Friday, April 24, 2015

Oxheart - A much anticipated experience leaves me wondering

There are times when great reviews coupled with an intense national buzz about a local restaurant makes us want to run out and see what all the excitement is about right in our own back yards. Of course it's never easy to actually get a table at such avant-garde eateries. And this my foodie friends is what spurred my acute interest in dining at Oxheart Restaurant in Houston's warehouse district. Chef Justin Yu has cooked in Chicago, Napa, Denmark, as well as Belgium but returned to Houston last year to open Oxheart. 

I found the building and interior, stark, retro and modern all at once – an inviting setting where the food can take center stage. I read that the menu was seasonal and that it changes more often that seasonally to showcase locally sourced ingredients. I joined a group of 5 friends who were all eager to try Oxheart. (6 is the largest party the restaurant can accommodate at one table.) We booked about a month in advance, which allowed for a good amount of anticipation to build. I checked the menu weekly to witness for myself how it might change over time, but it stayed exactly the same. 

There are two tasting menus to choose from, one of which is vegetarian. Both consist of six courses. You may also opt for a drinks pairing menu to accompany your meal. 
Dried beets soaked in tangerine juice, with kaffir lime, shiso, and mandarin peel 
Our first course was the dried beets soaked in tangerine juice, with kaffir lime, shiso and mandarin peel. It was evident that a great deal of thought and labor went into this plate, but in the end it didn't make an impression. I just don't see how some thinly sliced pickled beats draped over a few tangerine segments would taste much different. 

Slowly roasted and charred sunchokes brushed with honey, jasmine tea and salted cream
My favorite dish of the night came next, the slowly roasted and charred sunchokes brushed with honey, jasmine the and salted cream really were impressive. The texture and caramelization of sunchokes was outstanding. Combined with the sauces on the plate the taste was memorable and left me wanting more. 
Black Spanish radishes and a sofrito of dried shellfish, with steamed gulf crawfish and fragrant herbs 
Next up was the Black Spanish radishes and a sofrito of dried shellfish, with steamed gulf crawfish and fragrant herbs. Once again, it was evident that a lot of time went into this elaborate dish. But many of my fellow diners were left wondering whether it was worth it.  
Stew of preserved allium and 'indica' rice, with charred scallions
The fourth course was quite complex in its simplicity. My first reaction to the stew of preserved allium and 'indica' rice, with charred scallions was that again too much time was spent on something unremarkable but as I took in a second spoonful the flavors began to build and I thoroughly enjoyed my portion. 
Lightly smoked wild boar, with pork thailande, fermented mustards, and kohlrabi 
The final savory course was the lightly smoked wild boar with pork thailande, fermented mustards, and kohlrabi. The presentation was impressive however, I did not need to know that the wild boar was trapped in West Texas and that it had been fed a strict diet of acorns for the last 6 weeks of its life. The dish itself was adequate. However, I believe this dual treatment of pork missed the mark. 
Carrot mousse glazed in Greenway coffee, with sable breton and citrus
The dessert course was quite petite and pleasing to the eye. Great care was once again clearly employed in creating the small carrot mousse glazed in Greenway coffee, with sable breton and citrus. Unfortunately, the flavor was even less than subtle. 

Overall the meal fell quite short of my expectations. My adventurous dining companions resoundingly shared my sentiment. Which leads me back to how the anticipation built over time would have been hard to live up to. I must say that the service at Oxheart is beyond reproach. The staff is courteous, respectful and very knowledgeable and that is something to be very thankful for when it is such a rarity these days. 

Would I go back? Probably not for a long time and only if the seasonal menu piqued my interest. 

Fresh Ricotta - There is no substitute!

Fresh Ricotta
I recently set out on a quest to source fresh ricotta cheese in Houston, I am sad to report I was unsuccessful. I wanted the type of ricotta that you can get when you walk into any Italian market in New York, New Jersey or Philadelphia. The type of market I profoundly wish would open in Houston. I found prepackaged whole milk ricotta in local stores which would have worked, but I was really seeking an exceptional quality ricotta. I have not yet been to Houston Dairymaids, where I have been told I might find fresh ricotta. Instead I decided to make a bold culinary move (bold for me) and research how to make ricotta at home. I was pleasantly surprised as to how easy the process appeared. So, I began experimenting and what you see here is the result.

The active time involved is basically the amount of time it takes to measure 4 ingredients and bring them to a boil. I highly encourage you to try your hand at creating this creamy delight. I believe you will be very glad you did and I venture to say you'll never buy ricotta at the grocery store again.  


  • 4 cups whole milk 
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar


Bring milk, cream, and salt to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat. Add vinegar and stir gently until mixture starts to curdle. Let stand 4 minutes.

Pour mixture into a fine-mesh sieve lined with 2-3 layers of cheesecloth set over a medium bowl. Let stand for at least 25 minutes. The longer it strains the thicker the cheese will become, I find that 1-2 hours will yield a very firm texture. 

Cover and chill cheese in the refrigerator until ready to use.