Vic and Anthony's Steakhouse, 1510 Texas, hosted the " Culinary Goes Hollywood" finale dinner of the Landry's Inc. Signature Groups' Houston Chefs Series 2019 this past Saturday, August 10. The exclusive experience included three passed appetizers and eight courses, each paired with a themed cocktail or beverage. The dishes were inspired by Oscar-winning films and each chef brought their creativity to the table. The Houston Press got a first hand look at the stunning array of food and drink, all served while a string quartet played such tunes as Portugal. The Man's "Feel It Still" and Metallica's "Nothing Else Matters." Not your great-great-great grandma's string quartet.
The guests were met with a choice of cocktails, including the Planter's Punch, meant to accompany Frank Lewis' (Morton's the Steakhouse) delicious barbecue baked oyster with pepper jack bechamel, befitting the "Gone With the Wind" theme. A champagne cocktail was paired with Ryan Braden's (Brenner's on the Bayou) lamb phyllo cigar inspired by "Casablanca". The slight gaminess of the tender lamb was tempered with delicious Moroccan spices and a harissa sauce with the perfect amount of heat. Ricky Cruz of Grotto Westheimer had the task of creating an appetizer inspired by the film "Forrest Gump." Of course, that means shrimp and Cruz's tasso stuffed shrimp was plump and tasty, accompanied by a Dr Pepper cocktail, complete with a bacon-flavored cotton candy.
Dinner was served at tables with centerpieces of red roses in various stages of unfolding. The first course was tiger prawn dumplings from Jason Cole (Willie G's Seafood) and featured a play on the traditional 1,000 year-old egg. Instead of being cooked in clay, Cole's version was a tiny quail egg steeped for a couple of days in squid ink and beet juice and was a yummy petite morsel. The chili oil in the broth added a nice kick. This would have made The Last Emperor very happy indeed.
The second course was an unexpected and delicious surprise. I was expecting to be underwhelmed by a lentil dal dish, but instead I used the garlic chapati to scrape up every bit of the creamy dal and especially the candied eggplant. It had just the right amount of goat cheese to not be overwhelming. Sean Hochstein (Grotto Downtown) took a basic vegetarian dish and created one of my favorite courses of the evening. While others were gushing over the pork belly and lamb chop, I was still thinking of the "Gandhi" course. The dish was coupled with a smooth, lightly fruity 2017 Chenin Blanc from Sula Vineyards, the largest producer of wine in India. It is a bottle worth searching for.
Next was the seared pork belly from Andrew Oliver (McCormick and Schmick's). I know people go crazy for pork belly and the table where I was seated had plenty of admirers. While it was good, I would have liked a little more crispness on my piece. I was actually more taken with the smoked bean ragout and the pickled radish slaw, again two things that I would not expect to be so elevated. Oliver was given the film Unforgiven as his course and he said that this was his version of pork and beans. Clever. It was accompanied by a shot of Vic and Anthony's Barrel Proof Bourbon. Barrel and shot are also appropriate adjectives for this 114 proof signature bourbon as it shot right through me. Maybe I am a wimp, because my male companions on either side were very impressed with the whiskey. I would recommend staying away from open flames while enjoying this particular tipple.
The intermezzo was a gorgeous smoked black cherry sorbet with a whiskey glaze caviar from La Griglia's Francisco Juarez. I found the flavors a little odd, but my companion really enjoyed it, so different strokes for different folks. Served on a translucent plate, it was an artistic masterpiece.
Michael O' Conner (Vic and Anthony's) was given the task of creating a dish for Lawrence of Arabia and he took inspiration from the prevalence of stuffed dishes in Arabic cuisine. The quail was filled inside with spiced ancient grains and set on daggous, a spicy tomato salad, and couscous. The stuffing was wonderful and again, I found myself enjoying the non-meat portions of the courses the most. Not because the meat wasn't cooked beautifully, but because the spices in the vegetables, legumes and grains were so wonderfully composed. I didn't understand, however, the addition of the couscous, considering the mixture of grains in the stuffing. I think the daggous would have stood out more without it. It was paired with the dry cider from Saint Arnold's which didn't impress any of my fellow diners.
The veal sausage ravioli from Steve Haug (The Oceanaire) was up next. The Godfather was the inspiration for the dish, but I would have like to have seen something more indicative of Sicilian-American cuisine. The ravioli was filled with crumbled veal, but it didn't have much flavor. Perhaps that was to let the Australian Perigord truffles shine, which they did. The black truffle cream sauce emitted an earthy smell the minute it was laid before us and that was the highlight of the dish. The string quartet playing the theme from The Godfather was a fun touch.
Last up for the entree courses was the Lamb Lollipop, which had a rather macabre film inspiration, the ever-so-creepy The Silence of the Lambs. And of course, there were fava beans involved, along with Chianti wine. While the plating was a playful interpretation with its blood-like smear, it was a seriously good offering. The Chianti reduction, foie gras fondue and fava bean gremolata were so beautifully combined that I completely forgot that I am not a big fan of lamb, foie gras or fava beans. I obviously needed Carlos Andrade (Brenner's Steakhouse) to make me change my mind. It was served with a 2015 Banfi Chianti Classico Riserva. Hannibal would be proud.
No one at the table seemed to have room for dessert until an absolutely charming plate was set before us that definitely brought to mind the Edwardian-era elegance of a luxury ocean liner such as the Titanic. In keeping with the theme of the movie of the same name, Eunice Grassa, a Signature Group pastry chef, titled her dessert course, "Jack and Rose." A spoon dipped into the beautiful molded red rose revealed an airy chocolate cloud inside, with a hidden layer of jackfruit. While it was described as a coconut panna cotta, I must have missed something, because it seemed more like a whipped chocolate mousse. Maybe it was the shot of bourbon messing with my brain. The cantaloupe sorbet sitting next to it was such a refreshing pop of flavor, that I need it to help me get through the rest of this blistering Houston summer. The brown sugar meringue kiss was a perfect last treat to end a chef-driven and Oscar-worthy feast.
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