This week we're excited to introduce another guest blogger. Dr. Tom Nguyen is an active member of the Woodlands Area Foodies group, and one of the most knowledgable foodies I've met in years. He's constantly on the move trying new and different places, and he recently visited one of Houston's most written-about restaurants, Oxheart. Here's Tom's take on this media darling:
Finally had the chance to check out the hottest restaurant in Houston. Hailed by everybody from the local press to New York Times, wanted to check out the talents of Chef Justin Yu.
|Oxheart. (Photo: Kent Wang)
Located discreetly in gentrified EaDo (east downtown), Oxheart is in the building where Latin Bites used to be. Look for a place with 2 wooden doors at a corner. Walking in felt like walking into somebody's small loft, no formal host/hostess, but one of the waitstaff running around will greet and seat you. Definitely a casual atmosphere.
We get seated at the kitchen counter where all the action's at. Decor is pretty cozy, again, like you're in somebody's loft rather than a restaurant. First thing I notice, cats everywhere. Chinese lucky cats (Maneki-Neko) to be exact. At the counter, there are drawers near where you sit which contains utensils and napkins. You are expected to get these yourself.
Menu consists of a tasting menu, a seasonal menu (meat) and a garden menu (no meat). Food is locally sourced from wagyu in Wallis near Eagle Lake to veggies from Atkinson Farms in Spring. We order all 3 menus.
Details of the dishes follow. (Photos by Tom Nguyen)
Heirloom carrots cooked in onion bouillon with raw/caramelized carrots, carrot top fritters, speckled trout lettuce. The fritters and carrots in onion were good. Everything else so-so. The pile of green paint in the middle tasted like paint.
Winter citrus (I think oranges) in soy milk/bitter almond custard, fennel, and aloe. This tastes like tofu with ginger syrup dim sum, pretty good.
Radishes poached in whey, kyo-na zuke (pickled/salted collared greens), chrysanthemum leaf, homemade butter. Reminds me of tabouli. Tastes terrible without that butter
Flaxseed bread with homemade butter.
Mesquite-smoked Gulf Cobia with red savoy cabbage, and a roll of mustards and pickles. Good dish. The mustard/pickle rolls are similar to the ones I've had at Fukuda for their shabu shabu.
Layers of scarlet damsel and harukei turnips on top of kombu (kelp) served with farm egg. Terrible dish.
Charred zamboni raabs wrapped in kohlrabi with elephant garlic emulsion and cured gulf blue runner. Translation: Chinese broccoli wrapped in a string made of turnips with a garlic dip. As pathetic as this dish looks, this was incredibly good and one of my few faves here.
Wagyu sirloin, beef sausage, beets, and offal sauce. The sirloin was not tender, terrible. Sausage was meh, lacking in flavor. The burnt beets were good, like bacon. The ketchup made of organ meats was kinda weird. Made this dish look bloodier than it should've been.
Stew of fermented vegetables, fermented kale, crispy braised kale, and horseradish dumplings. It's like a cross between a fermented vegetable stew I can get readily at Xiong's on Bellaire and the kale from Olive Garden's Toscana soup. I couldn't finish this dish.
Homemade butterfingers. Picture a slightly saltier Butterfingers. There were 2 other desserts before this, but my wife was angry about me taking pics since nobody else in the restaurant was doing this. Mine was a honey cake with honey-soaked carrots...soooo good! Wife and kid had chocolate mousse, Olive oil ganache, and pickles. They loved it, I hated it, felt like I was eating a bowl of Cocoa Puffs except
I wasn't going cuckoo over it.
In general, I was not too impressed with the plating of the dishes. Wasn't bad, but I was expecting a more whimsical take on plating like at Pass&Provisions.
Many of the dishes were reminiscent of common Asian dishes. The raab was nothing more than Chinese broccoli. The kale soup had fermented vegetables commonly used in many Chinese and Vietnamese soups. The soy/almond custard was not too far removed from the tofu/ginger syrup snack found at many dim sum restaurants.
The menu is heavily focused on vegetables which can be a problem if you're a carnivore like myself.
With all the fanfare of the restaurant, had a hard time whether to consider it fine dining? If it's to be considered as such, I would've expected the service to be on par with The Pass, Triniti, or Mark's as opposed to say Dolce Vita for instance.
The price of the menu is very reasonable. Food wasn't bad at all, but wasn't blown away. While Oxheart is putting Houston on the national map for American dining, I don't see what all the buzz and hype is about. Pass&Provisions has a much better repertoire IMO.
My wife's assessment: glorified Souper Salad. Ouch...
Oxheart | 1302 Nance Street, Houston 77002 | 832-830-9592 | oxhearthouston.com
Tom Nguyen grew up in SW Houston and currently resides in Conroe. He's been eating escargots since he was 2. He describes himself as the typical Asian who photographs everything he eats and proclaims it to the Woodlands Area Foodies. He's also a BBQ snob who's been known to carry Corkscrew BBQ brisket in his pocket, and a pho nazi, Tom also likes to walk around with his shirt off, and hates balut.