The man himself: There's good stuff behind the counter.
Houston Restaurant Weeks is under way, and diners have been busy studying the menus and scheduling their reservations for the five-week event. I’ve written about a few restaurants taking part in the charitable cause already — Ginger & Fork, Amalfi Ristorante Italiano & Bar, and Sud Italia — and I’m working on several more, so stay tuned. The action ends on September 4, which leaves you plenty of time to choose your tables.
The Houston Food Bank does a great job feeding the hungry through the event, and your patronage helps, so keep eating.
Meanwhile, there’s nothing wrong with ordering from non-Houston Restaurant Weeks menus, and I want to share some dishes that should be on your radar screen now. Some of them are new (one was put on the menu a few days ago), and some are delicious standbys that will hopefully never be 86’ed. I’ll call them my Dream Team.
Note: A few of these are specials and are not available daily, so call ahead to avoid disappointment.
First up, Himalaya Restaurant‘s brisket sliders. Yes, this is one of those “specials,” and it’s not always on Kaiser Lashkari’s menu. He features these wonderfully moist buns filled with slightly spicy brisket at lunch — Himalaya is BYOB, so plan ahead and eat three sliders and some palak paneer and live well.
Carpaccio di Pomodoro is next on the list. This jewel of a plate was added to the menu at Tony’s a few days ago, and the bold and graceful complexity of flavors and textures here is outstanding. The first bite delivers tomato in a grand way — underrated acidity, slices so thin they seem to melt on the tongue. There’s tomato gelée in the mix, which provides a silky and sensual mouthfeel, and chopped Wagyu, cool and rich and supple.
Pair a glass of Cos “Rami” with this dish, and your time will be well spent.
I’m going pasta now, a Sardinian dish that’s on the menu as Tonno e Bottarga. You’ll find this deceptively simple item at Arcodoro Ristorante Italiano, and if you’re looking for flavor, proper use of ingredients, and something evincing great cooking technique, this is for you.
The ahi tuna is seared to point and plated with red onions, arugula, celery, cannellini beans, and, the crowning touch, bottarga, that briny and umami-filled roe from, on this dish, gray mullet. Olive oil and salt complete the mix. (Note: This item is on Arcodoro’s Restaurant Weeks menu.)
While you’re at Arcodoro, ask for the owner, Efisio Farris (he and his wife — and co-owner of the restaurant — Lori, are accommodating, gracious hosts). Order a glass of the Efix, a Prosecco he produces, and let him give you a primer on the cuisine(s) of Sardinia. You’ll be fascinated.
How about tacos now? Chorizo and sweetbread tacos, to be exact. My place is Gerardo’s, a family-owned establishment on Patton Street that’s been in business for 40 years. Go early, stand in line at the counter, and see what’s on offer. The corn tortillas are exemplary, the barbacoa among the best I’ve had, and the hospitality is as good as you’ll get anywhere. (Click here for a piece I wrote about Gerardo’s last year.)
Finally — and there’s a lot more great food out there, but space and time intrude — go to Riel and ask for the corn gnocchi. Cotija fondue, warm and rich, and corn gnocchi that are crisp on the outside and luxuriously warm and soft on the inside. There’s lime and espelette, and some micro greens.
The first “full” spoonful of this dish, one containing the cheese fondue and the corn and the gnocchi and the espelette, will be, I predict, one of the best things you’ve had in a good while. The flavors mingle, deepen, pop, linger. The micro greens add a singing brightness, the corn a hearty depth. Aesthetically, it’s a beautiful dish, and your palate will sense that in more than a few ways.