Service with a smile right there. Pictured: Chef Bobby Matos at La Lucha.Photo by Kate McLean
No need to stress over the Valentine's day spread because here at the Houston Press, we've got you covered. Compiled below is a list of seal the deal treats and what’s this— chocolate is nowhere to be found. Because unless that word is followed by “fountain,” it’s just not sexy enough. To the angry villagers heating up the tar and collecting the feathers, kindly hear us out.
Cheese: All right dudes, listen up—chicks love cheese, and let’s be real, so do you. Forget mozzarella— it’s triple cream or bust, baby. You feel me? And be sure to let it sit out a couple hours beforehand, or even better, remember the car trick? On a typical Houston day, temping cheese for half an hour in the car works and feels just as good as misusing the HOV lane and getting away with it.
In an effort to try something other than the very missionary Brie; check out Kunik or Mt. Tam, both made in the United States. USA. USA. USA.
Kunik is a soft-ripened triple cream blend of Jersey cow and goat’s milk. The elite Jersey milk creaminess combined with just enough goat’s milk lends a spark plug of je ne sais quoi flavor in every single bite.
Mt. Tam by Cowgirl Creamery is a cult classic. Soft ripened, 80 percent butterfat content, best when oozy.
And if you’re dying to go abroad, we recommend Belletoille (French) or Robiola (Italian).
Kunik and Mt. Tam can both be found at The Houston Dairymaids for $32 a pound. Wines to pair, crusty baguette from Slow Dough Bread Co., and spreadables like Balsamic Strawberry Preserves from Garden Dreams Houston—this just might be the only stop necessary. Houston Dairymaids, 2201 Airline, 713-880-4800.
Champagne: Obviously, but in particular check out a blanc de noir. Champagne, or sparkling, labeled blanc de noir will be made from only red grapes—most often pinot noir and pinot meunier. Finding a bottle that’s one hundred percent pinot noir is kind of a jackpot. Tight flavor bubbles that are a little tannic, a lot toasty, and served not ice-cold, but chill, presents a Macarena dance party in your mouth. For those born in the late 90’s, please see the above video. And don’t be afraid to spill a little, sometimes the cleanup can lead to… other things. Outside of Champagne, look for the same style from the Santa Lucia Highlands region— remember the place that only makes great pinot noir?
Tropical Fruit: We can do better than out-of-season strawberries. How about out-of-season tropical fruit instead? Juicy, fun-to-eat guava can transform an apartment complex bedroom into an economy rate room at the Hilton. Pop-in-your mouth kumquats are fun, but perhaps the best part is the intoxicating aroma of oils bursting from the surface after a gentle squeeze. Floral and suggestive, peel-and-eat rambutans or lychees are a good bet, but beware the seed. Bananas are certainly appropriate. As long as it’s ripened, having a little tropical fruit on hand is a great way to shake things up. And heads up, passion fruit, or lilikoi, is a touch misleading—think Warhead sour candy.
Jamón Ibérico de Bellota: Ladies and Gentleman, the one and only. (Scusi, Italia.) In one perfectly temped slice of Jamón Ibérico de Bellota, every step of the process is felt; happy days spent feasting on acorns with the boys, then air-dried and hung for three years with cool mountain air swirling all around. Run away with me. To that special place. We can rely on each other. Sold for $175.99 a pound at Central Market, screw it, two to four slices are all you need. Or even better, head on over to BCN Taste & Tradition for a plate paired alongside aromatic G and T’s and exceptional service. Central Market, 3815 Westheimer, 713-386-1700. BCN Taste & Tradition, 4210 Roseland, 832-834-3411.
Foie Gras: Many restaurants will provide foie options on their Valentine’s day menus because in a moment, that warm crust, cool interior is an atom bomb of instant luxury exploding into our regular, boring diet. A sign-on-the-dotted-line deal sealer. The beer goggles of the food world. Whereas foie torchon is enjoying an early morning Swedish massage by the ocean, seared foie is strong arming the Ace of Spades later that night. The Foie Nigiri at Uchi makes for a fun, quick, eye-rolling bite. Uchi, 904 Westheimer, 713-522-4808.
Smoked Atlantic Salmon Candy: Whole Foods Market delicately smokes skin-on, farm-to-table Atlantic Salmon, and the result is insanely decadent. By using the most flavorful part of the fish, its belly, and brining it in savory maple syrup beforehand, this treat makes for an out-of-the-ordinary Valentine’s day treat. Choose the darkest pieces. Whole Foods Market, 4004 Bellaire, 713-667-4090.
Fried Chicken: Two hands on the wheel with this snack as the first bite of crisp chicken skin emotes a whole lotta love. La Lucha’s fried chicken game is strong as Chef Bobby Matos nails the seasoning that’s spiced to perfection. This dish can be ordered by the bird, half or whole, and feels a little like Versailles when the massive platter hits the table, butter biscuits, pickles, and sauce stacked all around. The honey sambal brings the flavor home and should be drizzled on everything. (Sorry in advance, La Lucha.) They’ll also be slinging dollar oysters Valentine’s day evening. La Lucha, 1801 N. Shepherd, 713-955-4765.
Chicken Fingers: yes, chicken fingers. Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers are great to have on backup— be sure to get extra sauce and bread. Eating chicken fingers in Will Landry’s Ford Mustang sophomore year of high school was the most unforgettable Valentine’s dinner to date. The rest have been filled with—why the hell is table 52 taking so long?!?! With the help of Cane’s, you too can make these special memories.
Bread, Butter, Honey: Hot on the scene Bread Man Baking Company is taking Houston by storm and as they continue to grow, their product has remained consistent. "Bread brings communities, families, strangers, and lovers together. Breaking bread on a first date is the first step to finding a lifelong love," says owner Tasos Katsaounis. Drop by the shop for free smells and loaves like Roasted Garlic Parm & Cheddar— good luck getting out of there without a giant sea salt chocolate chip cookie.
As for butter, Central Market carries an extensive selection. French, Irish, Italian, English, German, Wisconsin, Texas—take your pick, salted is preferable, and leave it on the counter for hours or days to be perfectly spreadable. Eight dollars for eight ounces is the priciest. A 180-degree swivel reveals a stand of fun-to-eat honeycomb. Bread Man Baking Company, 9127 Stella Link, 832-786-0065. Central Market, 3815 Westheimer, 713-993-9860.
"Butter Buns" at Flying Pho are sure to set the mood this Valentine's day.
Photo by Kate McLean
Butter Buns at Flying Pho: Aww, yes. Tearing into the crisp cookie exterior to find a generous pool of salted butter amid a warm and yeasty interior is like what just happened, where am I. Christopher Huang’s creative twist on the “Rotiboy” bun is a must-try, and best snag a few. While they’re ideally enjoyed dining-in, 325 degrees Fahrenheit for five minutes will do the trick at home. Flying Pho, 3434 Ella.
Somebody’s Mother’s Caramel Sauce: “Are you sure it’s better than Mrs. Richardson’s?” “Yes, I’m sure,” said devoted Central Market foodie, Mary Joan Rivers. Upon inspection of the label, here is why it beats out the rest including, yes, Mrs. Richardson’s: It’s not caramel sauce. It’s butterscotch. Three ingredients; salted butter, heavy cream, cane sugar and though the final ingredient is followed by a comma instead of a period, which gives the reader pause—it doesn’t even matter. Whatever Somebody’s Mother is doing behind those doors and with whom, 400 years ago she might have been burnt at the stake for it—this spread is pure witchcraft. Two spoons are all you really need, forget the ice cream. Central Market, 3815 Westheimer, 713-993-9860.
Oh, and chef Ryan Lachaine is making classic cocktail Jell-O shots at Riel: Which is a great way to begin and end the night. Riel Restaurant, 1927 Fairview, 832-831-9109
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