Saturday, June 8, 2013

ROC: Houston's (2nd Review) - Fine American Simplicity

After many times of wanting to eat foods that diverge from the stereotypical American palate consisting of "meat and potatoes"; as snooty at that sounds, it made me want to go back to my roots in order to understand why people love wholesome, American cuisine. I used to think American food was quite boring, unimaginative, only frequented by those who really didn't give a rat's ass about how food can ignite passion; basically for people who didn't want to be offended by having something unusual and different in their mouths. No doubt, I love the eloquent, complex nature of French gastronomic masterpieces from wonder chefs like Joel Robuchon and Pierre Gagnaire which made me crave anything but simple. But then again, I love original, authentic preparations of Japanese sushi which doesn't require any modern complicated techniques such as sous-vide since sushi only requires the highest quality of ingredients and the refinement of the sushi chef's preparation. Its simplicity actually ignites complex sensory reactions. This very unique aspect of sushi sparked my interest in going to establishments that serve traditional American fare such as Houston's.

As I've said in my previous post of Houston's, they have a small, simple menu. However, they do it extremely well as they're able to make sure that they get ingredients of fine quality and serve it to you at an affordable price. Even though it's initially intimidating as you walk in through the door with their smart, classy decor; dim lighting and being surrounded by the extremely well-off patrons that frequent there; the hostess, servers and even the customer base are actually quite friendly and approachable. Because of how delicious the food is at Houston's, people want to go there in order to have an unpretentious, non-frivolous meal.

Where do I start? The dish that makes me keep coming back to Houston's is their Roasted Prime Rib.
This aged beauty is served on the bone, seasoned with the right amount of salt and pepper and accompanied by au jus and horseradish sauces. Served rare and as bloody as it is, it brings carnivorous excitement and pleasure once you chew into a savory piece before complementing it with the two sauces. Even if you're one of those people that believe a drop of sauce completely drowns out the flavors of the meat, the prime rib is still very delicious as the quality of the aged meat along with it being rightly seasoned gives it its impact. With the heaviness of the prime rib, along with having it during lunch as Houston's unfortunately does not offer its delicious Colcannon Mashed Potatoes at that time of the day, I went with their Tabbouleh with corn that serves as a refreshing counterbalance. Regardless of it being quite lighter with its herbs and lemon juice, the salad itself makes a bold stand next to the prime rib.

If you want beef other than the prime rib, Houston's offer steaks such as their Center-Cut Fillet of Beef Tenderloin. Simply grilled, seasoned, and topped off with what I assume was olive oil; this will appease the appetite of any steak lover. I had them cook it black and blue as I was in the mood for a steak in that masculine, under appreciated manner of meat preparation. Some might wonder if they'll get sick eating beef raw like that. However, I can assure you that I was totally fine afterwards as I can imagine that quality establishments like Houston's and high-end steakhouses buy high quality meats and store them in very proper refrigeration. Accompanying the fillet was their Maple-Glazed Carrots which also contained peas as well. They had the right amount of sweetness without it being overpowering as it complemented well with the vegetables. In addition, I enjoyed the dish with a nice glass of extremely peaty, smoky Laphroiag 10 yr Single-Malt Scotch which its peaty flavor is a unique character for such single malts from Islay. The peat and smoke of the Scotch went hand in hand with both the tenderloin and the carrots.

If you're not in the mood for red meat, Houston's also offers amazing fish as well such as their Loup de Mer (European Seabass). It had been under my radar for quite some time but I finally got around to ordering it and am glad for doing so. This delicate fish is grilled over hardwood and served with a generous heap of Marcona almonds and herbs such as parsley. The Loup de Mare was delicious as it was prepared with the right amount of seasonings and lemon juice while bringing out the flavors of the fish. In addition, the large amount of almonds and herbs complemented the fish well without their flavors overpowering it. As it was during dinner time, I had immediately ordered the dish with their Colcannon Mashed Potatoes (mashed potatoes mixed with cabbage). Topped with once again had assumed was olive oil and chopped parsley, this is a must order side that will complement well with almost any dish served at Houston's. However, midway through eating the fish while I was massively enjoying it along with my senses being dulled by the Lapthroaig 10 yr and a Manhattan made with Knob Creek Bourbon (I had mentioned in my previous Houston's post that their Manhattans are amazing), I had started to notice that there was too much char on the skin side of the fish which overpowered the flavors. With the fish being delicious and as it was engraved onto my psyche at a young age to clean my plate, I still finished the dish even though the server had told me that he was more than willing to get me another one if I hadn't done so. Be that as it may, I understand that it was one of those unfortunate, rare mishaps that I just had to push off so that it wouldn't ruin my future expectations of and visits to the restaurant.

If I could dine at Houston's weekly, I definitely would so without hesitation. Albeit being a chain, don't let that discourage you from trying out this fine American establishment as Houston's is one of the exceptions against the mediocrity of most chains in America. In addition to Houston's chain status, I want to tell you also not to put down their simple menu options like I had done in the past before dining here for the first time. Like I had mentioned previously, it's because of their limited menu options that Houston's can focus on serving you some of the finest dishes without sacrificing quality. Restaurants with too much on their menus will have much more upkeep and would not be as well capable of serving you a great dish versus restaurants with more simpler menus.

Link to my other blog, A Concierge for the Fellow Man, for an insight in regards to bringing a date:
Houston's - Irvine, CA: An Extremely Versatle Date Spot

Update 12/1/2013: Houston's now offers their Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes made with entirely out of Atlantic Blue Crab (no filler, except mayo as a binder) served with a mustard remoulade. Although I hear it is served standard on their menu at Gulfstream in Newport Beach, this is a seasonal offering at the Irvine Houston's. Not only are the crab cakes beautifully seasoned and cooked, the crab cakes are rich and loaded with flavor as the cake was asymptotically composed 100% of Atlantic Blue Crab. The tang from the mustard remoulade served as a nice counterbalance. The crab cakes may look small but they were actually a good size, especially considering the richness of the crab itself. Because of this, I kind of regret ordering the Colcannon Mashed Potatoes (don't get me wrong, I still love them) as I should have ordered the Tabbouleh instead as a refreshing side in order to counter the richness of the crab. The cherry tomato garnish served to be a palate cleanser, however. Be that as it may, the jumbo lump crab cakes are amazing and one of my favorite dishes I've had at Houston's as so far, this has been the best crab cake main entree I've ever had. Once again, be sure to try it at some point as this is a seasonal dish at this location.

Houston's on Urbanspoon

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