We set out to find and devour stuffed food from every possible culture right here in the Bayou City. From empanadas to dumplings, kolaches to samosas, we're getting stuffed.
We're raising the bar this week (as high as it will possibly go). Stuffed dishes are so often associated with fast-casual street food. When we think "stuffed" we often think of dishes meant to be eaten on the go. Things like kolaches and empanadas, anything with dough that can be enjoyed without the nuisance of plates and cutlery.
And why not? The simple pleasure of most stuffed dishes is in their simplicity. We want grease running down our chin and bread to wipe it with. We want meat inside a carbohydrate container, submerged in frying oil for our culinary delight. And yet, those street food delights are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. This column is about finding the best stuffed dishes in Houston, and that means combing the menus of fine dining establishments and taco trucks alike. It means crossing every cultural bridge and sampling cuisine from all over the world right here in the Bayou City. Which brings us to our focal point of this week's column; the creative masterpiece of a James Beard Award-winning chef and Texas Monthly's 2018 best new restaurant in Texas, Xochi.
Chef Hugo Ortega's downtown restaurant is the cream of the crop of Houston dining and the pinnacle of his culinary empire. The Mexican kitchen specializes in elevated cuisine from the interior of Mexico, specifically from the state of Oaxaca and surrounding areas. Among the many inspired and sophisticated dishes on the menu, one in particular earns a place on this column of stuffed joy. The Infladita de Conejo is an incredible dish, not only for its flavor and presentation, but for its ability to challenge any preconceptions about Mexican food and the versatility of the tortilla.
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The base of the dish is a gourmet take on a common Mexican cooking technique. An inflada is a tortilla filled with air, usually from sitting on a comal and being allowed to harden in its balloon-liked state. The puffed tortilla can then be filled with meats and cheeses to make an alternative on a taco or gordita. Chef Hugo uses a delicate black corn tortilla for the base of his dish, puffed up to near cylindrical proportions, then filled with mix of heavily seasoned rabbit meat, raisins, almonds, tomatoes and refried beans. The dish is garnished with radishes, carrot and cilantro, and paired with a green salsa.
The rabbit is wonderfully tender, juicy and thoroughly seasoned, while the thin tortilla shell cracks with the lightest tough of a fork. The use of raisins and almonds makes it part taco, part rabbit picadillo. Though the dish is an appetizer, it stands out as one of the most inspired and technically challenging dishes on the Xochi menu, not to mention one of the most visually stunning.
Xochi is located in the lobby of the Marriott Marquis downtown and opens from 11 am to 10 pm Monday through Thursday, 11 am to 11 pm Friday and Saturday, and 11 am to 9 pm on Sundays. For more information visit xochihouston.com