Eating Good in the Neighborhood

Listening to NPR on the way home last night, when this dreck came on:

Tell us how the recession is affecting the way you live.

But like a train wreck, I couldn’t change the station.  I listened as whiny hipsters called in bemoaning the fact that they have to “buy day-old bread” and that they’re considering “taking up fishing” to supplement the fact that they can “no longer afford fresh fish.”  The distaste in their voices for both of these activities was truly stunning.

It went further downhill when another caller spoke plaintively of the fact that she can no longer afford to buy fresh fruits and vegetables, and is instead living solely off frozen dinners.  Give me a MF’ing break.  If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a MILLION times: fresh produce — especially at local farmers markets — is always cheaper (and better for you!) than anything frozen, boxed or processed.  Clearly, frozen-foods caller never actually purchased fresh produce to begin with or she would know better.

And then the segment reached its nadir: A caller on the verge of tears explained that for her 21st birthday, she wanted to go somewhere nice for her birthday, but instead her family took her to Applebee’s.  Her voice cracked as she spoke of this humbling and sorrowful experience.

…what?  Excuse me?  My friend, did you ever stop to consider that your family took you to Applebee’s for dinner because you’re a whiny, spoiled bitch and they hate you?  I mean, you have the nerve to come on national radio and COMPLAIN that your family took you out to dinner for your birthday?  And because it didn’t live up to your exacting expectations, you’re going to ball them out in a public forum and act like fucking Scarlett O’Hara having to make dresses out of Tara’s ruined curtains?

Dude, I don’t like Applebee’s either.  But you’ve got a lot of nerve to bitch about being taken out to eat — especially during this terrible “recession” that everyone is buying into — when there are people literally starving to death throughout the world, people living with war and famine and unimaginable poverty, people living on the fringes of societies who have NOTHING, while you eat your Three Course Classic and the waitstaff brings you a free piece of cake.

You know what?  Shut the hell up.  All of you whiny people, just shut the hell up.

Damn.

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tenacity

My mother and I headed over to Randy’s house last night to finally experience “tenacity” for ourselves.

I think the evening can be perfectly described with Misha’s statement at the end of the night:

*taking last bite and then a long, contemplative silence*

“I have to go back to eating regular food tomorrow, dammit.”

The evening was perfect, from the come-as-you-are attitude to the endless bottles of wine to the invitation to help yourself to anything in the fridge to the absolutely phenomenal food.  If there’s one thing better than eating great food, it’s eating it with other people who appreciate it as much as you do but in a totally non-judgmental way.  Conversations were varied and amusing, people ate with their hands and no one had a single air of self-consciousness about them.  It was the ideal supper.

We were lucky to have so many fresh, organic ingredients on hand last night.  All of the herbs used came out of Randy’s own garden, and the wild hog that we feasted on for the fifth course was killed by Randy’s brother last week.  The fish were freshly caught, the fruit was from local markets and the vegetables were of the highest quality.

Now, first I have to apologize for the photos.  You all know the sob story by now.  But I’m sure that — at some point — Food In Houston and Tasty Bits will have much, much better photos up, and you can see what the food actually looked like.  Until then…

Tilefish in Ginger and Lemongrass

Canapes: tilefish marinated in ginger and soy sauce with lemongrass and basil.

 

Butter and Thyme

Bread and butter sprinkled with salt and flowering thyme.

 

Randy and Butter

Randy prepping the butter to go out on the table.

 

In Kimchee Consomme

First course:  tilefish tiradito cured in yamabuki miso and lemon verbena in a kimchee consomme with Thai chilis.  Fiery, salty, rich — tasted of the sea, in a very good way.  We ate the fish first and then greedily drank the remaining kimchee consomme from the bowl.

 

Jenny and David 

Some of last night’s guests: Jenny and David, to the right.  Jared Estes and Justin Bayse, both formerly of the ill-fated VIN, in the rear.

 

Gulf Crab and Foamed Dashi

Second course:  gulf crab, foamed dashi and garlic flowers.

 

With Smoked Vichyssoise

With the addition of smoked vichyssoise, of which Randy left an entire pitcher on the table.  A fight nearly broke out to get seconds from the pitcher…  Okay, not really.  The vichyssoise (potatoes and leeks) was so delicate and flavorful, completely unlike traditional vichyssoises which are bland and uninspired.  The smoking process completely transformed this dish.  The gulf crab and the heady dashi all blended perfectly.  This was perhaps my second favorite dish of the night.

 

Smelling the Dashi

Witness me inhaling the scent of the dashi and smoked vichyssoise.  I smelled it for a full two minutes before I finally ate it.

 

Roasted Peaches

Third course:  Roasted Gundermann’s Farm peach, red Komatsuma lettuce and a eucalyptus-lime meringue.  The liquid on the plate is a fenugreek-peach puree, with tiny fenugreek seeds scattered throughout among the cinnamon basil leaves.  Robert brought a fantastic bottle of sweet and spicy Selbach-Oster riesling that went perfectly with this sweet and spicy dish.

 

Randy Prepping

Randy prepping the next course while Megan supervises.

 

Toasted Gnocchi

Fourth course:  My favorite dish of the night.  Toasted bacalao gnocchi, trumpet royal mushrooms, pea shoots and parmesan cheese.  Technically, trout was used in place of cod in the bacalao gnocchi.  It had been salted for five days and infused the gnocchi with an altogether different flavor.  The dish was earthy, salty, savory, and deeply powerful.  The pea shoots were an ideal accompaniment to such strong flavors, with just an essence of baby pea and a light, fresh taste.

 

Randy and Sous Justin

Justin helping Randy; once a sous, always a sous?

 

Compressed Pork

Compressed pork, from the wild hog that Ronny (Randy’s brother) killed last week.  The pork was braised in Coca-Cola and Indonesian spices over several days, then put into a terrine with some added pork fat since the hog was so lean.  Although I don’t have a picture, it was our Fifth Course, toasted and served with preserved Japanese cucumber in the Aquavit style.

 

Lemon Balm Gaspacho

Sixth Course:  Frozen lemon balm gazpacho with opal basil.  The gazpacho was an infusion of sixteen different ingredients, ranging from grapes and cucumber skin to basil and vinegar.  It tasted almost buttery, and highly fragrant yet refreshing.

At this point in the night, we had a final aperitif: a moonshine-style beverage that Randy had made almost three months ago and forgotten about in a jar in a cupboard.  He called it a parfum.  Like the gazpacho, it was composed of many different ingredients, such as Meyer lemon flowers, lavender, cardamom, peppercorns, star anise and vodka.  Unlike the gazpacho, one sip could have powered a small city.  It was fiercely strong, highly herbal-smelling, cloudy and completely different from anything I’ve ever tasted.  That could have been the mantra of the night, in fact: Unlike anything I’ve ever tasted.

 

Confluence of Chefs

Randy prepping, Justin making an escape, and Jonathan Jones of Americas in The Woodlands.

 

Strawberries

Seventh course:  Strawberries in yogurt with chocolate mint and espresso grounds.  A perfectly sweet and simple way to end the night, after a tornado of other courses, all of which completely expanded your views on how ingredients interact with each other and how seemingly-opposite flavors can truly work wonders together.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; we are lucky as a city to have the likes of Randy Rucker and his merry band of renegade chefs.  They are changing the way that Houston views food, one artfully-crafted plate and one astonished person at at time.