Instead of writing about a restaurant in the five boroughs, New York Times critic Pete Wells visited Houston restaurants Oxheart and Underbelly for this week's review. Calling Houston "one of the country's most exciting places to eat," Wells lauds Oxheart for "taking part in a worldwide conversation about cooking and fine dining" and Underbelly for its "intent on finding the world in its own home." If nothing else, hopefully the write-up means the end of all that "nobody appreciates Houston" whining that pops up from time to time. Below, a few more thoughts from Wells.
On Oxheart's location:
We were a few minutes early, and Oxheart has no space for a lounge, so we were sent to the front porch. We stood next to trash bags full of mesquite and a covered compost bin. Three or four servers, each friendlier than the last, came out to take our drink orders and check on us while we watched people passing by who may have been bound for the tattoo parlor, a recording studio or a bar where the door is always closed (knock twice to get in).
On Oxheart's wine list:
Brand-name Champagnes and waiting-list cabernets? They aren't important. Beaujolais, vin jaune and sparkling wines from the Loire? They are, and Oxheart has them all.
On Oxheart's food:
At Oxheart the night I visited, there were two brassica courses, starting with a salad of sliced raw chard and kale leaves with pickled chard stems and a dressing of mint and basil oil with the juice of, yes, more chard. In the center, looking like a poached egg white, was a spoonful of tart goat-milk whey. It was one of the most inventive and delicious salads I have had recently .... Every course of my meal showed an instinct for the delicious that is rare in any city. Encountering it, even in a restaurant as often praised as Oxheart, is always a discovery.
On Underbelly's food:
Much more exciting was an ode to the Deep South, cornmeal-crusted chicken livers with lettuce and thinly sliced radishes in a terrific, spicy Thousand Island dressing. And I loved some of Underbelly's "non-fancy desserts," like a tender half-moon fried strawberry pie and a wedge of vinegar pie, a relic of a recipe from an age when lemons weren't sold year-round.
On Underbelly's philosophy:
Not all of Mr. Shepherd's cooking coincides with how outsiders see Houston. He isn't fixated on enchiladas and steaks. But his tributes to the city's more recently arrived Asian populations were among the most memorable things I ate at Underbelly.