Sunday, August 9, 2015

food for thought: July 2015

Not only did I eat plenty this month, I actually cooked a fair amount. This month's recap has a bit of both, so let's get to it.

Roasted and smoked carrots from Oxheart. This picture could never do it justice.
The best thing I ate this month: There were many worthy candidates - the grits at Bramble come immediately to mind - but when it came time to picking my favorite plate of the month, I had to go with my favorite dish from my most recent Oxheart visit. As most who read my posts know, I eat more barbecue than most normal people. Suffice it to say, it is rare that I'm wowed by a smoked offering anymore. But that is one of the many reasons why I love the Oxheart experience. Chef Justin Yu has a way of creating extraordinary flavors out of seemingly ordinary ingredients and is always devising new ways to play with texture. All of that creativity shone through in a dish of roasted and smoked carrots that sat atop a black pepper and white onion emulsion. Such a wonderful contrast of flavors and textures were brought out by the different cooking methods that each bite provided something different. Chef Yu said the dish was originally composed with an Alabama white barbecue sauce in mind, but the onions provided so much more than a mayonnaise based sauce could have.

Excellent beef rib from Blood Bros. BBQ
Pop-up BBQ: Houston's barbecue scene has increased both in quantity and quality the last few years, and barbecue pop-ups are becoming a regular occurrence. Veterans of the Houston Barbecue Festival, Blood Bros. BBQ have started popping up at Lincoln Bar on Washington every other Saturday, often offering less traditional smoked fare such as beef belly burnt ends. On a recent barbecue run with friends we headed over to sample the menu. We were rewarded with a well executed hot link and very good boudin, but it was the beef rib that stole the show that day with well rendered fat and great bark. A cold beer and good plate of barbecue on the back patio of Lincoln Bar is not a bad way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Left: pork ribs from Banded Brigade cook-off (photo courtesy Bryan Norton) | Right: Chickens smoked by yours truly 
Manning the pits: July was a different sort of month in terms of food for me. In addition to my usual hectic dining out schedule, there were a couple of cooking events that kept me busy. One was a charity cook-off with my friends and frequent barbecue companions Bryan and Scott; you can read more about that here. The other, larger cook was a personal event for a long-time friend that was easily the most barbecue I've ever cooked in one day: sixteen racks of pork ribs and thirty chickens in all were smoked. It was a lot of work but for a worthy cause and increased the respect I have for the pitmasters that cook that amount or more on an almost daily basis.

Red chili oil dumplings from Mala Sichuan Bistro
Second location, same results: I finally made it over to Mala Sichuan Bistro's new Montrose location in July, and am pleased to report that the food is still stellar. While it is odd for me to eat Mala's food in a much more refined setting than the Chinatown outpost, the flavors are still among the most vibrant in the city. My wife is not the peppercorn fanatic that I am, so I'll have to return for some of the green peppercorn offerings I keep reading so much about.

Full disclosure: I had 28 stops in July, not counting the events at which I cooked.

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