Last night, Killen’s BBQ’s famous pork belly burnt ends made an appearance at Uchi Houston. The second course of a special one night-only collaboration dinner between the two restaurants, for many — including three patrons sitting just to my left at the communal dining table setting — it was the first time that they’d tasted the pecan wood-smoked hunks of melt-in-your-mouth goodness bathed in cherry habanero sauce, and that was the point.
Collaboration dinners are part of the fabric of what makes Houston such a great dining city. In the case of the Uchi and Killen’s collaboration, it started as something informal. Ronnie Killen, the chef and proprietor of a growing number of Killen’s branded restaurants including Killen’s BBQ, is a frequent patron at Uchi Houston.
“Two or three months ago…we brought up the idea of doing a dinner with him, because we’re fans of each other's restaurants,” Chris Davies, Uchi Houston’s chef de cuisine explained during the opening remarks. After bouncing around menu ideas, they had a fleshed out a seven-course menu that took patrons from Egypt to Pearland, to the Mediterranean, France, and then back to Houston, with brief stops in Japan.
The evening kicked off with a delicious mandarin lemongrass lemonade cocktail topped with candied satsuma, by pastry chef Meredith Larke. As we waited for the first course to arrive, a server poured the first beverage pairing of the night, a crisp and bright Kruger-rumpf Spätburgunder rose from Nahe, Germany. A tray of madai nigiri sushi, topped with lemon zest and sea salt appeared next as an off-the-menu surprise, delighting just about everyone in the room.
Up first was an Egyptian-style local fall tajine. Davies said that he grew up in Egypt and often employs the flavors and spices in his cooking. Made of herbed mint and cinnamon couscous topped with roasted carrots and beets in a spiced duck broth made with preserved lemons, sicilian pistachios, golden raisins and garlic, the flavors — so different than what you’d expect from Uchi — seemed to capture the essence of fall, and we all loved it.
Killen’s pork belly burnt ends were next, a wow of a dish no matter how many times you try it, and no wonder. Per Killen’s STQ executive chef Teddy Lopez, the pork belly is smoked for eight to 10 hours in pecan wood, then finished in the fryer for crispiness, and glazed with a brown sugar, habenero and honey barbecue sauce. Word.
The rest of the evening progressed in similar fashion, the one-two punches pretty much even across the board from each team. Mediterranean-style whole roasted branzino with roasted tomato and burnt leek emulsion over sourdough panzanella by Davies was followed by blue corn brisket tamales filled with brisket and short rib, and topped with brisket chili and queso fresco by Killen’s (pictured at top).
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A ginger Arnold Palmer sorbet and honey tea “float” by Larke served as palate cleanser, which was followed by a lavender honey-lacquered rohan duck over braised legumes and confit duck leg by Davies, and and smoked beef short rib in an inredible mushroom and smoked beef consomme by Killen’s.
The night ended on a sweet note with an amazingly purple sweet potato "pie" in the form of purple sweet potato custard topped buttermilk pastry, with miso toffee crunch and sea salt ice cream by Larke.
This is the second in a series of collaboration dinners that Uchi Houston will be hosting in the coming months. Interested parties can sign up to Uchi’s email list to keep apprised of upcoming dinners at uchihouston.com.