Spotlight on Chef Austin Simmons's Cuisine at Hubbell & Hudson Bistro

I've been a fan of Hubbell & Hudson Bistro since I first dined there three years ago. Admittedly, I have not had the chance to return since then (it takes me about an hour to get to The Woodlands), but so memorable was the food that I can recall, with vivid clarity, one of the dishes I tasted during that lunch visit -- a pan-roasted, glazed Chilean sea bass served in light soy broth and topped with tuft of bright pink onion confit -- still one of the best renditions of sea bass I've had to date.

So it was with anticipation that I attended a recent pop-up dinner, held to introduce Hubbell & Hudson executive chef Austin Simmons's cuisine. It was staged in a beautifully furnished home at 1740 South Boulevard in Southampton (which had been generously donated for use by John Daugherty Realtors), and Simmons brought his entire kitchen team down to Houston for one night to prepare an eight-course meal.

I was impressed with the finesse displayed by Simmons and his team that night. They were working in a non-professional setting in an unfamiliar space, yet still managed to execute the dinner with great aplomb, beginning with canapés of foie gras croquettes, which were served on white porcelain spoons during the cocktail hour. Shaped in such a size that you could easily plop one in your mouth, the round croquette burst with a gush of warm, silky-smooth foie gras that had me reaching for not just one, but two more (yes, I was greedy, and I would lament this later).

For cocktails, I chose a green-colored, salt-rimmed spicy cilantro margarita. It was like a green goddess elixir of sweet green tequila, smooth and herbaceous, and as easy to drink as punch; I finished it quickly. I might even have indulged in another had it not been for the fact that we had wine pairings with our dinner, and I was tempted to try the blood-orange-beet infused Old Fashioned cocktail as well, but I needed to keep my wits about me.

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Dinner began with one of my favorite dishes of the night for the way that it highlighted the main ingredient: escolar. The white fish had been cold-smoked in pecan wood, then seared to a light crust and served with wisps of flaming shiso leaf, jalapeño and marmalade, then doused in a light broth of bouillabaisse ponzu. The white fish was delicate and flaky, the mix of ingredients a fantastic blend of sweet and spicy, salty and umami. Paired with a 2010 Henri Bourgeois "Jadis" Sancerre from France, it was a brilliant dish.

A lobster trio -- butter-poached, tempura-fried and ravioli -- came next, slathered in an opaque, deep-yellow bacon uni miso sauce -- another creative, thoughtfully prepared and well-executed dish. I especially enjoyed the textural contrasts between the three lobster preparations -- firm yet elastic poached lobster, airily crisp tempura lobster and slightly chewy lobster ravioli. The pairing -- a 2010 Domaine d'Ardhuy Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru -- was close to perfection.

Next, Simmons brought out a third course of what he called "pork and octopus": Mediterranean braised octopus with fresh blood orange, shaved fennel and saffron sauce was juxtaposed against small mounds of Italian Iberico ham. The meaty duo paired well with the 2009 Bien Nacido Pinot Noir from Santa Maria Valley in California.

Just when I thought things couldn't get better, Simmons served a duet of foie gras: Seared foie gras topped with macadamia nut and watercress, and a foie gras crème brûlée topped with brunoise-cut honey crisp apple. My dining companions laughed heartily as they saw me try to lap up every little bit from the small bowl of the foie crème brûlée, which was exemplary. The honey crisp apple not only gave the dish a crisp textural pop, but the tanginess also helped cut through the richness of the foie gras crème. It was fantastic on its own, yet the fact that it was paired with pan-seared foie gras was entirely decadent -- in a good way. The sommelier chose to pair it with a 1996 Château de Fargues Sauternes, which worked effortlessly.

As if the foie gras weren't enough of a showstopper, the next course -- an A5 wagyu beef from Kyushu, Japan -- blew my mind. Topped with slivers of freshly shaved Périgord truffle, the just-seared, highly marbled meat was tender enough to cut with a fork, its silky texture reminding me of the buttery luxuriousness of the highest-quality o-toro, or fatty tuna. Simmons served the meat over a truffle artichoke fennel salad, with a peppercorn demi-glace sauce and a nasturtium and anise blossom garnish. Paired with a 2009 El Alma de Jonata from the Santa Ynez Valley, the dish perfectly exemplified Hubbell & Hudson Bistro's brand of fine dining -- artfully executed, fantastically prepared, utilizing ingredients of the highest quality.

There were three courses that followed -- a cheese course and two desserts, but the rest of the evening passed in a blur for me, though a happy blur. For Simmons and his team to execute at such a high level in unfamiliar territory is commendable. I can only imagine what he is capable of doing in his own kitchen.

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