Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Real Underbelly in Houston

This week in Houston I went back to the 2013 James Beard

Chef Chris a Very Good Host
Kitchen Theater @ Underbelly
Semifinalist list
and found Underbelly in Houston.  I recommend going to the website to get a feel of the restaurant and it's menu, there is no hype it is all matter of fact and true to the word.  Chris Shepherd has a passion for food at it's origin and has a respect for the process of creative food preparation, he calls it the New American Creole.  I had the pleasure of meeting Chris and it was cool to hear this bear of a man talk about the origin and the preparation and the process of cooking it for each nights menu.  The restaurant is a comfort food palace designed to bring people together and share plates of awesome food family style.  The ambiance is great it is very open and each table is a witness to the preparation of the food.  The Manager Trey Weaver was able to grab us a table on a very busy night and behind the scenes arranged a visit with the Chef Chris.  Our hostess Emily was very helpful in helping us navigate the menu even thoughthe 3 of us were able to hone in on several items that looked great.  The menu is rotated on a daily basis depending on the type of protein Chef wants to focus on and the availability of locally grow vegetables and herbs.  It is divided into 2 or 3 main proteins served Family Style to feed 2 or 3 people and a list of 12- 15 small family shared creations.
Colorful Roasted Beets

Perfectly Cooked Shrimp

I was with colleagues Andy and Dave who had flown in for a meeting and were brave enough to follow me to Underbelly.  I would venture to say that both of them were very glad they made the visit.  We started with the Roasted Beets that were accompanied by Preserved Strawberry Puree, Goat Cheese and candied Pecans.  The greatness of the dish was in the colors and earthy taste combined with the sweetness of the Strawberries.  As you can see in all the pictures Chef adds slivers of raw Radish's,  Turnips and Parsnips to enhance the flavor and increase the color.  We then went with the Seared Shrimp bowl with Wheat Berry, Quail Egg, Artichoke Hearts, Radish and Turnip slices.  The Shrimp were cooked perfectly plump and full of moisture this plate was not prepared to pop in your mouth but more to sooth your taste buds.

Pork Belly with Roasted Peaches
I have never passed up Pork Belly and I was not going to pass it up this night.  I have gone to several restaurants lately where they combine Pork with Roasted Peaches this I find is the perfect combination of sweet and savory in a sinful dish, this is just greeat comfort food.  Next up were the Gyro Meatballs with Tzatziki pretty much what you would expect taste wise in a deconstructed serving. 
Lamb Pastrami
Gyrom Meatballs
This really Melts in your Mouth
When we met Chris our Ex Pat Brit colleague peppered Chris with his desire for a Steak and Brussels Sprouts.  As Andy was pontificating Chris was telling him that he had us covered and that he did with the next two dishes.  The first was Lamb Pastrami, the only way to describe this is to describe each component I tasted, smokey, briney, sour slices of exquisite meat.  The second Meat dish was a Waygu Flat Iron Steak served Medium Rare the beef was from a local ranch specially raised to provide the perfect amount of fat and beef.  You always hear of Beef melting in your mouth and up until this point I had never had this taste reach my palette.... It was perfect!! 

Tender Dumplings with Heat
Our last dinner serving was a Korean Braised Goat and Dumplings.  The Dumplings were made from fresh ground rice and had a nice airy feel to the palette.  There was a lot of heat to this dish it was created with a paste called Gochujang it was a great way to end dinner.
As Good as it Looks
Did I say end dinner I was wrong my two colleagues tried 2 great deserts Deconstructed Carrot Cake and a Fresh Strawberry Empanada.  What was amazing with the carrot cake was that each component was great by itself my favorite memory of the carrot cake were the Pecans had been candied with Carrot and Honey.  The Empanada was a deep fried Fresh Strawberry Pastry with Rice Flavored Ice Cream. 
I was glad I went to Underbelly the food was great and the hospitality was excellent.