pago, just ask. These fun-loving bartenders rarely turn down a request for pyrotechnics.
Chocolate Bread Pudding with Cherries Jubilee at Truluck's Steakhouse Though it's not on the regular dessert menu at Truluck's, chocolate bread pudding topped with cherries jubilee is trotted out any time there's a birthday or anniversary celebration. It's a rich little lump of chocolate cake with a mixture of sautéed Bing cherries and rum spooned over the top. Once it arrives at the table, the whole thing is set ablaze until the rum has burned off, leaving warm cherries and cake for your dining pleasure. If you want this, though, you've got to tell the people taking the reservation that it's a special occasion. We're not saying you should lie per se...but unbirthdays are parties, too.
Onion Volcano at Bonsai Fusion Go to pretty much any Japanese hibachi grill, and you'll find cooks doing impressive things with knives and fire. Many of these restaurants, like Bonsai Fusion, create onion volcanoes to entertain diners. They rapidly chop up an onion and stack the rings so they form a conical (or volcano) shape. Then, they squeeze a bit of cooking oil and, most often, vodka in the center of the "volcano" and light it on fire. It's not exactly a delicious dish, though. The onion volcano, like the shrimp the cook tries to throw into a willing diner's mouth, is mostly for show.
Steak Diane at Carmelo's Italian Restaurant Steak Diane--or as they say at Carmelo's, Bistecca Diana, is somewhat of an antiquated dish that can be difficult to find these days. It was likely invented during the peak of the tableside flambé fad in the 1950s, but it remains a tasty dish if you can find it. One of the few (or only) places that offers the filet mignon in a pan sauce of mustard, Cognac, veal stock and heavy cream is Carmelo's, a restaurant with locations here and in Austin. At Carmelo's, the steak is prepared with garlic butter, mushrooms, diced tomatoes, onions and brandy. It's lit tableside for ultimate effect and served with a side of fettuccine alfredo, as if you needed more food to go along with the hefty steak.
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