Restaurant Reviews

New Roots: A Delicious Tug-of-War at Restaurant Cinq

Want a behind the scenes look at Cinq? Make sure to check out our slideshow.

My wife's appetizer of fresh chorizo-stuffed dates finally clicked in as I snagged a few of the thyme leaves from the corner of the plate and placed them atop a bite of the slightly meta-sausage. A casing of fruit, its textures ranging from papery to sweetly tacky to satisfyingly crunchy, swaddled a torpedo of mildly spiced fresh chorizo, hints of vinegar and paprika gently breaking against the dark sweetness of the date. Underneath, a dice of cucumbers dressed with an equally genteel crème fraîche provided a whitewash for the polite flavors. Little tributaries of black garlic echoed back the sticky fruit, adding their own mildly tart edge. It was all very nice, a well-mannered little plate you'd be happy to introduce to your mother.

Then the thyme kicked in. The synchronizing effect was a bit like the moment you finally figure out how to "look through" a stereogram, the elusive pirate ship or peace sign suddenly popping into view. The assertive herbal lilt drew out the muskiness of the sausage and threw the fresh, ever so slightly bitter crunch of the cucumber into more interesting relief. The crème fraîche dressing seemed both creamier and more vibrant; the black garlic gathered itself up into a tamarind-like intensity. As if by a kind of magic, a few leaves of thyme took a collection of pleasantly expectable yet somehow disconnected flavors and turned them into an altogether more exciting package. I would have discovered that sooner had that thyme not sat alone in the corner still attached to its woody stem, seeming for all the world like a nonfunctional garnish.

My wife and I puzzled over that one as we puzzled over the little clump of gold and green variegated sage atop her braised shoulder of goat. When I disengaged a few leaves and deposited them on top of a shreddy forkful of meat, dressed in a garlic-butter foam captivating in its intensity of flavor and insubstantiality of form, the goat did a little dance, announcing itself at last. The sous-vide-cooked muscle was delightfully tender and so mild that you'd never have guessed it was goat. That is, not without the help of the sage, which drew a bit of muskiness from the meat, making it more itself. So gilded, then dragged through a bit of the squash blossom purée mooring the dish, it became both richer and more subtle.

So why, then, the stems? The herbs themselves are a smart touch, a little unexpected jump in flavor to wake the palate back up, to make it take notice, to draw connections between the elements on the plate. Those stems, though...

They showed up again in a succotash of summer squash nestled underneath a sort of torchon of sweetbreads, poached in chamomile and then seared to add a fine layer of crispness. The succotash was a nice textural point, mirroring the crisp but yielding offal, but I could certainly have done without the ungainly sprigs of thyme left in the mix, denuded, even, of their leaves. Likewise, I would have preferred that the fat strips of sundried tomato stay home; they overpowered the delicacy of the squash.

A firm reminder that chef German Mosquera's plates are best eaten as the sum of their parts, the sweetbreads had a slightly waxy firmness to them that was cut through cleanly by the pickled Celeste and Golden figs found sliced thinly underneath the succotash and halved around the perimeter of the plate. On their own, those figs were a bit bracing, but they were a perfect pair for the rich meat, each pulling the other back from its extremes.

Extremes seem to be the norm at Restaurant Cinq these days, with the menu feeling a bit like a game of tug-of-war. Gone is the split menu of "New Ideas" and "Classics," neatly divided so as not to scare off those regulars in simple search of a nice bit of meat and sauce. Instead, the menu tries to be both at once, and it frequently succeeds. Take, for example, the buffalo hanging tender I ­enjoyed one night.

Meat and sauce: The meat was pan-roasted, the sauce made from the roasted drippings, emulsified with a good bit of butter. The sauce was fine-tuned, rich but not to distraction, buttery but not heavy or greasy, deeply meaty yet with a subtle fruitiness. The meat was a lovely medium-rare, though served a bit cooler than I might have liked (a consistent issue with the meat dishes here), and boasted a broad flavor with the faintest sliver of minerality. It was all very proper and expected.

Only the meat was tiled over a row of thinly sliced cantaloupe. Only the dish was presented with its own companion drink, a "charred grapefruit elixir" foaming dramatically in its rocks glass. A perfect sphere of ice sat concealed under the surface, enclosing a bit of budding greenery I was told was thyme.

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Nicholas L. Hall is a husband and father who earns his keep playing a video game that controls the U.S. power grid. He also writes for the Houston Press about food, booze and music, in an attempt to keep the demons at bay. When he's not busy keeping your lights on, he can usually be found making various messes in the kitchen, with apologies to his wife.
Contact: Nicholas L. Hall