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The Sacred Ritual of Oxheart's Pizza Monday

Karen Man, center, enjoys the results of her labors
Karen Man, center, enjoys the results of her labors

Scenes from Pizza Monday[Gary Wise/flickr]

Much has been written recently about Oxheart, mostly by Houston Chronicle critic Alison Cook, who named it her top restaurant in Houston and awarded it four stars in this week's review. From chef Justin Yu's obsessive attention to detail, to pastry chef Karen Man's baking to sommelier Justin Vann's ability to devise a wine list, almost no aspect of the three month old restaurant has gone unexamined. With so much attention being paid to what they feed their guests, Eater provides you with a look at what they feed themselves.

Inspired by the time they spent staging at In de Wulf in Belgium and Restaurant Relæ in Copenhagen, Mann and Yu resolved to serve staff meals they would actually want to eat themselves. They found their opinion validated during a staff trip to see the movie Jiro: Dreams of Sushi, where Jiro offered his opinion that one cannot cook good food unless one consumes good food. They maintain a friendly staff meal rivalry with Relæ through twitter, with each restaurant sending pictures of their latest efforts to one up the other. Serving a carefully prepared meal helps Yu and Man show how much they appreciate their team, and it gives everyone the feeling of solidarity that comes with sharing a meal.

Man makes the pizza based on techniques she learned while working at Thomas Keller's Bouchon. They're topped with whatever is leftover from preparing the restaurants other dishes; this week, that means long, thin slices of zucchini, smoked cheese and pickled cucumbers.

Although themes such as "Slider Saturday" and "Curry Thursday" have come and gone, "Pizza Monday" has remained a constant. It gives the staff something to look forward to as they prepare for their last service of the week before a two day break. Also, there's usually wine or beer, since Vann uses Mondays to teach his colleagues about whichever wine he has recently added to the restaurant's list. This week was special, as Duff Distributing sales representative Kyle White shared a beer he had brought back from a recent trip to Belgium.

White's presence marks another unusual aspect of Pizza Monday, which is that people who are friends with the restaurant's staff are invited to join in. This week's guests included bartender Justin Burrow, who hosts the popular Tuesday night $7 cocktail special at Fitzgerald's.

Man complains that she "can't taste the sourdough cause there's so much shit on the pizza," but no one else seems to mind. The table is mostly silent except for Yu guiding the staff through the night's reservations and what they'll need to do to prepare. Pretty soon, someone collects the dishes and everyone gets back to work. They've got 31 covers coming, and there's no pizza left to feed them.

· Justin Yu and Oxheart Look Forward, Not Back [29-95]
· No. 1 Oxheart [29-95]
· An Early Taste of Oxheart [29-95]
· The Trouble with Restaurant Wine Lists [29-95]

Oxheart Restaurant

1302 Nance Street, Houston, TX 77002 832-830-8592

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