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Houston’s Perfect Gulf Coast Dish

This River Oaks Restaurant Makes an Asian Staple Smoking

BY // 04.24.17

I have written before of the wonder of serendipity when it comes to food and dining, for it’s a fine thing. You’re walking along a street in, say, Paris, and spy a storefront that you must have passed dozens of time, and for some reason decide to pop in. It’s a restaurant, and you take a seat at the bar and look at the menu. You aren’t really hungry, but a glass of wine sounds great, so you order un verre rouge and relax.

The wine piques your appetite, so the menu is requested, and you order a bite to eat that blows you away. It’s simple yet delicious, and you had no idea it was what you wanted. This is one of my favorite culinary scenarios, and when they occur I am a happier man. It’s serendipity.

On Easter Sunday, I experienced something of that sort. It was early in the evening and a glass of wine was desired. We hadn’t sat at State of Grace‘s bar in a while, so that’s where we went. The wine was Albariño, and it was cool and crisp and refreshing.

Brunch had taken place earlier in the day; were we hungry? A small plate would not be unwelcome, and my companion at the bar suggested the Basmati “Fried Rice”… and here comes the serendipity.

If you happen upon some peanuts, open a bottle of this.

I was not overly excited about the sound of the dish; I had my eye on the kimchi and collards. But life is, as they say, compromise, so the rice it was. And what a great choice it turned out to be. It paired wonderfully with the wine, always a good thing. It’s served on a small oval platter — Homer Laughlin, a classic and honest brand — and on that evening was exactly enough for the two of us.

Here’s what it is: basmati rice, some grains crisped in a way that adds mouth-pleasing texture; caramelized onions; curry (could have used more in our opinion — we drizzled some of State of Grace’s house-made hot sauce over the dish); crushed peanuts; egg; jalapeño slices; and smoked redfish. I want to write that again: smoked redfish, for that ingredient is what transforms this Asian staple into something unique and memorable. It’s what made it the perfect thing to order on that evening, at that bar. It’s what made it serendipitous.

We spooned the rice and fish and fried egg and everything else onto our plates and added some of the hot sauce and enjoyed. The Albariño’s subtle effervescence lifted the smokiness of the fish, and made the peanuts so much more. In fact, I plan soon to pair boiled peanuts with some Martín Códax.

We lingered over the fried rice dish. Sunday progressed, it grew dark outside, and the flavors pleased us. (I must add the note that the ample cilantro leaves served atop the dish, while a perfect and necessary touch, would have been much more satisfying had they been de-stemmed. And more basil leaves, please.)

I’m not sure how long it will be on the menu, and while I know that if you make a trip to State of Grace with it on your mind you can’t call ordering it serendipity, I can confidently say that you will find it wholly satisfying.

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