Monday, March 24, 2008

Mission: Burrito Part 1

The first full day in town found me eager to attack the craving for the ancient foods for which I had been longing for eons. I heard, through critics and friends, that a place near the Galleria Mall had phenomenal and memorable food. Armed with the advice from this month's food and wine, I attacked the restaurant. Luling City Market, located on Richmond, was founded by people who had patronized the City Market in the town of Luling, and were interested in blessing the unknowing people of Houston with the self sustaining gift of brisket. I ordered a 1/4 lb ea of brisket and pork ribs, and a small potato salad. An important tip I took from the reviews I read relayed the importance of going around lunch to ensure freshness of the food, as the restaurant gets most business then and keeps the barbecue in steam dishes after lunch, giving the food a soggy texture. On the way home, I grabbed some donut holes from my favorite donut shop, Shipley’s, and a 6 pack of Tecate (sorry Food and Wine, no Shiner to be found).

3 hours later, my friends found me unconscious on the floor with greasy face and fingers, a half finished beer spilled at my side and the look of sheer Nirvanian bliss on my face.

Ok, that didn't really happen. But another oz of brisket, and it would be very plausible.

I laid everything out on my kitchen counter top-the brisket and ribs served on butcher’s paper with a side of
Mrs. Baird’s bread. I grabbed a knife and fork, cracked open a cerveza, and dug in. The ribs were crunchy on the outside, and though very flavorful, not fulfilling. I really don't have a strong taste for pork anymore, so it takes a more elaborate concoction to please me, but I will say they were juicy and bursting with pure meat flavor - exactly what you want from a good piece of off the spit barbecue. I tried everything with a taste of the Luling brand bbq sauce, which for what I can tell is vinegar based with ketchup, yellow mustard and black pepper. The potato salad was exactly what I wanted - not too heavy or too pickly, no onions, but red peppers and enough black pepper to give it a small flavor and spice outside of the normal mayo taste.

The brisket FLOORED me. Brisket is a term used commonly for beef or veal meat taken from the breast or lower chest of the animal. It is generally a tougher cut, and gains much of its flavor from the fat usually left attached to the cut. Texas brisket is
dry rubbed with spices, then cooked slowly over low wood heat for several hours. Though Texas is home to several histories of barbecue creations, this style was specifically attributed to the Anglo ranchers in West Texas. The two slices looked shiny, almost too moist. The fat gave the meat a juiciness characteristic of a well pit roasted brisket. My knife sliced through it with no resistance, indicating the softness that a brisket should have to be just right. And the taste - beef, a little pepper, and mesquite smoke! How I have longed for you, o smoke flavor, to caress my food, envelop my taste buds, and bequeath my dishes with your essence. The explosion of flavor and satisfaction emanating from my mouth travelled through every nerve in my body, culminating in the indisputably articulate reaction of "...damn". I felt instantly vindicated, as a Catholic after confession. The sins of my New York betrayals had been forgiven and forgotten once I gave myself to the taste of this Texan ambrosia. How dare other people try to pass their horrendous creations as true barbecue? I began taking offense to all the culinaries who attempt to transplant this art to a place which neither has the proper equipment, nor the palettes to appreciate its dynamic flavor.

After plowing through this culturally redeeming meal, I discovered new uses for old personal favorites. The entire time I was washing down this meal with Tecate, a Mexican beer started in 1944, when Alberto Aldrete bought a building in Tecate, Mexico, and began producing beer. After the baptismal of barbecue was concluded, I recessed with a dessert of Shipley’s donut holes – the absolute perfect ending to a huge meal of barbecue. The texture of the donuts were just soft enough to compare to the buttery silk goodness of the brisket, but sweet enough to wash the palette of all the grease. And finally as the crowning glory, Shipley’s pairs perfectly with Tecate. Now, most aficionados will tell you, for heavy beef or pork bbq, go strong, tannic, full bodied red to cut the fatty taste and pair oak / tannins to char, but the wine community has always touted that "if it grows together, it goes together", recommending that grapes and wines that are grown in the same regions as certain foods will probably pair best with said foods, so as the history and present of Mexico and Texas continue to commingle, I would imagine that a little bit of brisket, Shipley’s and Tecate would pass this test, A+.

-The UE

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept It

I am a Texan. Period. No debate, fuss or lack of cowboy hat will make it otherwise. As a Texan, there are certain things towards which I will always have strong affinity - rodeos, bull riding, Pat Green, the Southside (fade, dance and side of town), Polo, speakers in my trunk, lifted trucks...the list could go on forever.

But I have recently realized that the last few years in NY have saddled me with the
weight of compromise. The disgusting and disturbing lack of options has forced me to ignore my innate needs for well seasoned beef slow roasted over hickory wood, delectably diverse renditions of traditional dishes like potato salad, or hell, even a Shiner Bock! I was forced to hand in the most important and defining aspects of my Texan Citizenship - barbecue and nachos.

Appalling as it sounds, I only recently realized this atrocity while in the pursuit of personal progress and finer cuisine. It began with a reminiscing of a time long ago, back when I lived on a quiet street and drove to school in my own car. I was hit by the epiphany that for years, I had been settling for sauce drenched brisket and wings because these Yankees were either ignorant of what true Texan bbq was, or tried too hard to create an "authentic" experience, failing miserably, and leaving a wake of heartbroken southerners distraught, dragging behind them their forks and steak knives.

So when I was granted the opportunity to return to my homeland for a few days, I charged myself with a mission – to reclaim my lost Texan, no matter what the cost. I did a small bit of reading, and a large bit of reminiscing to properly plan and prepare for the perfect places to patronize and satiate my desire for true Texan flavor. With a more academic understanding of the history and techniques of my favorite Texan foods, I approached each day with a renewed vigor and revitalized spirit to appreciate all I had taken for granted growing up in the pine trees. My Mission: Burrito

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-The UE

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Friday, March 7, 2008

Tastefully Done, Again

I was recently the recipient of a most thoughtful and satisfying charitable gift – an RSVP to a hyper-exclusive, 50 person list tasting party hosted by UrbanDaddy at a local high brow spa. Though this was not done with my knowledge, I was thankful that my benefactor knew me well enough to sponsor me, and grateful in every sense that I was even considered for inclusion in this avant-garde group. The event featured wine from Tribeca Grill, a menu sampling from Mai House, and the highlight – a tasting of two well aged scotches from the well respected Macallan brand. I learned a fair bit about wine and scotch that day, and finally understood the dynamics of a nose/ palette/ finish analysis of a spirit.

The wine samplings, which were found in the first station upon entry, included a very aromatic red Cotes Du Rhone, and a very satisfying and kicky Shiraz. I found that alone, they were powerful and memorable, particularly for their complexity and full body textures, but neither paired very well with the spicy foods served from Mai House (spicy food tends to assault the palette, making the tongue less prone to appreciating the complexities of more layered wines), which would have been more optimally paired with either a more simple wine (like a Pinot Grigio) or a sweeter wine (like a Riesling) to help cool and contrast. Since we didn’t know the menu ahead of time, I didn’t pick the right wines.

The food was a crab based spring roll, seasoned with black pepper and stuffed with assorted fresh vegetables, and a beef salad with pineapples and a mango chipotle sauce that left the mouth with a slow burn. To be honest, neither was very impressive, but Vietnamese food has always been a bit simple, grassy and bland for my tastes.

The Macallan was the headliner for my evening. As soon as I discovered the presence of it on the menu, I immediately did some research on the scotch genre and the Macallan. Scotch is born of barley, after the barely is forced into germination to increase the yeast yield. It is further refined into wort, which is then added to casks previously used to age and ferment other liquors to bestow their flavor, tannins and color to the mixture, thus bearing scotch whisky.

The Macallans I was privileged enough to sample were the
Fine Oak 21 and the Sherry 18. The Sherry 18 was aged for 18 years in oak casks previously used to blend and ferment sherry. Consequently, the scotch, although good in its own right, was single flavored and very simple to understand. The Fine Oak 21, which I have seen at list prices upwards of $250, was created by combining the scotches aged in an American sherry cask, a European sherry cask, and an American bourbon cask in equal parts. The result – a flavorful, complex spirit, full of berries on the nose and a woody, smoky flavor on the finish. The bourbon gives it the unique taste which contrasts sharply with the immediately noticeable nose of fruit, attributable to the sherry.

Understand, scotch is a hard liquor, fiery on the throat and not easily appreciated by the novice drinker. But once you have acquired the taste and can identify differences in flavors, pour yourself a glass of a fine liquor and sip very, very slowly. Take time to understand and interpret the tastes stimulating your tongue, and identify the undertones that make certain brands vastly more expensive than your run of the mill spirits. Research the brands, how they are made, and even take a few minutes to read tasting notes. There is no shame in embarking on a journey with a guide map. Patience is the key to appreciating any good food, but particularly with spirits.

And, as always,
drink responsibly.

-The UE

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