Thursday, December 18, 2014

60 Degrees Mastercrafted – Pretense does not live here!

How disappointing is it when you arrive at a new restaurant and find that the atmosphere is far too pretentious? Unfortunately, I believe this is all too often the norm when we seek a fine dining experience. After all haute cuisine often goes hand in hand with haute atmosphere. The antithesis of this phenomenon is quite noticeable upon crossing the threshold into Austrian born Certified Master Chef Fritz Gitschner’s 60 Degrees Mastercrafted. 

The staff at 60 Degrees Mastercrafted are ever so hospitable, passionate and committed to making your dining experience something extraordinary.
This beautiful painting graces one of the walls as you enter the restaurant. 
The comfortable decor is modern Texana and it is obvious that great attention has been paid to every detail. This kind of inviting atmosphere does not create itself and even though the classically trained chef, doesn't classify his "ranch to table" outpost as fine dining, 60 Degrees delivers on every level, from ambiance to food.  Chef Fritz’s pedigree is quite impressive. Only 65 individuals hold the title of Certified Master Chef in the U.S. and Chef Fritz is one of them. 

With a menu that encompasses Chicken Schnitzel, Honey Brined Duck Breast, Gulf Seafood Cioppino along with several  treatments of Akaushi beef, my dining companion and fellow foodie Lavada Golden Varner and I quickly realized that one visit would clearly not be enough to get a complete taste of this restaurant. However, we did our best to sample what we could on this trip. 
Pork Belly grilled asian braised, satay sauce, kimchi vegetable slaw, lotus chips
We embarked on our culinary journey across Chef Fritz's menu with a tasting of several starters. I'd already had the pleasure of sampling the Tejas Chili, which has made its way onto my 'what I might want to have as a last meal" list. The tender Akaushi beef chunks melt in your mouth. Akashi beef in chili you ask? This is the only type of beef served at 60 Degrees Mastercrafted. 
Faux Dove grilled akaushi bacon wrapped chicken breast, stuffed with jack cheese and jalapenos, prickly pear barbecue sauce
Though I'm not usually a big fan, the glorification of pork belly continues across the dining scene in Houston. That being said, the pork belly here was impeccable. The asian treatment is truly inspirational and the satay sauce was a perfect accompaniment to the lean pork, all making for a perfect bite. 

The "Faux Dove" is another "do not miss". This bacon wrapped chicken breast stuffed with jack cheese and jalapeño, served with a smear of tasty thick barbecue sauce is nothing if not completely comforting. 

A couple of lighter starters also made their way on to our table. The Seafood Campenchana, bursting with fresh from the sea shrimp and lump crabmeat, delivered a clean bright taste.  

Salmon Sampler Smoked salmon, salmon pastrami, pickled red onion, capers, eggs, pretzel sticks

The Salmon Sampler was also noticeably fresh. Both the smoked, and pastrami salmon delivered on flavor along with a firm texture. The accompanying pickled onion, capers, and mild sauce played well with both types of salmon. 

A sampling of the starter menu might just be the best way to experience 60 Degrees being that there is a plethora of small and medium plates from which to choose. 
Our server Robert prepares to carve the main course - Cowboy Steak 30 oz, bone-in rib eye. 
Lavada and I however were "in it to win it", so we braved forward and ordered the Cowboy Steak for two, a 30 ounce bone in rib eye steak served with a chili corn sauce and avocado relish. 
Accoutrements for the Cowboy Steak 
The beef was juicy and melt in your mouth tender and would have stood well on it's own, however Chef Fritz being classically trained as he is, delivered three more sauces including a Bordelaise sauce, a Bernaise sauce and a melted butter steak sauce. 
Mixed Vegetables
Fork smashed potatoes with crispy onions
Let's not forget the side dishes. The fresh vegetables literally tasted as if they had just been harvested for our table and were well seasoned with fresh herbs. The fork mashed potatoes topped with shoestring fried onions were creamy and buttery. 

Slice of Heaven Cake
Finally, we tasted two desserts. The Slice of heaven cake, a recipe from Chef Fritz's mother has earned it's name for a reason. The angel food cake, meringue and homemade strawberry preserves with whipped cream and basil chips all come together as if to envelop your tastebuds in a creamy dream. 

Milk chocolate Hazelnut Crunch Mousse
And finally the Milk Chocolate Hazelnut Crunch Mousse  topped with a thick chocolate ganache and perfectly segmented Tahitian vanilla glazed orange supremes packed a wonderful and unexpected crunch that was so good, I made a mental note to find out whether I could order this as  as a full sized dessert for my birthday. 

By the end of our meal Lavada and I had to be wheeled to our cars by the cheerful staff and accommodating valets. Chef Fritz has quickly ascended the ranks in my book of most famous Austrians. 

60 Degrees Mastercrafted is a restaurant that leaves you wanting more. More of what you've already discovered is fabulous and the insatiable desire to try what you've not had yet. In the words of another famous Austrian... "I'll be back". 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Turkey with a twist that will make you beg for more!

Kiran Verma's Tandoori Turkey

Last weekend I had the privilege of appearing on The Cleverley Radio Show in Houston again and it was really a magical show. We had Chef Kiran Verma with us as a judge for a cranberry throw down and she brought with her one of the most amazing roasted turkeys I have ever had. Even though most of us don't have tandoors in our homes, Chef Kiran maintains the recipe is easily adaptable to a home oven. 

Since I can not attend what sounds like an amazing Thanksgiving dinner at Kiran's  I plan on imploring Chef Kiran to make this delicious turkey a "holiday special". Meanwhile, she has been gracious enough to share the recipe with me and I am in turn passing it along for the betterment of humanity. Reach out and let me know if you attempt this recipe! 

All the best and Happy Thanksgiving! 

From Kiran Verma, chef/owner of Kiran's. This recipe calls for a 12- to 14-pound free-range turkey.


5 quarts of water
1cup coarse salt
4 bay leaves*
2 tablespoons whole coriander seeds*
1 tablespoon dried juniper berries*
2 tablespoon whole black peppercorns*
1 tablespoon fennel seeds*
1 teaspoon black or brown mustard seeds
1 bottle chardonnay (if it's not drinkable, it's not for cooking)
*toast these ingredients in a dry hot skillet and add to the brine mixture

Tandoori Turkey Marinade

2 pounds sour cream
4 cups Greek yogurt
2½ ounces garam masala*
8 ounces chopped garlic
4 ounces sliced garlic
4 ounces chopped ginger
3 ounces Serrano pepper, minced
2 cups lemon juice
2½ ounces fenugreek
¹⁄8 cup paprika
¹⁄8 cup chili powder
3 ounces kosher salt
*All spices can be found at Indian markets

Filling for turkey

2 medium red onions, chopped
20 cloves peeled garlic
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 whole poblano peppers
2 cinnamon sticks
4 black cardamom pods
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
2 whole carrots, sliced
4 sprigs sage
4 sprigs thyme
4 bay leaves
1 stick unsalted butter


½ pound unsalted butter
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 cups chopped red onion
¼ cup white wine
¼ cup Cognac
½ cup heavy cream

Instructions: Brine the turkey for 8-10 hours in the refrigerator using a brining bag and ingredients listed above for brining. Remove turkey from brine and pat dry with paper towel. Discard brining solution.

For the marinade: Puree all marinade ingredients in blender, and pour marinade into roasting bag. Add the turkey and turn it in the bag to coat with marinade. Tie the bag, and arrange the turkey with the breast side down in a large heavy roasting pan. Refrigerate this overnight. Take the turkey out of the marinade, stuff the cavity with filling ingredients, and place back into the roasting bag. Let the turkey stand in the bag at room temperature for a couple of hours.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Turn the turkey breast side up, and create steam holes in the roasting bag. Roast turkey for 40 minutes at 400 degrees.

Reduce the heat to 375 degrees and roast until the thermometer reads 160 degrees.

Be sure to insert thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh. Reduce heat further to 300 degrees, and cook for 2 hours.

Take the turkey out of the oven, and cut the bag open. Be careful about steam and juices as they will be very hot. After removing the bag, put the turkey back in the oven for about 20 minutes at 375 degrees until the breast is deeply browned.

Take the turkey out of the oven and transfer it to a platter. Let it rest for half an hour. While the turkey is resting, strain the juices into a large sauce pan, and spoon the fat from the surface.

Simmer this over medium heat, until the sauce is reduced to about 4 cups. This should take about 15 minutes. Set aside.

Gravy: In a large heavy-duty sauté pan, melt the butter and sauté the onions until they are lightly browned. Sprinkle in the flour, and cook until browned. Add the cognac and wine, and cook for a couple of minutes. Then add your strained juices from the turkey that you had previously reduced into a sauce and set aside. After a couple of minutes, add the cream and cook through until warm.

By the way Cleverley just happened to win the cranberry throw down!  I just thought I'd include her recipe here as well! 

Cleverley's Raw Cranberry Crush

1 12 oz. bag of fresh cranberries, rinsed
1 cup sugar (or more to taste)
1 whole navel orange, chopped, pits removed
2 Fuji apples, peeled, chopped, core removed
1Bosc pear, peeled, chopped, core removed
Lemon zest from 1/2 lemon
Fresh ginger zest, pinch, peeled removed
3 slices pickled jalapeno
Cumin powder, scant pinch
Salt, scant pinch
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier or Cointreau, (to taste)
Garnish: Fresh cilantro

1. I prefer to buy organic produce when available. Thoroughly wash all produce. I like to use a commercial vegetable wash solution (available in grocery stores) to make sure that produce is clean.

2. Chop cranberries, orange, apples, pear and jalapeños together in a food processor. You may have to do this in batches. Make it as chunky or as smooth as you like. You use the whole orange (including the peel). You do not use apple or pear peels.

3. Place mixture in large glass or ceramic bowl. Add sugar and mix well with wooden spoon.

3. Zest 1/2 a lemon and a pinch of peeled raw ginger into mixture and stir.

4. Add scant pinch of cumin and stir. Be very careful not to add too much cumin as it can overpower very easily. Taste mixture. Add more cumin if necessary, but be careful.

5. Add scant pinch of salt. Stir. Again, add very little salt. Taste mixture. If you add too much cumin or salt, just grind up and add more cranberries, oranges, apples, pears until it tastes right.

6. Add Grand Marnier or Cointreau to taste. This ingredient may be omitted if you wish.

7. Sauce is finished. Sauce is best if refrigerated overnight before serving. To serve, garnish with fresh cilantro.

8. This sauce can also be used as a roasting glaze on ham, pork loin, chicken, etc.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

A casual birthday celebration goes wrong at Pondicheri in Houston, TX

Where to take a special relative for a belated birthday celebration on a Sunday night? Answer: Wherever she chooses! Hence we dined at Pondicheri as it is located near the office of my dear cousin Marilyn Vilandos who is a very hard working Houston attorney with little spare time. Although I would have preferred a more upscale setting, I acquiesced since Pondicheri offers “table service” at dinner. I am not one to highlight negative dining experiences, for the most part I try not to say anything at all until I give the restaurant a second chance. Truth be told I've been to Pondicheri thrice before and it's been acceptable, although never stellar.  

Tell tale signs were in abundance as our dining experience got underway. Owner Anita Jaisinghani was at the front of the house as we entered. It is usually reassuring to see an owner on the premises, but Ms. Jaisinghani was not up to playing the role of hospitable restaurant owner. There was no sign of acknowledgement, greeting or even a smile from her on this particular evening. I found this a bit disappointing.

Our server seemed very blasé about our encounter as he mumbled the one special of the evening. Upon quickly delivering our hot Chai, I had to flag him down for a form of sweetener, as there was none on the table. There were no spoons in the utensil holder that I believe should only have a place on the table during breakfast or lunch when table service is not offered. 

We ordered papdi chaat and saag paneer samosas as starters. The chaat was average at best, but the samosas were a real disappointment, as the dough was not cooked through. It was literally elastic and raw on the inside as I cut through it. 

Rancher Thali
For dinner I ordered the “Rancher” thali with butter chicken, sayel lamb, smoked eggplant, kachumber, tumeric rice and naan bread. I also ordered paratha with yogurt and pickle.

There was a ridiculous lack of chicken and lamb on my thali, all told I would estimate it did not surpass 2-3 ounces, the sauce on the butter chicken was passable but the sayel lamb was quite watery. The smoked eggplant, kachumber, rice and naan were acceptable. The purpose of a thali is to experience multiple dishes but as you can see from my one photo of the evening, the portions are severely anemic. As a bonus there was a thimble of something resembling rice pudding, I refrain from calling it Kheer, because it was gelatinous and hard, as if it had been sitting on a refrigerator shelf for a long long time. The paratha was apparently made of potato, although there was no mention of potato on the menu. 

Marilyn chose an unremarkable dosa filled with eggplant and keema. Needless to say, we did not stay for dessert. It is disappointing when a special evening is impacted by poor service and inferior food. 

Coconut Cream Pie
Luckily we made the best of it by laughing it off and going to Del Frisco’s Grille for dessert where we ordered the most sublime coconut cream pie! The portion size should be outlawed and is large enough to feed at least three. It just goes to prove that all you really need to make an evening a success is good company! 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Get to Tony’s before Houston Restaurant Weeks come to a close September 1st!

Beautiful table settings are still de rigueur at Tony's
I had the opportunity to visit Tony’s during Houston Restaurant Weeks (HRW) and it was one of the best dining decisions I’ve made during the month of August.

The kitchen in full swing on a Wednesday night!
It had been a long time since I’d been to Tony’s and my experience validated every memory I have tucked away from my childhood and adult life. This iconic Houston landmark was the first place my uncle Artie wanted to dine when he’d come visit from New York for good reason. Tony Vallone had the best Houston had to offer and he still does. Vallone has made a very smart decision naming Kate McClean the first female executive chef of Tony’s. Chef Kate keeps the kitchen in good order while turning out amazing plates.

The HRW menu allows diners to have the full Tony’s experience down to your own personal soufflé. It’s worth every penny of the $8 supplement. But I’m getting ahead of myself!

I started with Pansoti, squash filled pasta, with a Parmesan puff, and sage essence. The pasta, sauce, and filling were sublime.

Roasted Hudson Valley Duckling
For my main course I chose the roasted Hudson Valley Duckling with Oregon bing cherries, almonds, and venetian black rice. The duck was well executed, if only slightly overdone for my taste, but the sauce more than made up for any shortcomings as did the inventive venetian black rice.
Speckled Trout
One of my dining companions ordered the seared speckled trout with stone ground Sicilian blood orange emulsion. This entrée was absolutely flawless.
For dessert I had a berry crostata, with a praline ice cream. A different take on a classic crostata, but an absolute success as the tart berries provided a welcomed contrast to the ice cream and sweet crumb topping.
Tuxedo Cake
As luck would have it, there was soufflé at my table as well as Tony’s eponymous chocolate tuxedo cake. Suffice it to say, that there were several good reasons to share around our table.
Chocolate Souffle  
It’s great when HRW reminds you of what is great about our great city of Houston. Mr. Vallone, it won’t be as long before I return and  you can make sure Chef Kate has a lot do with my sentiment.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Houston Restaurant Weeks Brunch at Brennan’s!

If you’re having a hard time choosing a brunch spot as you peruse the Houston Restaurant Weeks (HRW) web site, you really don’t have to go past the B’s!  I visited Brennan’s last weekend and was blown away by the noteworthy HRW brunch menu which is offered on both Saturday and Sunday.

Brennan's HRW Brunch Menu
It’s hard to believe Chef Danny Trace and staff can manage such a great value and still make a $4.00 contribution to the Houston Food Bank on behalf of every brunch guest.

Shrimp Remoulade
The menu includes Brennan’s famed turtle soup as a first course, as well as a portion of Shrimp Remoulade ($3.00 up charge) large enough to be an entrée on it’s own.
Eggs Benedict

Speaking of entrées, it is hard to pass up the classic Eggs Benedict, however tempting the Texas Pecan Crusted Catfish and Chicken Creole may sound. There is something for everyone, with the Creole Ratatouille Tart rounding out the selections.

Brunch with Friends 

Brennan’s has always been the epitome of fine dining in Houston. The elegant main dining room with its high back chairs makes you feel like you could stay here for a very long time. Attention is paid to even the smallest detail and such commitment does not go unnoticed.

Let's the games begin!

When it came time for dessert, our server Greg, whipped up one of the best Banana’s Fosters I have ever had, all prepared tableside with great finesse. I swore I was only going to eat a couple of bites, but the perfectly caramelized bananas and velvety ice cream got the better of me.

It takes talent

How cinnamon sparks when introduced to flames! 

Banana's Foster

It’s quite impressive how Brennan’s can offer such a complete dining experience for just $25.00 during HRW. On Sunday you get all this and a wandering Jazz band too! And as luck would have it there are five weekends in August 2014, giving us only more opportunity to "dine out and do good"!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

An Evening at Caracol

I had the opportunity to experience the Houston Restaurant Weeks (HRW) menu at Caracol restaurant last week. While Caracol is clearly a hip, cutting edge, destination eatery, a certain sincerity comes across from the staff that I have to believe emanates from owners Tracy Vaught and acclaimed Chef Hugo Ortega. Each of the couple’s hugely successful restaurants (Prego, Backstreet Café, Hugo’s, and Caracol) are participating in Houston Restaurant Weeks, and I see that as a humble nod towards the city of Houston.

There is no doubt that the staff here takes your dining experience quite seriously. What makes Caracol so endearing during a time that can be considered a dining renaissance in Houston, is how well looked after they make you feel as the kitchen turns out consistent, high quality food.
Campechana Estilo

It is obvious that a lot of thought has gone into the four prix fixe menus created especially for Houston Restaurant Weeks. The menus include “Vegetarian, Ocean Lover, On Dry Land, and Our Style,” options, each designed to be a unique dining experience.
Ceviche de Caracol

I uncharacteristically chose the “Ocean Lover” option. Through a delightful mix up, I was presented with Campechana Estilo instead of Gazpacho Rojo as my “amuse”. This presented no problem for me even though my next course was Cerviche de Caracol. Both of these dishes involve well turned out cold seafood components but the difference really stops there.  
Pescado Alcaparrado a la Plancha

Striped bass took center stage as my main course, in a tomatillo-caper sauce with crispy shallots. The fish was cooked medium with a skin that was perfectly crisp and hard to resist.

Piña Rostizada

Rum roasted pineapple, with coconut ice cream perched atop a pistachio cake followed for dessert. The pistachio cake was a bit lackluster but hardly noticeable as the pineapple and coconut ice cream were superb. 

Noteworthy dishes from the "Our Style" menu included mussels and a crispy roasted duck leg. 
Mejilones en Verde
Pato en Pipian Rojo

Take the opportunity to dine at Caracol during HRW. The restaurant donates $7 for every dinner ordered from the HRW menu which means The Houston Food Bank can provide 21 meals to Houston's hungry population. 

Friday, August 8, 2014

Table on Post Oak does HRW proud!

If you’ve been reading my new blog, you know how passionate I am about Houston Restaurant Weeks and what a great organization it benefits! With over 200 restaurants to choose from, it makes it hard to decide where to dine. This week I lunched at the recently opened Table on Post Oak.
Table on Post Oak Menu
Executive Chef Manuel Pucha has managed to put together a great menu all the way around, but his THREE course lunch stands out amongst the crowd.

Becky Eckerman, aka Princess Kate (as in Middleton)
My former Deloitte colleague, Becky Eckerman, aka Princess Kate (as in Middleton) and I had a hard time deviating from the same menu choices until it came to dessert.

Beet and Goat Cheese Salad
We both started with a beautifully plated Beet and Goat Cheese Salad. The balance of flavors and textures was interesting and very pleasing all the way around. The creaminess of the herb crusted goat cheese along with the crunch of the pistachios and sweetness of the golden beets was blissful.
Short Rib Tortellini
Neither of us could resist the Short Rib Tortellini. While the pasta was a bit on the lesser done side of al dente, the dish was reminiscent of the best of fall and summer rolled into one. A textural triumph, the hearty beef flavors successfully came together with the bright fresh summer vegetables.

Berry Frangipane

It’s not often you can use the word whimsical to describe food, but the Berry Frangipane was just that. The artful presentation made this dessert a feast for the eyes. The small pastry squares packed a delightful almond flavor while the tiny meringues, and small pools of raspberry sauce and lemon thyme anglaise floated on the plate emulating a Salvador Dali painting. 

Alas, I could not get a picture of the Peach Parfait, due to circumstances beyond by control. The glass vessel it was served in came smeared with the luscious ice cream within, making it impossible to photograph. Such are the hazards of blogging about food, the kitchen doesn't always know to have each dish photo ready.  HOWEVER, this was one of the best deserts I've had during HRW. (It's going to be hard to beat Del Frisco's Double Eagle's Lemon Doberge cake.) The poached peach, melba sauce and crunchy almond streusel married quite well with the vanilla ice cream. 

Drop me a comment if you are able to experience Table during HRW, I'd enjoy comparing notes! 

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House does Houston Restaurant Weeks Right!

I had the pleasure of dining at Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House with several Houston Foodie Friends last night as Houston Restaurant Weeks (HRW) kicked off.

While the setting may be considered grand, the staff at Del Frisco’s made our dining experience quite personal because of their close attention to detail. Executive chef Steve Haug did an outstanding job and the kitchen rose to the occasion as the restaurant heaved with people.
VIP Martini 

I started with a VIP martini made with house infused pineapple Vodka. This drink is delicious, deceivingly smooth, and easy to drink. It’s also specially priced in honor of HRW.

Del Frisco’s has put together a solid HRW menu with a good range of choices. Fresh veggies and crisp tortilla strips gave the roasted poblano bisque a nice crunch. I’d love to see this soup added to the regular menu. 

Tempura Fried Lobster Tail

The lobster tempura was beautifully presented fried with the shell, unfortunately my picture does not do it justice. The lobster was tender and the batter was infused with flavor, thus making both dipping sauces superfluous. If I had to pick a favorite sauce, it would have to be the sweet chili. The accompanying Asian slaw had great taste and packed a spicy punch. I only wished that it could have been served a bit colder. A possible fix might be placing it in a chilled shallow bowl on it’s own then nestling it onto the artistic rectangular serving plate with the lobster.

The lemon Doberge cake is NOT to be missed. This little slice of heaven was baked fresh and was as light as feather. My apologies for not providing a picture, but it went that fast!

To those that dismiss Del Frisco’s out of hand as just another chain steak house located in a mall – I can understand your concern, but you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t try this restaurant. The quality food and personalized service make for a very satisfying and intimate dining experience.

Remember to “dine out and do good” if you’re in Houston during the month of August. HRW gives the public a chance to try Houston’s top restaurants at a great price point, while benefiting The Houston Food Bank. So get out there and eat for charity! 

Houston Restaurant Weeks is in full swing!

It’s the time of year in Houston, when everyone from professed foodies to those who have a casual interest in expanding their restaurant repertoire have the opportunity to “eat out and do good”! Houston Restaurant Weeks (HRW) 2014 kicked off yesterday and runs through September 1st.

Visit to choose from over 200 participating restaurants. Make sure to let the restaurant know you would like to order from the HRW menu when you make your reservations and again when you arrive to dine.

HRW is the largest annual fundraiser benefitting the largest food bank in America. Volunteers do all the work so 100% of the funds go directly to the Houston Food Bank. Each dollar raised creates THREE meals that go towards feeding those in need. Learn all the details about how the program works in the “about us" section of the website.   

HRW was established in 2003 by Cleverly Stone, host of “the Cleverley Show,” a food talk radio program on CBS Sports Radio 650/KIKK-AM Houston, and a 6 ½ year food segment contributor to Houston’s Fox 26 Morning News. Thank you Cleverley for all that you do to help feed hungry families in Houston!