International Smoke, the new restaurant by celebrity chef Michael Mina and Ayesha Curry — and arguably one of the hottest openings of the year — debuted at CityCentre Houston in Memorial City the day after July 4th. Taking over the space previously occupied by Straits Asian Bistro, the exciting new eatery is the latest in a slew of openings from big-name restauranteurs and concepts such as Nobu Houston and Fig & Olive in the Galleria, both of which debuted earlier this year.
A global grilling concept that showcases what grilling and barbecue look and taste like around the world, International Smoke came to life after a successful three month pop-up at the The Michael Mina Test Kitchen in San Francisco. The initial month-long pop-up, a ticketed event, sold out in eight minutes. The success of the pop-up led to the eventual opening of the first International Smoke in San Francisco in November 2017. Mina says that Houston was his first choice for a second location, first because he has family ties here, and second because of our fantastic food scene.
So, what can you expect at International Smoke? The fun, shareable menu — under the culinary direction of executive chef E.J. Miller (formerly of Riel, Clark Cooper Concepts) — takes you on a culinary ride around the world from North Africa to Korea, Japan, and of course Curry’s native Jamaica.
Here are 10 things to try:
10. The Smoked Pork Rib Trio ($19 for a half rack)
One of the standout menu items from the test kitchen pop-up, the trio of smoked pork ribs takes you on a tour that goes from the United States to Mexico, then Korea with a spicy American barbecue sauce, a Mexican Al Pastor glaze with diced pineapple, and Sesame-Gochujang flavor.
9. Double duck wing appetizer ($17)
Seasoned with Jamaican jerk spice, and then served with one of two glazes — either a mango habanero, or a green seasoning—you get the flavors of the Caribbean, times two, when you order these wings.
8.Red Fish on the Half Shell entree ($35)
With flavors evocative of China, locally caught redfish is grilled with black bean paste, then finished off with black bean vinaigrette and served with a tasty garlic fried rice.
7. Punjabi-spiced fish fry entree ($28)
Served in an oblong stainless steel pan, whole head-on snapper is fried in chickpea flour and served with rice pilaf, cucumber raita, and garlic-herb-butter-basted pita bread — perfect for those who love Indian flavors and whole fish.
6. Summer Berry Tropical Shaved Ice ($9)
You don’t have to go to Taiwan to sample this fantastic version of shaved ice. Infused with seasonal fresh fruit (the current is strawberry hibiscus), then hand-shaved to make a delightfully refreshing ice cold treat, the dessert comes complete with passionfruit, mango and coconut tapioca underneath.
5. Smoked Burrata appetizer ($15)
It’s hard to go wrong with burrata anyway, but when it’s done the way it’s done here — served on a spring mix, with thinly sliced prosciutto, fresh peaches, corn, and vinaigrette — and infused with smoke which is unleashed at the table as the server slowly removes the glass lid, it’s a thing of beauty.
4. Kahlua “Instant Bacon” appetizer ($13)
A play on Momofuku’s famed pork belly buns, this dish takes its flavor cues from Hawaii with teriyaki sauce and pineapple salsa. The soft, steamed buns come two to an order. The pork belly is melt-in-your-mouth tender and is presented underneath a glass smoke-filled dome, which is removed at the table for wow factor.
3. 44 Farms Shaking Beef appetizer ($16)
This is a fun one. A play on the Vietnamese bo luc lac, a bowl of beef chunks and a plate of small lettuce leaves and banh mi pickles arrive at the table side by side. The server pours some liquid into the bowl containing the beef, which immediately starts sizzling as a large tuft of steam ascends upward. Once the sizzling and the steam subsides, the server instructs you to make lettuce wraps of the beef, drizzling the nuoc cham dipping sauce on top as you go.
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2. Shellfish Platter ($85)
You’ll find shellfish towers all across town, but International Smoke is the first place where shellfish is grilled and then steam-smoked at the table. Perfect for sharing, the chef’s choice platter comes with an assortment of the grilled shellfish ranging from oysters on the half shell, to large clams, King Crab, shrimp and lobster. Check out the Instagram video above to see it in action.
1. Smoked Korean Short Rib entree ($34)
Brined for 24 hours, then smoked for another seven to achieve a moist, fork-tender consistency and a beautifully caramelized bark, the smoked Korean 44 Farm short rib is a must for any meat lover. Served with house-made kim chi and a sticky rice, you’ll have to force yourself to keep the noises to a minimum as you take your first bite because it’s fantastic.