After two separate farewell dinners this month, Les Sauvages has come to an end. What was originally a 3 dinner gig, quickly turned into many more, as Houston embraced Justin Basye’s concept.
Both farewell dinners were enticing, but we decided on the second. Chefs listed were Chris Shepherd of Underbelly, Ryan Hildebrand of Triniti Restaurant, Monica Pope of t’afia, Chris Leung of Conat Restaurant, Peter Jahnke, and Ryan Lachaine. The super secret surprise chef helping out was Jonathan Jones of Beavers & Xuco Xicana.
Not the least bit shocking was sitting down at the second farewell dinner this week to see a menu exploding with pork products. After all, the previous dinner with Foreign & Domestic, specifically titled “shellfish,” was far from mainly seafood. This is all a no-brainer, right? False. For some terrifically ridiculous reason, not so much.
The best part of the start was learning seats were not assigned. The whole just take a seat, any seat, situation felt grand. After sitting closest to the window, as to achieve excellent lighting, a striking sommelier became one with our table. After opening the first bottle of wine, he efficiently placed the other just off to the side in a nifty nook filled with ice.
This gift we call amuse bouche arrived nestled snug as a bug in a half cracked egg shell. Frightening is the lightest term in which to use. Terrifying tops the list after staring at this shell for almost 2 minutes.
Having been paralyzed in the very seat in which I sat, I didn’t hear the actual ingredients. This moment is comparable to slowly going in & out of consciousness while being locked inside a chicken coop on a dairy farm in Iowa.
Reality soon arrived, quickly forcing me to realize that every person in the room had followed direct orders from the chef himself, upon hearing him announce: “Knock it back!”
Okey dokey, chef. I’ll get right on that. I will, just as soon as I speed dial my therapist to see if she will, just this once, make a restaurant visit to t’afia before course 4.
Rainbows & sunshine arrived after realizing the only scariness present has been produced through egg shell presentation. This kinda sweet slash salty chilled soup has fennel & turmeric with lemon on top, as well as a little bit of salmon roe. This is the mystery of the amuse bouche. While utensils are not needed, one must pick up the egg shell and shoot. All is right in the world again.
Moving right along…
Annnnndddddddd the next dish, in which not to be eaten, is the smoked corn & bacon purée, jumbo lump crab meat, English pea & shoots, tomato prawn, pimms butter, and candied corn.
Bacon removal is not an option when the bacon we speak of is that of a… purée. This ingredient we call bacon purée is just not coming out. It is there forever. Look people, this is not like finding a smidgeon of foie gras on a baked lobster & Wellfleet oyster.
This exact moment is when I knew it was time to just… zip it. Slowly just be a body present in the room with absolutely no special requests or obnoxious comments about how sad it is to hate eating carcass while existing on Earth.
A spirit lifter of sorts is the soft scrambled egg with uni, sweet-onion miso, roasted squash, and tempura, which were delivered by none other than Justin Basye himself. Frightened to speak, mustering up a mini smile would have to suffice.
The next course arrived like that of the always unpleasant… sucker punch. Fall alliums with pork trotter & pistachio gribiche. Pork Trotter? Wow. Really? Positive? Okay. Based on the knowledge that this is not a menu typo, there is no alternative than to pick up the nearest iPhone and Google… “Pork Trotter.”
Google professes the definition of pork trotter is not, I repeat, NOT pork having a status of trotting, galloping, or even a mini pig canter. For it is not a pig prancing around the farm, only to stop for a quick mud sip or light bite at the nearest trough. No. Google is positive the precise definition of a pork trotter is none other than the lower part of the pig’s foreleg. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!
Looking on the bright side of things, which all should pretend to do at least once in October, happy thoughts of a vocabulary increase now exist in the area pertaining to pig words. New words learned just this month are: pig powder, pig purée, pork foam, cough, and the ever so exciting… pork trotter.
Relieving to see, as a tank of oxygen after being strapped to the Titanic, is the risotto arrival. The chef described learning this recipe after spending time in London last year.
After preparing risotto, raw scallops are placed on top, which slightly cook themselves by the time they reach the table. On this dish, the scallops were smoked with volcanic salt placed over the top. A Spanish apple cider is also used, which is not sweet, rather sour.
Chris Shepherd said he doesn’t really want to do the whole pretty food thing. He just wants the food he makes to be… good. That’s right. He described this creation as being his take on a small Korean dish. Cuttlefish with rice cakes, sesame & rice powder, and… pork sausage. Yes. He said pork sausage. No. I’m not kidding.
Monica Pope sashayed out & about after giving a cooking class upstairs. She ever so kindly handed out a sample of her red curry paste, which plainly states on the label that this is a pantry essential having the ability to make cooking at home… easy. Please & thank you.
Monica began speaking of a question someone asked her recently on a culinary tour, “So, what’s the next trend you’re interested in?” She explained that what really excites her is the work, effort, challenge, and most importantly the passion behind the ingredient.
Monica Pope’s dish of the evening is lamb cheek with star anise & crispy brussel sprouts, which are local. She prepared a raw sprout salad as well.
Oh wow, really? I get to eat again?!! YES! Hail to the dessert king, Chris Leung, for his chocolate cremeux with popcorn, apple, celery, and lemon was as creative & delicious as always.
For the rest of pop up dinner eternity, preparation steps have now been set. Humans having a difference in pork opinion need not fret. Simply inquiring as to whether carcass ingredient replacement is an obtainable task is the proper precaution for those avoiding mental pig anguish or the always upsetting post traumatic pork disorder.
Any time chefs are given an outlet for creative freedom, it’s an experience to be appreciated. While ranting about Wilbur, respecting their talent has never been absent. Curtsy & hail to the chefs, even if a pig is placed upon thy plate.
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