To begin, it was a unique and worthy beef tartare. Easily the most unique I have encountered (presentation-wise), and its taste was high on my beef tartare list as well.
A large glass platter comes to the table, the various components of tartare arranged in a circle around the edge of the dish. There are red onions, capers, tenderloin (cut by hand), cornichons, whole-grain mustard, anchovy filets… and a duck egg with a soft, eye-catching yolk in the middle of it all.
David Morris, the executive chef behind this tartare, which is served at Robard’s Steakhouse, presented the dish, and, after allowing us to behold it all, mixed the whole, making sure to create the ideal consistency. The yolk was distributed well, and the tang and brininess of the anchovy evident in every bite. Morris’ tartare is one you’ll want to taste.
Robard’s is the marquee restaurant at The Woodlands Resort, a Howard Hughes Corporation property (Robard was Hughes’ middle name, and the restaurant’s interior scheme is an homage to the legendary aviator and businessman). It calls itself a steakhouse, so you’ll see plenty of beef on the menu, but you’ll also see crab and Godzilla prawns and salmon and octopus, plus a variety of salads and oysters and other shellfish.
Most diners will find plenty here to their liking, and the technique behind the dishes is laudable.
Do you like the color blue? If so, you’ll love the interiors of Robard’s, because a vibrant yet relaxing shade of the color marks the restaurant (an homage to Hughes’ Lincoln Boat Tail Speedster, a 1936 beauty that sold for at auction for $1 million in 2009). A long bar welcomes guests for cocktails, and a comfortable dining room sets the scene for serious eating.
Our repast included, among other items, scallop crudo in ponzu, Japanese Kobe Nigiri, a fig and burrata pairing, godzilla prawns from West Africa, and a dry-aged rib eye that ranks among the best I’ve had. Morris is a serious chef, and his training is evident in the dishes that emerge from the kitchen here.
You get courses plated with care, and food cooked as it should be. The crudo had a texture and flavor that made one want another serving, and the ponzu complemented (read: did not overwhelm) the soft brininess of the scallop.
Richness was up next, with the Kobe Nigiri taking center stage. Nishiki rice serves as the bed for a slice of Kobe with lush, serious marbling, Kobe topped with caviar that pops in the mouth alongside the beef’s deep decadence. Three pieces of this course are served on a rectangular platter, and the trio are ideal for a twosome (we split the third piece).
Tip: Let the meat melt in your mouth for a bit, and if you’re lucky, some of the roe will ooze their liquid, sending your palate to nirvana.
Figs and Burrata arrived, and the dish was appreciated following the richness of the Kobe — it served as a sort of palate cleanser actually, with its creaminess, acidity from the figs, and crisp toasted hazelnuts (yes, the truffle was a touch of richness, but no need to shock one’s system with depravation, and their flavor worked with the other ingredients).
We were drinking a Sauvignon Blanc, “Attitude” from Pascal Jolivet, 2015 vintage, and it was pairing well with the courses, which continued with those Godzilla prawns, a showstopper of a dish about which Morris exuded (deserved) pride. He imports them at great cost (you’ll pay $55 for the item) and prepares them simply, in my opinion the best way — a perfect foodstuff needs minimal manipulation, or, as Curnonsky wrote, “In cooking, as in all the arts, simplicity is the sign of perfection.”
Butter, garlic, a bit of basil, salt and pepper, then some parsley and lemon juice at the table: perfection indeed.
The prawns are deveined and left in the shell, with the heads on; I prefer them this way, because tender meat is then easier to attain (the head and shell help retain moisture). Don’t overcook your shrimp (or prawns). You can choose to suck the juices from the head, if you wish, always a great option to have.
Unfortunately, the meat in our prawns was a bit overcooked, a slight disappointment to an otherwise exciting and satisfying meal.
From the sea to the pasture, and on to a rib eye, which we shared, ordered medium-rare.
I like my steak bone-in, and I prefer dry-aged meat. This rib eye at Robard’s was both, and I can confidently add it to my roster of memorable steaks. First, it was seasoned with a deft touch, that simple yet magical duo of salt and pepper that seems to mystify so many cooks (or at least too many).
It was evident that both spices were applied to the steak in a proper amount as it was coming to room (kitchen) temp, because their flavors were infused in the meat. In addition, there was a nearly invisible yet oh so satisfying crust on the surface of the rib eye.
A look at the slices (and interior) of the steak was moving, and the first tastes took our minds to a place primal, earthy, and sense-satisfy. Truly a great piece of meat, prepared well.
At this point in the meal, we were drinking a Cabernet Sauvignon (Chappellet Mountain Cuvée) and a Pinot Noir (from Elk Cove), both more than suitable and compatible with the steak, which came to the table, I need to add, at the optimum temperature. I am put off when a steak is served too hot, while a lukewarm steak is as welcome as a case of the flu. This one was just right.
By this time, the dining room’s inhabitants had thinned considerably; we were among perhaps eight other lingerers. It was growing late, and the desserts containing homemade donuts and chocolate and ice cream sat before us haughtily, as if daring us to try. We did, and they were subtle and complex ways to conclude our meal, so good that we made plans to return to Robard’s and eat a more modest meal, leaving room in our bodies and minds to truly appreciate the final course.