Friday, April 10, 2009

My Favorite Meal in Houston ...

I’ve made a decision. The most consistently fabulous “upscale” meal in this city is at Mockingbird Bistro. I realize this is a bold statement but I’ve thought about it for awhile and then had a truly splendid “Chef’s Tasting” there last night ($65 without wine pairings, $95 with). The new spring menu has only been available for the last two weeks and I always enjoy the seasonal changes Chef John Sheely imparts into his creations. This is the restaurant I’ve taken two sets of out of town “foodie” friends to and they’ve both raved about it, even when we’ve seen them again months later. It isn’t the latest molecular gastronomy endeavor or anything trendy, and therefore I’m afraid the perception is that the food isn’t modern but I believe it is and the quality of the ingredients is consistently superb. I am so sad I forgot my camera last night - the food was as gorgeous as it was delicious.

I have friends who choose to go elsewhere because it isn’t the “see and be seen” place or because they don’t care for the décor (I do actually – love the light level, brick red walls, the medieval-vibe with the dark, carved wood). I like that it’s in a neighborhood and I like that you can hear your table’s conversation without yelling over loud music or bad acoustics (does this mean I’m getting old?!). I like the warm greeting and the excellent yet unobtrusive service and the well-wishes when we leave. Frankly, we don’t go out to eat “nice” like this very often – maybe quarterly and since I love to cook and we eat well at home, it needs to be really good if we’re going to spend $200+.

Last night we began with the Specialty Duck Farms Foie Gras foie gras – pan seared with candied kumquats/sweet corn muffin/citronette and the boyfriend substituted for the roasted beet salad - goat cheese crostini with arugula, sweet and spicy walnuts and Texas grapefruit. Both were delightful. The grapefruit added a especially wonderful element to the beet salad – incredible flavor combinations on both appetizers.

Second course was pacific sea bass – pepper dusted and roasted, provencal tomato ragout and pommes Lyonaise. The crust on the fish was extremely thin yet pronounced – the caramelization of the crust was perfect compliment to the perfectly cooked fish and the tomato ragot was divine. The potatoes were not the least bit greasy – more of a delicate roasting (than frying) of each thin slice with just a hint of onion – a great compliment to the tomato ragout and the fish.

Third course was a choice of Colorado lamb rack – roasted and focaccia crusted, olive oil smashed yukons, spring vegetable tian and minted lamb jus or duo of prime beef – roasted strip loan with Oregon wild mushrooms, slow braised short ribs with horseradish pommes puree. We chose one of each so we could share.

The lamb was amazing – gorgeous crust and the “spring vegetable tian” was sautéed spinach and I’m not sure what other greens topped with some sort of chilled tomato concoction – molded together (stacked) w/ the tomato on top. The tomato was not the least bit watery – almost like a jam (but not too sweet). It was lovely with the greens below it. The smashed yukons were perfect for soaking up the jus (love jus!). The boyfriend said it was all he could do not to lick the plate or knaw on the lamb bones but restrained himself because we were in public.

The beef was crusty, a perfect medium-rare (and very hot which I appreciate) sliced with the rich, meaty mushrooms beneath in their own reduction of some kind (balsamic?). And the short ribs – though nothing new – were some of the most tender and flavorful I’ve had and the horseradish puree was pronounced with the horseradish and again, a great resource for mopping up the reduction and the mushrooms.

After all that, there was a “tasting of chocolates” (boyfriend got his to-go because he was so stuffed but I persevered). A small but absolutely luscious warm bittersweet torte was plated next to another small bittersweet flourless cake – served chilled. I’m a true chocoholic and prefer 70%, fragrant, really bittersweet stuff – nothing too sweet - these were both fantastic.

Each course was plated beautifully. There are some amazing items on this new menu and unfortunately the website doesn’t reflect everything on the menu I took last night. Omissions from the website include the “Duck Three Ways” appetizer – sea salt cured & smoked breast, pate’ mousse and rillette with mission fig compote (dying to get back for that one) and also the “chilled English pea soup” – gulf lump crab salad and mint crème fraiche and some other really interesting sounding things. Also there is a great $9 bar menu with awesome (and filling!) choices. You just can’t beat this place IMO.


Albert said...

Great article. Now I'm hungry. I hate to admit it, but I've never tried Mockingbird; now it's on the must-try list.

Anonymous said...

The food is always wonderful, but the Chefs Snapper dish is old hat as well as the chocolate tasting, which have been on the dessert menu as separate items. This is a definite comfort food go-to for me.
The food is always fresh and well prepared even if it is uninspired at times.

Jodie said...

I respect that some people want more inventive fare or if you've been so many times that something is "old hat" but I know lots of people who've never been and I really think it is fabulous food with exceptional service compared to some of the hyped but inconsistent things happening in Houston right now so I decided to make a statement.

Morgan said...

You should join!

Dorothy said...

Anyone who finds Mockinbird Bistro "old hat" is tired of life. Great write-up, Jodie!