bivalve throwdown

i've stuffed you with fried chicken and then pork belly until you couldn't move anymore. next up is OYSTERS! the 3rd in the series of houston chowhounds chef throwdowns is coined the bivalve throwdown or #BVTD on twitter.

bryan caswell and bill floyd from REEF are graciously hosting this shindig on Sun, Nov 8th from 4-9ish PM.

BVTD chefs will be required to prepare 2 oyster dishes for the judges in this competition: 1 raw and 1 cooked. chefs will be able to choose from several varieties of live gulf oysters in the shell and freshly shucked oysters. all oysters will be provided for the competition, chefs will only need to bring their other ingredients. to compete, chefs must register by tue, 10/27. the final chef line-up will be announced on Mon, 11/1, so check back soon.

the amateur chef potluck competition will be battle gumbo. 10 houston chowhounds will be competing for bragging rights in this contest that the home cooks take equally seriously.

the event promises to be bigger and more impressive than the last. expect a shucking contest, several raw oyster bars with live shuckers, and -- as always -- a massive spread of gastrodelights.

as always, a wild card judge will also be chosen for the panel of judges. if you would like to be considered, please submit a short essay on "why you should be a BVTD judge" to imneverfull@gmail.com by 10/31.

to purchase tickets, click here.
for official event details and competition guidelines, click here.

big thanks to the event sponsors, REEF, louisiana foods, and saint arnold.


southbound food show #8

this week we're publishing the podcast links to our upcoming show this weekend a few days early. it's just too hilarious to keep to ourselves for another 48 hours.

the parody of the NEW southbound food show is our response to several recent attempts to sabotage our new radio show by another local radio personality. i think you'll agree that it is quite funny. and big thanks to our special guests this week: the legendary restauranteur tony vallone of tony's & soon-to-open ciao bello and robin goldstein of fearless critic restaurant guide.

this show airs Sat, 9/12 at 11AM on AM 1560 the game. tune in or stream it live from 1560thegame.com

segment 1 - parody of NEW southbound food show, new local restaurants, oyster throwdown announcement
segment 2 - tony vallone discusses his new casual restaurant, ciao bello opening on 9/12
segment 3 - robin goldstein discusses 2nd edition of fearless critic houston restaurant guide & book release party on 9/16

please leave your feedback on the podcast website or email it to southboundfood@gmail.com


southbound food show #7

great show last weekend with special guests michael dei maggi and robert hall III, of the califonia winemaking family robert hall winery, who will be opening the rockwood room together this october. the restaurant will be located near woodway and chimney rock and will feature iconic american cuisine such as roasted prime rib, charbroiled steaks, and broiled lobster tail.

segment 1 - hosts discuss top chef & various other delicious topics
segment 2 - mike dei maggi discusses the menu at the rockwood room
segment 3 - robert hall discusses the wine program at the rockwood room

next weekend, tony vallone will be stopping by the studio to talk about ciao bello, his new casual, italian eatery opening in the former jimmy wilson's spot on san felipe & sage on sat, sept 12th. we're also delighted to have robin goldstein of fearless critic media and "the wine trials" joining us to discuss the upcoming release of the second edition of the fearless critic houston restaurant guide.

the fearless critic houston restaurant guide 2nd edition book release party will be hosted at new living at 6111 kirby on wed, sept 16th from 5:30 - 8pm. everyone is invited to attend.


september new restos

fall in houston not only holds the excitement of cooler weather but will also see the opening of lots of new restaurants. this month, check these out:

tesar's in the woodlands had a soft opening last night after a busted piped delayed the opening by one day. the "modern steak & seafood" menu offers parallel tastings of both grass-and-grain-fed beef, 4 types of kobe ribeyes, and fish dishes have an emphasis on whole fish. in addition to the proteins and raw bar, i'm looking forward to trying the butter-poached king crab, beef cheek ravioli with crispy sweetbreads, and cauliflower brulee, the outdoor tesar's burger bar will also offer grass-and-grain-fed beef burgers and handcut fries with your choice of truffle oil, wasabi, or chili. here's is the dinner menu and cocktail & dessert menu.

valentino serving contemporary italian cuisine opens in the hotel derek [corrected: in mid-september]. vin bar complete with an italian raw bar will be opening first and the formal dining room will be in full operations a couple weeks later.

straits serving upscale singaporean cuisine will be opening in town & country's citycentre on sept 28th.

read my write-ups on these new restos on juli b for more info.

in addition, lynette hawkins' giacomo's cibo e vino is set to open on sept 9th in river oaks on westheimer & bammel where pan y agua once stood. hawkins opened the now defunct la mora in the 90's. the menu which features antipasti, panini, pasta, and grilled items has been posted to their website. take a look.

[added: the folks that brought us pink's pizza & dragon bowl is opening lola in the heights on sept 12th. check out 29-95.com to sample their casual comfort food at a special preview event the night before.]

[added 9/7: tony vallone's new casual, italian eatery named ciao bello will be opening in the former jimmy wilson's spot on san felipe & sage on sat, sept 12th. tune into southbound food on sat, sept 12 at 11am to hear tony give us the full deets and the run-down on all the changes they are making.]

southbound food show #6

here are the podcast links to the southbound food show that aired on sat, 9/29 with special guests gail simmons, from top chef and special projects director for food & wine magazine, and chef jamie zelko who is opening zelko bistro in the heights this fall.

segment 1 - lance zierlein, bryan caswell, & jenny wang discuss top chef & 1560 the game mug awards, jamie zelko talks about zelko bistro & her boss burger coming to the houston heights this fall; everyone "drops" miracle berries

segment 2 - Q&A with gail simmons about cheftestants on new season of top chef, how to judge 12 plates of food in one sitting, how she feels about the the way she is portrayed on the show, and more.

segment 3 - flavor tripping with the berry fairy (jenny wang & lea mckinney) and more with jamie zelko


southbound food show #5

here are your podcast links to last weekend's southbound food radio show with bryan caswell, jenny wang, and lance zierlein, danny vara, & frank bullington from 1560 the game.

segment 1 - the gang chats about the pork belly throwdown at catalan
segment 2 - pork belly throwdown sound bites: cody vasek (VOICE), jonathan jones (beaver's), ryan pera (the grove), antoine ware (catalan), antonio gianola (catalan), and jenny wang
segment 3 - lennie ambrose from saint arnold brewery & justin vann, houston's newest and youngest advanced sommelier, from vic & anthony's.

special guests next week:
- gail simmons , bravo's top chef judge & special projects director for food & wine magazine.
- jamie zelko, former executive chef of lancaster bistro opening zelko bistro in the heights this fall
- the berry fairy, jenny wang & lea mckinney host an on-air miracle berry flavor tripping to promote their upcoming flavor tripping party at ei8ht lounge on wed, 9/2

tune into 1560 AM at 11AM this Sat morning or stream it live from 1560thegame.com


PBTD write-up in the Houston Chronicle

greg morago, houston chronicle's food editor wrote a wonderful piece on the houston chowhounds and the pork belly throwdown that took place last week at catalan. The write-up should be in thursday's Preview section of the paper, but you can get a sneak peek on alison cook's blog until then:



PBTD results

photo by Carlos Meltzer

last night at catalan nearly 200 pork lovers from all over houston convened for an evening of pure gluttony at the houston chowhounds pork belly throwdown. chris shepherd and antonio gianola were our hosts with the roasts - pig roasts that is. huge pans of pigs heads and roasted suckling pigs greeted their food fans upon arrival who were welcome to nosh on a piggie cheek, ear, and anything in between. to a chowhound, absolutely no pig parts are off-limits.

in attendance were a boisterous, hungry crowd of foodies (aka houCHies) and industry folks, most of whom chose to spend their only day off this week gathered together in this eating-for-sport event. there were two competitions this evening: first, battle beans competition by houston chowhounds amateur chefs. this contest was judged by twelve of houston's top chefs who were present to compete in the headlining event: a pork belly cooking contest, or "throwdown."

tonight was a follow-up to the fried chicken throwdown at beaver's two months ago. the two winners of that evening's challenge, randy evans (executive chef of the much anticipated Haven opening in oct) and cody vasek (executive sous chef at VOICE) returned to defend their titles. however, tonight's challenge had only one judging category and could only have one winner.

the judges this evening had the daunting task of tasting twelve different pork belly dishes. the panel included teresa byrne-dodge, publisher/editor of my table magazine; chris shepherd, chef/owner of catalan; chris reid, houston press food blogger; misha govshetyn, tasty bits food blogger; wild card judge - justin basye, chef de cuisine at VOICE; and yours truly. each dish was scored based on (1) originality, (2) plating, and (3) taste. scores for taste counted twice and was double-weighted.

and the winners were...

1st place: Cody Vasek, VOICE. Quartet of Pork Belly: tempura fried pork belly over fermented black rice; pave of pork belly with pickled cherries & sweet corn marmalade; pork and bean ginger snap ice cream sandwich; fried pork belly & chicken skin wrapped scallop. cody received near perfect scores across the board for all categories. the ice cream sandwich was spectacular

photo by Misha Govshetyn
2nd place: Randy Evans, Haven. Pork belly pastor torta. the flavors were both comforting and extremely tasty. randy served this with a bucket of mexican cokes & jarritos, pickled carrots, and homemade salsa verde. it's difficult to imagine that a torta could beat the rest of the dishes you'll see below, but it really was THAT GOOD.

photo by Misha Govshetyn

3rd place: Manubu "Hori" Horiuchi, Kata Robata. Pork Belly Threesome: braised pork belly and green onion crepe w/kim chee sauce; braised pork belly sushi w/grated daikon soy sauce, bonito flakes, & yuzu pepper; "kakuni" sake-braised pork belly w/spinach in sweet soy reduction. this was another dish with high originality and plating scores.

From Pork Belly Throwdown

the other dishes were as follows:

Jonathan Jones, Beaver's. "Bacon, Biscuit and Eggs" - cured, smoked, sous vide berkshire pork belly, buttermilk biscuit, soft scrambled egg, maple "caviar", peach jam. it was served with the Beaver's famous "squealing mary" bloody mary made with bacon-infused vodka and garnished with bacon sugar salt rim and candied bacon. JJ described this dish as tasting like his childhood.

From Pork Belly Throwdown

Ryan Pera, The Grove. Crisp pork belly with sweet and sour watermelon, tamarind vinaigrette and scallion salad.

From Pork Belly Throwdown

Matthew Gray, Chez Roux. Fennel Crusted Home Cured Belly Pork, Seared Scallop, and Apple Puree.

From Pork Belly Throwdown

Paul Lewis, Cullen's Upscale American Grille. Crisp Jolie Vue Farms Pork Belly, Spiced Apple Compote, Housemade "Kim Chee."

photo by Misha Govshetyn

Antoine Ware, Catalan. Brown sugar & bourbon glazed belly of Mr. Hatterman’s Blue Butt Hog, butternut squash.

From Pork Belly Throwdown

Jose Luis Vela, Mockingbird Bistro. Kurobuta Pork Belly "Club" with Foie Gras, Tomato/Orange Marmalade and Brioche. Definitely the most decadent dish of the evening.

From Pork Belly Throwdown

Ronnie Killen, Killen's Steakhouse. Vermont Maple Glazed Kurobuta Pork Belly w/ Cabbage slaw

From Pork Belly Throwdown

Jason Gould, formerly of Gravitas. Molasses braised pork belly, apple & green onion jam, herb bread pudding.

From Pork Belly Throwdown

Randy Rucker, Rainbow Lodge. 36 hour poached Iowa Pork Belly sliced thin and glued to shrimp carpaccio with "TG" and dusted with a powder made from pork fat, isomalt, truffle & tapioca maltodextrin and torched, “rice-less” risotto made from yukon potatoes micro-diced to the size of carnaroli rice, squash blossom kimchee (served in its physical form, pureed, and foamed.

From Pork Belly Throwdown

the results of Battle Beans were as follows:

1st place: Karen Rittinger. Fabada Asturiada.

photo by Carlos Meltzer

2nd place: Steve Philpot. Third Coast Cassoulet.

photo by Carlos Meltzer

3rd place: Cindy Robertson. Cindy was also the winner of the fried chicken throwdown's Battle Mac & Cheese.

left over proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to the charles blanton community garden in the 1st ward.

a separate charitable effort in the form of an e-cookbook is also being compiled to benefit recipe for success. the "book" will include the pork belly and bean recipes from the evening's event. copies can be requested with a $5 donation by emailing info@recipe4success.org.

From Pork Belly Throwdown

links to other event write-ups & photos:


PBTD line up tonight

pork belly throwdown judges, please look the other way...
i really couldn't resist posting this list for the PBTD attendees tonight.

a couple things i noted:
- more sweet applications than savory
- 2 dishes incorporating "kim chee"
- 3 dishes incorporating apples

what i'm most surprised about: no one is using pork cracklings
what i'm looking forward to trying the most: pork belly sushi (hori-san)
most over-the-top: PB club w/foie gras (mockingbird)
what i'm most curious about: pork and bean ice cream sandwich (vasek)

Team Beaver’s
Jonathan Jones, Russell Kirkham, & Tad Turrany
"Bacon, Biscuit and Eggs" - cured, smoked, sous vide berkshire pork belly, buttermilk biscuit, soft scrambled egg, maple, peach jam

Team Chez Roux
Matthew Gray & Damien Rice
Fennel Crusted Home Cured Belly Pork, Seared Scallop, and Apple Puree

Team Cullen’s
Paul Lewis & Bruce Trathen
Crisp Jolie Vue Farms Pork Belly, Spiced Apple Compote, Housemade Kim Chee

Jason Gould
Molasses braised pork belly, apple & green onion jam, herb bread pudding

Team Haven
Randy Evans, Kevin Naderi & Ojan Bagher
Pork Belly Torta – a taco truck BLT

Team Kata Robata
Manubu “Hori” Horiuchi & Jean-Phillipe Gaston
Pork belly Threesome (Sushi, Crepes, Kakuni with Spinach)

Team Killen’s Steakhouse
Ronnie Killen & Dee Dee Killen
Vermont Maple Glazed Kurobuta Pork Belly

Team Mockingbird
Jose Luis Vela & John Sheely
Kurobuta Pork Belly "Club" with Foie Gras, Tomato/Orange Marmalade and Brioche

Ryan Pera from The Grove
Crisp pork belly with sweet and sour watermelon, tamarind vinaigrette and scallion salad

Randy Rucker from Rainbow Lodge
IOWA PORK BELLY “rice-less” risotto, shrimp, squash blossom kimchee

Cody Vasek from VOICE
Quartet of pork belly: Sweet n sour pork with smoked rice, sesame powder; Pave of pork with pickled cherries & summer corn marmalade; “pork n bean” ice cream sandwich; and ??????????

Antoine Ware from Catalan
Brown sugar & bourbon glazed belly of Mr. Hatterman’s Blue Butt Hog

let the pork games begin! see you tonight.


southbound food show #4

here are the podcast links for Southbound Food radio show #4 w/ Bryan Caswell & Lance Zierlein that aired Sat, 8/15. the show has a permanent time slot now @ 11AM on Saturday mornings.

special guests this week: Randy Evans - executive chef of Brennan's who is opening the much anticipated Haven in Oct 2009; Michael Housewright - wine director at Block 7 Wine Company; Heidi Barrett - wine goddess/winemaker of Screaming Eagle, Grace Family, Revana, and her own wine company, La Sirena

segment 1 - randy evans discusses haven
segment 2 - michael housewright discusses block 7 wine co
segment 3 - jenny wang (houston chowhounds) discusses upcoming pork belly throwdown; top chef masters; interview with heidi barrett

tune into 1560 AM saturdays @ 11AM or stream it live from 1560 the game's website.


southbound food show #3

yes, i suck for not posting these sooner. here are the podcast links for bryan caswell's southbound food radio show #3 which aired last weekend.

special guests: chris shepherd from Catalan, cody vasek (executive sous chef @ VOICE) and me.

we discuss flavor tripping, Chris' trip culinary adventures in Istanbul, Cody's recent throwdown successes, Julie & Julia, food blogging, PBTD, and more:

segment 1
segment 2
segment 3

please send comments or questions for the "ask the chef" segment to southboundfood@gmail.com.


southbound food - take 2

if you haven't heard about southbound food, then you definitely haven't been following me on twitter. and you probably weren't at the listening party this evening at anvil bar & refuge.

southbound food is the new local food radio talk show hosted by bryan caswell of REEF and little bigs and sports talk show host, lance zierlein on 1560 AM the game. bryan caswell, recently awarded the 2009 best new chef award by food and wine magazine and given his own official houston holiday ( july 21st now goes down in h-town history as bryan caswell day), can seem to do no wrong these days. the show has started with great personalities and momentum and is truly entertaining, albeit a tad racy, and definitely hilarious.

the first test show aired last weekend with special guests, jonathan jones from beavers and mark musatto from airline seafood. this week jonathan jones returned with bobby heugel from anvil and me. ME!

show two first aired last night, again twice today, and tomorrow at 9AM and 6PM. tune into 1560 AM or stream it live from their website. if you haven't been able to catch it and can't wait until tomorrow to tune in, i have the podcast links for you here. there are three segments and i promise the show gets funnier and funnier with each click.

segment 1
segment 2
segment 3

after you listen in, please let the producers know how you feel. leave a comment here or send an email or tweet to lance zierlein. the show will eventually find a permanent time slot on saturday. i'll keep you updated on that! the show is now accepting advertisers too (contact lance for more info). and i'm happy to announce that i've already been invited back to do another show!


PBTD chefs and judges

Some of you have been anxiously awaiting these Pork Belly Throwdown announcements.

And the judges are...

  1. Jenny Wang (@imneverfull) - 002 Magazine food writer & I'm Never Full food blogger
  2. Chris Shepherd (@cshepherd13) - chef/owner of Catalan Food & Wine
  3. Teresa Byrne-Dodge (@MyTableMagazine) - editor & publisher of My Table Magazine, author of The Ultimate Food Lover's Guide to Houston
  4. J.C. Reid (@houston_foodie) - food blogger for Houston Press' Eating Our Words and Houston Foodie
  5. Misha Govshetyn (@tastybitz) - Tasty Bits food blogger
  6. Justin Basye (@justinbasye) - chef de cuisine, VOICE (*WILD CARD)

And more importantly, the chefs that will be competing are...

  1. Randy Evans (@havenchef), chef/owner of Haven (opening this fall)
  2. Jason Gould (@chefjasongould), chef/owner of Gravitas
  3. Matthew Gray, chef de cuisine of Chez Roux @ La Torretta Del Lago
  4. Manubu "Hori" Horiuchi, executive chef at Kata Robata
  5. Jonathan Jones (@PapaBeav), chef/owner of Beaver's
  6. Ronnie Killen (@ze1chef), chef/owner of Killen's Steakhouse
  7. Paul Lewis, executive chef of Cullen's Upscale American Grille
  8. Ryan Pera, executive chef at The Grove
  9. Randy Rucker (@greensandbeans), executive chef at Rainbow Lodge
  10. Cody Vasek, sous chef at VOICE
  11. Jose Luis Vela, chef de cuisine at Mockingbird Bistro
  12. Antoine Ware (@catalansous), sous chef at Catalan
don't forget: tickets to the throwdown go on sale tomorrow. details will be posted to the houston chowhound yahoo! board.

complete event details on the official website.


live uni demo & dinner

not really like me to brag about a dinner until after i've actually eaten it. this blog post comes sans tasty photos, only an insane menu!

randy rucker, executive chef at the rainbow lodge has planned an extraordinary dinner for the houston chowhounds next week. LIVE sea urchins (yes, with long black spines still moving and everything) are the guests of honor and will be flown in from santa barbara.
each human attendee gets his/her own sea urchin and randy will give us a lesson on how to open and clean it. afterwards, we'll cure the lovely, sweet roe and enjoy this all-uni, all-star menu!

7.15.09 live uni demo & degustation w/wine pairings

- uni popcorn – uni powder seasoned popcorn served during the demo (served in popcorn bags)

- live uni demo & tasting of live uni with olive oil, persimmon vinegar & chive

- raw uni with smoked miso & brown butter

- baby white geoduck clam & a vinaigrette made from uni, meyer lemon & caramel oil

- lots of different eggs both hot & cold

- almond gnocchi with caviar, coddled buttermilk & uni

- slow poached iowa pork belly seasoned with carbonized onion powder & then re-seared, creamed kimchee & uni toast

- sea urchin frozen yogurt & our papaya ceviche

- uni & white chocolate

this menu is totally *sick* right? 20 attendees max & there are still spots left. RSVP here.

and since we're on the subject of the rainbow lodge, have you read my review from last month's 002 magazine? here it is: page 1, page 2


pork belly throwdown

if you thought the fried chicken throwdown was over-the-top, this one will definitely make your jaw drop. yes, it's a pork belly throwdown and a prescription for lipitor should probably come with each judge's ballot.

in this round, the throwdown will be more iron chef than throwdown with bobby flay. this time, we have a (not-so) secret ingredient and the chefs will choose to prepare the ingredient anyway they choose as long as it's the main ingredient in the dish. judging criteria will be based on originality, plating, and taste.

and how fun would pork be without beans? (or really, the other way around.) houston chowhounds amateur chefs will competing in a battle beans potluck that the real chefs will be judging. houchies can register to compete on the chowhound discussion board.

the event will be hosted by chris shepherd at catalan on mon, aug 17th. tickets will be $25 each and will go on sale on mon, july 20th after competing chefs and judges are announced. ticket proceeds remaining after covering food costs will benefit the charles v. blanton community garden in the 1st ward.

jonathan jones, the host of our last throwdown; the FCTD throwdown champions, randy evans and cody vasek; and antoine ware, catalan's sous chef, will be guaranteed entry in this throwdown. the remaining spots will be determined by lottery. the registration deadline for chefs to enter the lottery is july 17th @ 5pm.

a wild card judge will also be chosen for the judging panel. if you would like to be considered, please submit a short essay on "why you should be a PBTD judge" to imneverfull@gmail.com by july 17th @ 5pm.

event details, registration information, and judging criteria have been posted here. check the bottom of that webpage, join the houston chowhound discussion board, or follow @imneverfull on twitter for PBTD news and announcements.

2nd annual BBQ smackdown

summers in houston mean unbearable heat to most people, but for houston chowhounds it also signals that the annual BBQ smackdown is near.

usually scheduled the saturday before july 4th, pearl bar was chosen again as the venue because the 1st annual bbq smackdown was so successful there. however, this year had an attendance of 60 hungry houchies (twice as many attendees as last year) as the group has grown to over 400 members in just 1 year.

the premise was simple. brisket and ribs were brought in from 6 local bbq joints and were blind judged by the attendees. our top three winners (pierson & co, burns, and luling city market) from last year's competition were up against three new competitors. this year our farthest competitor was vincek's in east bernard who was picked because they were listed in texas monthly's top 50 bbq joints last year.

the winners for brisket were:
3rd. vincek's

the winner for ribs were:
3rd. vincek's

several chowhounds were shocked that burns didn't place again this year. others were shocked that thelma's placed dead last in each category. it should be mentioned that thelma was sick that day but since we had pre-ordered and prepaid for the food, our order was ready for us that morning, however her restaurant was closed.

here are 2 wonderful write-ups of the event. one by the houston press and the other by great food houston.


kata robata

kata robata
3600 kirby dr #h @ richmond

first walking in, you'll notice that not too much has changed inside except the wall color and some art work. the green tea stained walls are now a warm brown hue, but hue, the former restaurant, is now a goner. that upscale, vietnamese restaurant that opened last year almost to the exact day has been put to bed and the azuma group have decided to focus on what they seem to do much better: sushi.

so interestingly enough, there is no robatayaki (japanese style charcoal grill) in sight. i was told they are planning to build a grill outside which seems even stranger. i'm sure i'll return and actually try the robata - i dig any foods usually served on a stick - but tonight was for omakase. i was here to find out how sushi chef hori-san (from kubo's) was settling in behind his new sushi bar. i definitely recommend sitting front stage when you go. hori-san is a real pleasure to chat with and totally understood all my photo taking even showing me his own photos on his i-phone from catalan a couple weeks ago.

it's been awhile since i've actually felt the need to blog about a meal as soon as i got home. tonight i felt it. i don't think i've ever been excited about japanese cuisine in houston, but now i am. this is what omakase (chef's choice literally translated "it's up to you") looked like tonight.

lobster ceviche. lobster tail, avocado, spinach, green leaf, tomatoes, and red onions in a soy sauce, sesame oil, mirin, & yuzu vinaigrette: a tad overdressed, but the dressing was tasty and brought out the sweetness of the lobster tail.

japanese red snapper (madai) sashimi w/asian truffle oil sauce. the sauce of white truffle oil, yuzu and soy was absolutely delightful and the yamamomo ("mountain peach") was a wonderfully sweet and luscious palate cleanser to save for the end. (available on regular menu)

uni & king crab spoons. the sweet uni and the dashi-heavy and tangy sunomono sauce had a wonderful smokiness to it. black caviar added a bit of salt and texture. (available on regular menu)

"kakuni" pork belly. pork belly braised in sweet soy sauce over butter sauteed spinach with micro greens. i can't explain how delicious this was. the pork belly was tender and unctuous but the buttery spinach sent each bite over the top with the added depth the butter imparted. chinese hot mustard garnished the plate and helped balance the fat. (available on regular menu) don't we have a pork belly throwdown coming soon?? this would rival the best of them.

foie gras with daikon. foie was a tad overcooked but still very enjoyable. the sauce was smokey from dashi, slightly sweet from mirin, and had a nice depth imparted by fish stock made from hamachi fish bones. very good dish, but totally outshined by the foie dish to follow. (available on regular menu)

shima aji (japanese striped bass), o toro (tuna belly), copper river salmon sashimi (from left to right). both the toro and salmon melted in my mouth from the high fat content. all of the fish was very fresh. the copper river salmon seemed smoother and more mild than regular salmon. this was served with hon wasabi.

hon wasabi on sharkskin grater. stolen from behind the sushi bar for the photo, this is what fresh wasabi (japanese horseradish) looks like. it's grated to order and is milder than the powdered, bright green stuff that we're used to that is cut with mustard to make it cheaper and more potent. the crisp, radish-like texture is enjoyable. once you taste this stuff, you might not ever accept the cheap, powdered stuff again.

foie gras and scallop sushi. served on a nugget of white rice, this was such a winning combination of creamy, buttery foie and a completely different kind of creamy, buttery scallop. topped with a bit of nabeyaki (sweet eel sauce), this dish was truly amazing and easily the highlight of the meal.

soy marinated tuna. we were instructed not to use soy sauce with this course. the tuna was already salted from the marinade. the fish was firm almost a bit rubbery, but not in an unpleasant way. it was very interesting to experience tuna this way.

amaebi with uni sushi. i have to admit that i'm not a big fan of amaebi (sweet shrimp). i usually order it at a sushi bar if they'll deep fry the heads and i'll try to pawn the shrimp off on a dining companion or i'll reluctantly eat it just to get rid of it. it has an unnerving creamy texture that i don't like. today i learned it can be enjoyable with uni on top. the uni tonight (on a monday btw) was so sweet and fresh. i'd eat amaebi any day if it were served like this.

copper river salmon sushi. a much deeper orange than regular salmon although it's not apparent from this photo. simply prepared with yuzu and a little sea salt. was instructed by the chef not to use any soy sauce. a great ode to the "simpler is better" school of thought.

anago and toro & takowan maki. the steamed sea eel (left) was tender and rich with nabeyaki and hon wasabi on top. hori-san said he orders the sea eel whole from japan and cuts it himself. the maki doesn't look very enticing but the buttery toro combined with the crunchy takowan (japanese radish) was a tasty combination.

after twelve courses, i cried uncle and then the desserts came out...

black sesame creme brulee. i never met a creme brulee that i didn't like and ground black sesame adds a wonderful nuttiness to it. totally yummy.

yuzu sorbet. very good too. the sorbet was smooth with a great mouth-feel and the yuzu (japanese citrus) added fantastic citrus-y and floral tones. it was refreshing and great summer dessert.

green tea tiramisu. good but not great. i wanted more floral green tea flavors from it. it was delicate and very hard to offend.

hori-san said he has more creative freedom at his new home. i'm glad i don't have to deal with kirby traffic and village parking to visit him now. also, totally excited that i have a new restaurant to add to my rotation of restaurants open on monday.

and i've been saying that the "don't eat seafood on mondays" axiom that bourdain propagated with his book kitchen confidential really doesn't apply to houston. tonight i think i proved my point.

p.s. i asked hori-san if there is any good ramen in houston and he said no.


FCTD winners

it was a full house of full bellys at beaver's this past monday for the houston chowhounds fried chicken throwdown. jonathan jones was our gracious host. over 150 houchies, chefs, and industry folks gathered to binge on copious amounts of fried chicken and some of the best sides imaginable. but really everyone was there to see which of houston's top chefs would be the throwdown champ. the prize? just good ole fashion bragging rights. here's how the throwdown... well, went down.

twelve chefs competed in the classic fried chicken competition. the requirements for this category were: must be (1) chicken, (2) bone-in, and (3) skin-on. entries in this category were judged on (1) crispiness/texture of crust, (2) tenderness of meat, (3) seasoning and (4) overall taste.

Justin Basye, chef de cuisine at VOICE
Classic: Basye Family Recipe*

Frank Butera, chef/owner of Frank's Chop House
Classic: Frank’s Chop House Classic Buttermilk Fried Chicken

Fowl Frying Flyers
Jason Gould
, chef/owner of Gravitas
Team Member(s): David Grossman & Cody Dryer
Classic: Buttermilk Battered Fried Chicken

Jonathan Jones, chef/owner of Beaver's
JJ's Famous Fried Chicken

Killen’s Steakhouse
Ronnie Killen, chef/owner of Killen's Steakhouse
Team Member(s): Dee Dee Killen & Ryan Penn
Classic: Ronnie Killen’s Fried Chicken*

*17 Ex-Pats
Dax McAnear, chef de cuisine at Textile and Ryan Pera, executive chef at The Grove
Classic: Exhibit A

Frank “The Shank”
Frank Moore
, sommelier at Textile
Classic: Family Tradition*

Michael O'Connor, restaurant chef at Houston Country Club
Team Member(s): Marc Gabriel Medina
Classic: Fried Chicken w/ sweet potato waffles and honey-lemon butter*

Dusty Sagasser, smokemaster at Beaver's
Classic: Beer battered, smoked fried chicken

Catalan (AKA those Mother Cluckers)
Chris Shepherd
, chef/owner of Catalan
Team Member(s): Antoine Ware & Matthew Pridgen
Classic: I Am Not Sharing

Cody Vasek, executive sous chef at VOICE
God’s Country Classic Chicken*

Jamie Zelko, chef/owner of Zelko Bistro (opening soon)
Classic: Zelko Bistro’s Captain’s Fried Chicken*

five chefs competed in the creative fried chicken competition. the requirements for this category were: must contain (1) poultry of some design, (2) a fried component, and (3) an attachment to fried chicken (i.e. must be reminiscent of fried chicken somehow). entries in this category were judged on (1) originality, (2) presentation, (3) how evocative of fried chicken it was and (4) overall taste.

Frank Butera, chef/owner of Frank's Chop House
Creative: Pollo Fritto All’abruzzese
spaghetti w/an italian, peasant-style ragu made with chicken hearts and gizzards topped with more fried hearts and gizzards.

Team Haven
Randy Evans, chef/owner of Haven (opening this fall)
Team Member(s): Kevin Naderi
Creative: Fried Chicken Ballantine with Watermelon Rind Slaw & Black Pepper Bourbon Gravy*

Fowl Frying Flyers
Jason Gould, chef/owner of Gravitas
Team Member(s): David Grossman & Cody Dryer
Creative: Mustard Crusted Battered & Fried Chicken

Plinio Sandalio, pastry chef at Textile & Gravitas
Team Member(s): Erika Mandeville
Creative: Chicken and Biscuits: buttermilk biscuits, chicken ice cream, honey-guajillo butter, crispy chicken flakes*

Cody Vasek, executive sous chef at VOICE
Creative: “Chicken and Funnel Cake”
chicken drumettes, frenched, dipped in funnel cake batter and deep fried. served with maple syrup and powdered sugar.

* recipes are included in the recipe book


Congrats to all of our fried chicken throwdown winners!

In the Classic category

1st place - Cody Vasek, VOICE, God’s Country Classic Chicken
Cody's fried chicken was brined in pepperoncini juice and served with shiner bock beer bread

2nd place: Ronnie Killen, Killen's Steakhouse (Pearland), Ronnie Killen's Fried Chicken
Ronnie's fried chicken was cryovac-ed in buttermilk & spices and sous vided before it was battered and fried.

3rd place: Jason Gould, Gravitas, Buttermilk Battered Fried Chicken
Jason's fried chicken is available every Tuesday night at Gravitas as a blue plate special.

if i could give an award for most interesting crust, my first place would go to the *17 Ex-Pats team (Dax & Ryan) for a "bread crumb" mixture made from a combination of chicharron (pork rinds), pulverized crawfish shells, ramen noodles, and the ramen seasoning pack. it created an extremely crispy crust and some really interesting flavors no one quite expected.

my second place would go to Jamie Zelko for her slightly sweet crust of Captain Crunch cereal, corn flakes, oatmeal, and panko bread crumbs. the taste and texture was wonderful and definitely kid-friendly.

also worth noting is Dusty Sagasser's entry which was first smoked and then beer battered. the smokiness of the chicken meat was very pleasing.

In the Creative category:

1st place: Randy Evans, Haven, Fried Chicken Ballantine with Watermelon Rind Slaw & Black Pepper Bourbon Gravy
randy's chicken was served with a refreshing watermelon rind slaw and very delicious watermelon juice iced tea. he nailed the "evocative of fried chicken" judging criteria.

2nd place: Plinio Sandalio, Textile, Chicken and Biscuits: buttermilk biscuits, chicken ice cream, honey-guajillo butter, crispy chicken flakes
plinio's chicken ice cream (basically a frozen sweet veloute) was surprisingly tasty (well, maybe not if you're familiar with his work). he had some freezer issues at the event so his ice cream was served more like a semi-freddo. the chicken cracklin was incredibly, ridiculously delicious.

3rd place: Jason Gould, Gravitas, Mustard Crusted Battered & Fried Chicken

so who judged all 17 of these entries? a panel of houston chowhounds composed of (clockwise from top) Bryan Caswell of REEF, Jim Gossen of Louisiana Foods, Katharine Shilcutt Houston Press' food writer and She Eats blogger, Jay Francis Houston Press' food explorer, moi, and Karen Rittinger who won the wild card judge spot. it was seriously hard work, but someone had to do it!

but we weren't the only judges at the event. Nine houchies participated in battle mac and cheese potluck. Guess who judged this event? All the chefs at the event including Bryan Caswell and Monica Pope.

The chefs decided. Our mac & cheese winners were:

1st place: Cindy Robertson, Truly Scrumptious Mac-N-Cheese
2nd place: Chuck Redick, Chuck E. Mac and Cheese
3rd place: Matthew McClung, Not Yo Crawdaddy's Mac & Cheese

The event raised over $700 for Recipe for Success who were onsite at the event. Four chefs donated their $50 stipend towards food costs to the charity. These gastro angels were Ronnie Killen, Michael O'Connor, Plinio Sandalio, and Chris Shepherd.

Recipe books were also sold at the event which contained all nine mac & cheese recipes and 8 fried chicken recipes (including both 1st place winners) with 100% of the proceeds donated to Recipe for Success. Special thanks to Syd Kearney and 29-95 for printing our books and ballots for free and for doing it with such short notice.

If you would like a copy of the recipe book, please send a $5.50 donation via paypal to imneverfull@gmail.com and a PDF of the book will be emailed to you. Our goal is to raise $1000 for Recipe for Success.

Also, be sure to read the Houston Press write-up.

all photos courtesy of katharine shilcutt. view the complete set of FCTD photos on flickr.


and the FCTD wild card judge is...

congrats to Karen Indellicati Rittinger for winning the 6th spot on the judges panel for the fried chicken throwdown next week! here is her winning response to "why i should be a FCTD judge."


10. My palate has enjoyed the sophistication of foie gras at Lucas Carton in Paris to fried chicken at Hodaks in St. Louis.

9. Ten years of prescribed Lipitor is not the result of eating boiled, baked or braised chicken.

8. Never allowing the annual fryer butchering event on my grandparent’s farm to deter my taste for fried chicken even after wringing necks, opening the gizzards to determine the fowls’ last meals, plucking feathers and singeing the naked bird over a flame.

7. Good fried chicken is like the man in my life……..always satisfying.

6. My family’s fried chicken got me a wedding proposal, a 2.5 carat diamond and 17 years of good marriage (There’s truth in that old saying that “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach”).

5. My grandmother fried enough chicken in her kitchen on a 100 degree Texas summer day with no air conditioning to feed children, grandchildren, a few neighbors and the field hands.

4. Zone‘d Erotica has never sold anything as satisfying as my family’s fried chicken.

3. I taught my Yankee cousins that Emily Post does not criticize if you eat southern fried chicken with your fingers.

2. I can proudly say that fried chicken has helped me reach a weight of ***.

And the number 1 reason that I should be a FCTD judge is because:

1. I can fry chicken just like my mother and grandmother!

***Will disclose if selected as a FCTD judge

karen, of course we won't ask you to disclose your weight. because then i might feel the need to share mine and that would just be TMI. congrats!


fried chicken throwdown

the michelada throwdown at anvil last weekend spawned an even bigger, more ambitious event. the challenge this time is everyone's favorite comfort food: FRIED CHICKEN.

the fried chicken throwdown (FCTD) will take place at beaver's on mon, 6/8 and i've posted the complete event details, throwdown guidelines, and judging criteria to the houston chowhounds website.

the line-up of contestants is SICK. this is the current list:

- Jonathan Jones, chef/owner of Beaver's (event host)
- Dusty Sagasser, smokemaster at Beaver's
- Plinio Sandalio, pastry chef at Textile & Gravitas
- Robert Heugel, master mixologist/owner of Anvil Bar & Refuge
- Frank Butera, chef/owner of Frank's Chop House
- Randy Evans, chef/owner of Haven (opening this fall)
- Chris Shepherd, chef/owner of Catalan
- Justin Basye, chef de cuisine at VOICE
- Randy Rucker, executive chef at Rainbow Lodge
- Dax McAnear, chef de cuisine at Textile
- Michael O'Connor, restaurant chef at Houston Country Club
- Jamie Zelko, chef/owner of Zelko Bistro (opening soon)

these contestants will be competing in one of two categories: classic or creative. the most creative entry so far sounds like plinio's chicken ice cream w/ chicken cracklings. bobby from anvil bar is calling his entry "gin chicken." will it be served in a glass or on a plate?

tickets went on sale on the Houston Chowhounds discussion board early friday morning and sold out within a few hours.

there aren't any tickets left but there's still a wild card spot on the judging panel. the wild card judge will be chosen by whoever submits the best response to the question, “Why should I be a FCTD judge?” anyone may enter by sending his/her answer in 100 words or less to imneverfull@gmail.com by mon, 6/1 at 5 pm.

you may have missed out on this event, but it's not too late to attend the Houston Chowhound 2nd annual BBQ smackdown! the date has been set for sat, 6/27 @ noon. the location will be announced soon. so if you aren't a member, seriously. what are you waiting for? join here.

photo courtesy of roboppy


best dishes: Q1 09 edition

i eat a lot. i probably don't have to convince most of you that i do. almost all my chowing takes place outside the confines of my own home. i can cook, i really can but i choose not to out of sheer laziness. i hate grocery shopping and i hate doing dishes. i also hate eating alone. surely if i had someone to cook for that picked up groceries and did the dishes, i'd cook all the time.

between visiting restaurants to write about them, attending restaurant openings and other food-related events, i'm sampling a helluva lot of food. most dishes aren't very memorable. some are down right disgusting. i can remember two instances recently where i actually spat out food. when i'm lucky, i walk away in gastro-love and even wake up the next morning thinking about that certain dish. i've had quite a few of these moments this quarter.

i just don't have as much time as i used to to blog about all the details of my review-worthy meals. hey, i know you're busy too. surely, you can appreciate the time i'm saving you as well by just listing the highlights.

never full awards - Q1 2009

these are the best dishes i've eaten during the first 3 months of 2009. these are dishes that i'll never be too full for that last bite of. this list is only grouped by the type of course: apps, mains, desserts, but otherwise are not arranged in any order. only menu items that i've never tried before qualify for this award.

(if a restaurant's name is hyperlinked under the photo's description, click on it to view all the photos from that same meal.)

duck mousse from Chez Nous

1. duck mousse @ chez nous had a plum vinegar and sherry aspic on top with pickled cherries. it was served with warm toast points which actually looked like toast points (what's up with sliced baguette at some places???). the toast was perfect as was the earlier bread service. it reminded me of a similar duck pate at the late anthony's which was one of my favorite dishes in town. can i buy this stuff by the pound?

salmon two ways from Max's Wine Dive

2. salmon duo @ max's wine dive. i was invited to the spring menu tasting at max's in february. this dish was composed of salmon 2 ways: salmon belly carpaccio with ginger shallot vinaigrette and potted salmon rillettes topped with clarified butter. this appetizer was served with fried capers and brioche chips. the salmon rillettes were out of this world. rich, creamy, dreamy. the brioche chips were great but this stuff would even taste good on cardboard. i'm sure the thick layer of ghee on top had something to do with it. i'm truly impressed with some of the menu items that newish chef michael dei maggi is putting out there now that he's at the helm. i'm looking forward to trying the spring lamb trilogy on the new spring menu.

lobster mousse from Chez Roux

3. lobster mousse @ chez roux at la torretta del lago. this dark green parcel arrived topped with a lobster claw and caviar. the lobster mousse which was wrapped in spinach leaves ended up being quite firm, yet spongy with more identifiable lobster meat hidden inside. the velvety champagne sauce was absolutely stunning.

4. smoked tuna bacon @ REEF was one of many wonderful dishes during my recent progressive dinner date. the smoked tuna bacon was escorted by sea bass tiradito, granny smith apples, and avocado. the smoky tuna bacon definitely shined center stage with mild sea bass as backup. creamy, buttery avocado and the bright flavor and crisp texture of green apples made a well-balanced plate.

tripa tacos from El Ultimo during Taco Truck Crawl

5. tripa taco @ el ultimo. i've hadn't met much tripe that i'm truly fond of. i've even tried mario batali's trippa alla romana and wasn't that wild about it. everything changed when i was doing research for the houston chowhounds taco truck crawl. i found the el ultimo taco truck off robb walsh's taco truck blog where walsh commends their breakfast tacos. i tried an egg & chorizo taco, but it was the tripe tacos that blew me away. these tiny golden nuggets tasted deep-fried and were so crispy, the texture seemed to mask the offal "tripey" taste that they are known for. each taco was garnished with grilled onions, a ton of cilantro, queso fresco, and sliced avocado on a warm, greasy flour tortilla. only $1.50 a piece my friends!

banh uot thit nuong from Huynh

6. banh uot thit nuong @ huynh. it's really surprising when a simple dish can stand out and drive me this crazy. i can't decide which is better: the peanut sauce or the actual banh uot (vietnamese cannelloni)? the rice sheets are made in-house and were still warm when chargrilled pork (thit nuong), green leaf lettuce, bean sprouts, cilantro, and mint were rolled inside. the peanut sauce (which they make as well) is not as cloying sweet as the prepared stuff that most of us are used to. a dab of chili oil on top gives it a nice punch. the quality of all the ingredients is apparent with a $2.95 price tag to boot!

akaushi flank steak from TTR Gourmet Media Dinner

7. akaushi flank steak @ the tasting room uptown park. i attended a media preview party for the gourmet magazine premier wine dinner in the reserve room. the reserve room's own chef steve super prepared a 5 course dinner similar to the main event's menu and wine pairings were expertly selected by sommelier tony elsinga. the akaushi beef was silky and tender with prickly-pear marinade and served medium-rare over butter-braised romaine. the marinade was incredible with just the right amount of acid. i also loved the accompaniment of heated lettuce. glad to see a chef (who isn't asian or italian) embrace a heated preparation of lettuce. tickets for gourmet weekend is $250 per person and includes the wine dinner this weekend on saturday, 4/4 and a jazz brunch on sunday.

8. dry-aged kobe long bone-in ribeye (photo, far top) @ killen's steakhouse is undeniably supreme red meat. it's flown in from allen brothers in chicago where the dry-aging process breaks down protein enzymes tenderizing the meat and resulting in really deep, intense beefy flavors. this long bone was huge, easily 6 to 8 inches, but the most admirable quality of this particular slab of steak was the amazing char it flaunted. being a true texan, i just believe there just aren't many things better than a piece of USDA prime red meat that's crisp on the outside and oh-so-tender inside. almost makes this girl wanna cry!

bone marrow risotto from Benjy's on Washington

9. buffalo hanger steak & bone marrow risotto @ benjy's on washington is killer. the buffalo hanger steak (not pictured above) is sliced and served medium rare. it's almost fork-tender with wonderful smoky flavors. the rich, unctuous bone marrow risotto elevates this dish into an something quite extraordinary.

creme brulee bread pudding from Killen's

10. creme brulee bread pudding @ killen's steakhouse. i've never been a fan of bread pudding. i made an exception for years with the white chocolate bread pudding at ruggles grill. the bread pudding at killen's is even better. it's custard based, just like ruggles', so it's heavy and rich. my first bite induced involuntary giggling. i don't think this has happened to me since the first time i tried chocolate. i couldn't stop giggling like a school girl because it was that good! this dessert is worth a drive to pearland. the two dishes on this list from killen's makes a visit here a no-brainer.

bacon ice cream from Beaver's

11. bacon ice cream @ beaver's. chef jonathan jones brought me a scoop of it last month when he was still experimenting with it. i am told that it is on the dessert menu now. it's sweet, creamy, and has bits of candied bacon in it. combining pork belly and ice cream is ingenius! and it's absolutely delicious.

12. smoked brownie with ancho chili ice cream @ textile. every time i think of pastry chef plinio sandalio, i think of how lucky houston is to have him. recently, i had my second dessert tasting at textile during a progressive dinner date. it was 8 courses of pure joy and brilliance. this course was my favorite because of the complexity of flavors and textures. i loved the combination of chocolate, smoke, and ancho together. it wasn't overly sweet either. plinio is skilled at balancing just the right amount of sugar in his gastro-creations. he's going to try frying brownies in bacon fat next. can't wait for that!
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