Friday, February 27, 2015

food for thought: February 2015

As February draws to a close, it's time to tally up this month's culinary highlights and memorable moments.

The best thing I ate this month: Not wanting to pay Valentine's Day "special menu" prices, my wife and I decided to go to Coltivare. The restaurant is always full on a Saturday anyway, but reservations aren't accepted and the menu was their standard, splendid fare. As per our normal, we ordered a bit of everything on the menu. The service, which understandably started slow, picked up the pace as the kitchen got its rhythm and food came out in a timely manner. We once again ordered the casserici pasta with oxtail sugo. While I understand the appeal of and thoroughly enjoy Coltivare's famous caccio e pepe, the sugo is the best pasta dish I've had at the Heights eatery. Deep in flavor from the oxtail and pearl onions and featuring perfectly toothsome pasta, it's a star. That being said, it was not the best dish we ate that night, which speaks volumes for my favorite. The standout for me that night was a braised beef dish (featuring meat from the increasingly popular 44 Farms) with local root vegetables, potatoes, mushrooms and jus. I find so many braised dishes these days feel too much like a pot roast, with much attention paid to the protein and so little love devoted to the vegetables. Coltivare never makes the garden ingredients take a backseat. The skin on the potatoes was perfectly crispy and the other vegetables had just a touch of golden brown color to enhance their flavor. My first few bites of the beef didn't fully hit home until I requested a serving spoon to scoop out some of that wonderful jus. After that, each bite was sublime. Rarely have I had a dish there that has missed the mark, making Coltivare one of my favorite restaurants in town.

I know I'm supposed to love you, but... I had such a confounding meal at critical darling Pax Americana. Having heard such great things about the restaurant from many trusted sources, I expected to be blown away and just was not. Much has been said about the noise level of the restaurant, and it is all true. It is extremely loud. I understand the brain trust at Pax is trying to remedy this but it does distract from the meal as a whole. Sound was not the only frustration that night. An acorn squash dish with pepitas just felt so much like fall that eating it in February seemed odd. The dish was also in desperate need of acidity. I happened to be there on the same night as Kim from Adventures in a New(ish) City and we had similar feelings about the experience. We ordered the same gulf snapper dish that Kim's table ordered, and both tables were served the dish with grouper as the fish in place of the snapper. Like Kim, we were given neither forewarning of nor explanation for why the main focus of the dish had been changed. Overall, I was not wowed by any of the dishes we ordered, though I do applaud the ambition of the talented staff. At the price point of the meal it is hard to find the motivation for a return visit anytime soon.
Corkscrew (from the previous, more successful visit) left, BBQ Godfather right

Oh, the meat. The wonderful, beautiful smoked meat: There were five barbecue stops this month, with a failed attempt at a sixth. I had a successful solo venture to Corkscrew, a lunch at the ever-improving Roegel's Barbecue, and survived Dallas' ice storm on Monday to enjoy a meal at Lockhart Smokehouse. Bryan from Texas BBQ Treasure Hunt, Scott from Texas Pit Quest and I went on a north Houston barbecue run. Our first stop was Southern Q, which recently relocated to a permanent space on Kuykendahl near FM1960, followed by BBQ Godfather in Spring with a hopefully grand finale at Corkscrew BBQ. Southern Q had excellent homemade sausage and boudin, and I can't wait to see how they continue to improve now that they've found a permanent home. This place is a great example of good East Texas barbecue. While we had all heard positive things about BBQ Godfather, none of us were blown away by the food on this day. Overcooked pork belly made the pork belly BLT special dry and uninteresting, ribs came out sauced and too sweet for all of our liking, and brisket showed potential but was not quite there yet. Unfortunately, Corkscrew sold out ten minutes before our arrival, cutting our trip short. It was fun eating and chatting with two respected barbecue hounds and we're in the process of planning another adventure for March.

Stay golden, Chinatown: Fu Fu Cafe, so known as a late night Chinatown dining option, is also one of my favorite lunch spots. Tasty and affordable, its expansive lunch menu always satisfies. Hot and spicy chicken is a favorite. Arirang, a Korean and Chinese place along Houston's Bellaire Asian corridor, was another stop this month. The menu is interesting enough, but having one foot in each of two very different dining cultures forced it to miss the mark on both for me. I've had much better Korean food and much better Chinese in the area.

Cold weather + hot tea wins the day: One of the things I love about where I work is how easily I can access both the Ghandi District and the aforementioned Chinatown. Bijan Persian Grill is a stone's throw away, and you'll find me there often. Kebabs and hot tea have been such a welcome combination on these cold days we've been having lately.
spicy chocolate and horchata swirl with the much ballyhooed brown butter waffle cone

You scream, I scream: Valentine's dinner got a final exclamation point when we decided to skip dessert at Coltivare in favor of Fat Cat Creamery. This place provides the comfort food version of dessert for me while managing to stay supremely interesting. There's nothing more nostalgic than soft serve, but no childhood memory I have includes the spicy chocolate and horchata swirl I enjoyed that night.

Full disclosure: This month I had 29 meals out and 2 substantial snacks, not counting tomorrow's trip to the rodeo cook off.


Kim said...

Bummer about our similar Pax Americana experiences, but I'm glad to hear you've had awesome visits to Coltivare and Fat Cat Creamery lately - They are so good!

Kim said...
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