Monday, August 24, 2009

C'Mon Haven!

This was our second dinner prepared by celebrated chef (and all-around great guy) Randy Evans at our home. We could not resist the opportunity for one more magical evening while Randy is still doing these private dinners as construction on Haven is completed. I've elaborated previously on Randy's story and of his cuisine so I won't repeat but feel free to check out that post from June. For those interesed in the mouth-watering details of our meal with Randy over the weekend, read on!
The menu was as follows:
Passed Hors d'oeuvres:
Gulf Shrimp, Pastor marinade, salsa verde
Purple Hull Pea Puree, truffle, crusty baguette
Free range deviled eggs
Soup Course:
Squash Blossom Vichyssoise
Salad Course:
Arugula, cucumber green goddess, Blue Heron feta, apple wood bacon
Meat Course:
Angus Short Ribs - butter braised baby leeks, stone ground slow cooked Anson Mills grits, texas mushroom ragout, parsley & shallot salad
Whopper Layer Cake - malted white cake, chocolate butter cream, whopper brittle

As usual, Randy's careful sourcing of ingredients provided for fresh, beautiful and blissfully recognizable Texas cuisine. He told us how he expects the menu at Haven to change every 2 weeks in order to take full advantage of the "farm to table" philosophy and provide for tremendous creativity. Randy is so excited to get into his kitchen at Haven!

The "wild-caught" shrimp were delectable with the gorgeous pastor marinade (you could really smell the fresh pineapple, lime, chipotle and other ingredients, not to mention the screaming-fresh salsa verde). Randy spoke about the even-more special shrimp that he'll be serving at the restaurant from the same folks ... a deeper-water different variety that he's excited about using.

The "purple hull pea puree" struck a sweet chord with me ... my Daddy loves purple hull peas. He used to eat them often when he was growing up on a rice farm in southern Louisiana so we also ate them whenever we could as I was growing up, and they always made my Dad really happy. Randy's version, pureed with a bit of stock and seasoning induced a lucious texture, accented so perfectly with a few drops of truffle oil, lemon zest and a shard of parmigiano on the crunchy baguette slice - it was simple and perfect.

The deviled eggs were what you wish all deviled eggs could be. Due to the freshness of the free-range eggs and their deep-colored, rich yolks, these were a special treat. We readily demolished the platter in record time.

The chilled Squash-Blossom soup was more than we ever could have imagined, in terms of both flavor and texture. It was sweet and creamy (without being overly sweet or creamy) but with tiny bursts of heat from finely-minced poblanos and then even more balance with the addition of minced fresh vegetables (corn, zucchini, squash blossoms) that were added at the end along with the bit of cream. It was utterly refreshing and something Randy had just conceived of recently. This is a great example of why we're so excited about Haven. Upon discovering the late-season squash blossoms, his imagination went to work and produced such a modern yet comforting seasonal masterpiece.

The salad was so beautiful, with arugula leaves the likes of which I've never seen, gorgeous beefstake tomatoes and goat feta from Blue Heron farms that was unlike any feta we've ever enjoyyed. Not packed in brine, it was creamier than most fetas - not at all crumbly and with a depth of tangy, rich flavor - just fantastic. Especially with the cucumber green goddess dressing (why haven't we always had strained, pureed cucumber involved in green goddess?!). It lightened and livened everything up and brought out the fresh flavors of every component in the salad.

Now for the main ... the most amazing short ribs (ever!). You would expect them to be tender and flavorful but the brilliance came from the mushroom ragout - deep, rich flavors including insanely wonderful Texas crimini mushrooms but my favorite element was the grits ... oh, those grits!! Have mercy! I'm sure it was the combination of the quality grits themselves, long and slow cooking and then the magic at the end when Randy slowly "butter-braised" the baby leeks (who knew there was such a thing) and combined those along with a bit of stock and cream ... these weren't your everyday grits (no offense, Mom). The ragout and the grits were meant to be friends on the plate ... mmmm.

Finally, the show-stopping Whopper Layer Cake (which Randy brought in his tupper-ware cake caddy - God love him). The white cake, subtly flavored with malt, had a crumb like no cake I've experienced and the frosting (made with both dark and milk chocolate from El Rey) had a light, creamy texture due to the use of corn syrup vs. confectioner's sugar and quality butter (of course). The "whopper brittle" was a revelation with its deep butterscotch-y toffee flavor and crushed whoppers ... truly my kind of candy. Randy says there will be a different layer cake each day at Haven. Somehow I'll have to get my hands on the cake plans, otherwise I'll be popping in every other day just to see if it might be Whopper Cake day (though I'm sure each and every cake would fulfill my most decadent cake fantasies). That's another endearing thing about Randy - he enjoys baking, though most chefs don't (we decided this must be because of the need to follow a recipe!).

We had the pleasure of meeting Randy's soux-chef, Kevin and the two of them make a great team, of course. Listening to Randy talk about the restaurant and all of the detail that has gone into every element of the planning makes you know with every word how much he takes all of it to heart and how Haven will truly be an expression of all that embodies both his personality and his cuisine. We're so lucky to have Randy and his vision here in Houston!

No comments: