100 Favorite Dishes 2013-2014: No. 11, Grilled Fish Masala at Himalaya Restaurant

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Photo by Kaitlin Steinberg
Grilled Fish Masala at Himalaya should come with a warning: VERY HOT.
This year, leading up to our annual Menu of Menus® issue, Kaitlin Steinberg counts down her 100 favorite dishes as she eats her way through Houston. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most awesome, most creative and, of course, most delicious in town. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that seem particularly indicative of the ever-changing Houston foodscape.

My motto with Indian food is generally "the hotter, the better." I can't get enough of the stuff that makes my eyes water and sweat bead up on my forehead. So it was with great pleasure that I recently discovered a dish at Himalaya that incorporates two of my favorite things: seafood and sauce so hot even I need an extra glass of water.

The dish is called Grilled Fish Masala, which sounds innocuous enough. The description on the menu, like many descriptions at Himalaya, tells you very little about what's in the dish: "Two large pieces of fresh American tilapia fillets grilled with Indian spices and topped with our special seafood tomato sauce. Served with sautéed onions and tomatoes."

Ah, of course, Indian spices. Special seafood sauce. You pretty much just have to order things and see what you get. Fortunately, I can almost guarantee that anything will be wonderful. In this case, the fish masala exceeded expectations.

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100 Favorite Dishes 2013-2014: No. 12, Curry Noodle Soup at Mamak Malaysian

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Photo by Kaitlin Steinberg
The curry noodle soup at Mamak is far more complex than the name suggests.
This year, leading up to our annual Menu of Menus® issue, Kaitlin Steinberg counts down her 100 favorite dishes as she eats her way through Houston. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most awesome, most creative and, of course, most delicious in town. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that seem particularly indicative of the ever-changing Houston foodscape.

The menu at Mamak Malaysian Restaurant is absolutely sprawling. Unless you have a clear idea of what you want to eat when you arrive, it can be difficult to navigate, which is why I was glad to have a tour guide when I reviewed the place back in December. My friend sat down and got straight to ordering a number of Mamak's greatest hits, including a dish that is now my go-to entrée when I dine at the Malaysian restaurant: Curry Noodle Soup.

The name really doesn't tell you much, which is why I'm glad someone else told me to order it. I probably wouldn't have, on my own, chosen something so innocuous sounding as curry noodle soup at a restaurant that also served fried pig intestines. But though it sounds simple, the soup is deceptively complex.


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100 Favorite Dishes 2013-2014: No. 13, Foie Gras au Torchon at Étoile

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Photo by Troy Fields
The best foie gras in Houston is at Étoile Cuisine et Bar.
This year, leading up to our annual Menu of Menus® issue, Kaitlin Steinberg counts down her 100 favorite dishes as she eats her way through Houston. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most awesome, most creative and, of course, most delicious in town. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that seem particularly indicative of the ever-changing Houston foodscape.

Meat butter. That's the way I've often heard foie gras described. It's almost gamey, but delicate at the same time, and when rolled into a torchon and cooked in a double boiler, the fatty duck or goose liver can be spread onto toast much like butter.

Unlike a hunk of pan-seared foie gras, which sort of melts and oozes onto a plate, a torchon is served cold and is therefore much more solid. At Étoile, chef Philippe Verpiand makes the torchon himself, trimming, seasoning, wrapping, simmering then compressing and chilling the fatty liver into an incredible dish using techniques he learned in France.

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100 Favorite Dishes 2013-2014: No. 14, Caramelized Pork Spare Ribs at Cafe TH

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Photos by Kaitlin Steinberg
Tender, sweet caramelized pork is a special dish at Cafe TH.
This year, leading up to our annual Menu of Menus® issue, Kaitlin Steinberg counts down her 100 favorite dishes as she eats her way through Houston. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most awesome, most creative and, of course, most delicious in town. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that seem particularly indicative of the ever-changing Houston foodscape.

"I've been saving that for the Anvil guys," chef Minh Nguyen of Cafe TH told me when I asked him for more details about the hauntingly delicious caramelized pork dish he'd served me earlier that day. Generally, I stick to bánh mì or pho at Vietnamese restaurants, but when I let Nguyen choose lunch for me, the results were even better.

"I don't always have it," Nguyen continued, resisting after I told him I wanted to write about the off-menu item. "I have it for dinners, and I do eat it often enough for me and my staff to have enough for additional people, I guess..."

Sorry, Anvil fellas. Cat's out of the bag. Cafe TH has an amazing caramelized pork spare rib platter with baby bok choy and jasmine rice, and I think everyone needs to try it.

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100 Favorite Dishes 2013-2014: No. 15, Kobe Beef at Nara

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Photo courtesy Nara
Where's the beef, Nara?! I need it!
This year, leading up to our annual Menu of Menus® issue, Kaitlin Steinberg counts down her 100 favorite dishes as she eats her way through Houston. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most awesome, most creative and, of course, most delicious in town. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that seem particularly indicative of the ever-changing Houston foodscape.

There is one dish that sticks out in my mind from my meals at Nara, the new-ish upscale Korean restaurant in West Ave from chef Donald Chang: The kobe beef.

I ate it nearly two months ago at a media event to debut the chef's table, and since then I haven't been able to get that perfect beef out of my head. I've thought about it a lot, partially because it was so incredible--the most buttery, most tender, richest beef I've ever had the pleasure to eat--and partially because I don't know if I'll ever have the chance to eat it again.

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100 Favorite Dishes 2013-2014: No. 16, Okra with Crème Fraîche at Oxheart

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Photo by T.Tseng
Vegetables at Oxheart are treated with the utmost respect.
This year, leading up to our annual Menu of Menus® issue, Kaitlin Steinberg counts down her 100 favorite dishes as she eats her way through Houston. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most awesome, most creative and, of course, most delicious in town. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that seem particularly indicative of the ever-changing Houston foodscape.

For some reason, many people think I hated Oxheart because of an article I wrote back in October detailing my first meal there. The title was "I Finally Ate at Oxheart...And It Was Pretty Good." No dislike there whatsoever. The whole meal wasn't as earth shattering as I'd hoped it would be, but it was quite delicious. And the best parts were, of course, the vegetables.

Chef Justin Yu is known for his creative takes on vegetables, and in my meal, the vegetables truly stood out. The first course of the meal consisted of two massive spinach leaves stuffed with potatoes pureed with Thai herbs, and though it was good, the next course stole the entire show for me.

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100 Favorite Dishes 2013-2014: No. 17, Alba White Truffle Soufflé at Tony's

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Photo courtesy Tony's
A light as air but earthy and aromatic truffle soufflé.
This year, leading up to our annual Menu of Menus® issue, Kaitlin Steinberg counts down her 100 favorite dishes as she eats her way through Houston. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most awesome, most creative and, of course, most delicious in town. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that seem particularly indicative of the ever-changing Houston foodscape.

Truffles are one of those things that food writers and gourmands bring up again and again as being overused flavor enhancers that could very easily turn a dish sour. Too much of a good thing or something. I think that part of the problem is the omnipresence of truffle oil: Too often it's a chemical compound with little to no actual truffle in it. And yes, too much of that can taste like eating forest floor mixed with iodine.

But real truffles, fresh truffles, gods of the fungi kingdom -- I can never get too much of those, and Tony Vallone seems to realize there are quite a few people like me out there, because he doesn't skimp on the fungus. The Alba white truffle soufflé at Tony's is packed full of that truffle funk that makes anything truffle so delightfully alluring.

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100 Favorite Dishes 2013-2014: No. 18, Phat Ass Ham Hock at Goro & Gun

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Photo courtesy Goro & Gun
Revel in the phatness of that hock, baby.
This year, leading up to our annual Menu of Menus® issue, Kaitlin Steinberg counts down her 100 favorite dishes as she eats her way through Houston. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most awesome, most creative and, of course, most delicious in town. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that seem particularly indicative of the ever-changing Houston foodscape.

When Goro & Gun first opened, it was advertised as a ramen restaurant, and as Houston didn't have a dedicated ramen spot at the time, it was a pretty big deal. Until ramen purists got their first bowl and realized that, while the ramen ain't bad, it also ain't really ramen. Since then, many people have come to the same realization about Goro & Gun that I have: It's not a ramen restaurant.

Part of the reason I've come to love Goro & Gun in spite of its initial mislabeling is one big piece of meat--the Phat Ass Ham Hock to be more precise. It's a $14 hunk of ham with char siu crunchiness on the outside and tender, juicy meat on the inside. Chef JD Woodward gives the hock a bath in a big pot to create the ramen broth, then flash-fries the meat for an unparalleled texture.

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100 Favorite Dishes 2013-2014: No. 19, Dahi Puri at Shri Balaji Bhavan

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Photos by Kaitlin Steinberg
The dahi puri at Shri Balaji Bhavan are like delectable little jewels.
This year, leading up to our annual Menu of Menus® issue, Kaitlin Steinberg counts down her 100 favorite dishes as she eats her way through Houston. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most awesome, most creative and, of course, most delicious in town. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that seem particularly indicative of the ever-changing Houston foodscape.

I don't think I've ever met an Indian dish I didn't like. That said, a lot of curries and stews tend to run together in my mind. Ruddy, spicy chunks of meat or cheese with lentils -- north Indian cuisine involves many variations on a theme. South Indian food does, too, of course, but there's one dish that always manages to stick out in my head as truly spectacular: Dahi puri.

Dahi puri remind me of little Fabergé eggs; it's their complexity and delicate nature. They're available all over the Mahatma Gandhi district in Sharpstown, but the best I've discovered come from a little hole-in-the-wall joint in a strip center between a sari shop and a halal meat market. It's Shri Balaji Bhavan, and it's arguably the best spot for south Indian cuisine in Houston, thanks in large part to the spectacular dahi puri.

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100 Favorite Dishes 2013-2014: No. 20, Fried Catfish and Cajun Crawfish at The Cajun Stop

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Photo by Kevin Bailey for The Crawfish Stop
What's better than crawfish or catfish? Both, together.
This year, leading up to our annual Menu of Menus® issue, Kaitlin Steinberg counts down her 100 favorite dishes as she eats her way through Houston. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most awesome, most creative and, of course, most delicious in town. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that seem particularly indicative of the ever-changing Houston foodscape.

Earlier in the week, I interviewed bartender and Louisiana native Sheridan Fay about Mardi Gras drinks and her favorite traditions. She told me that though she wouldn't be able to get home for the celebrations this year, she would mark the day by indulging at The Cajun Stop.

I mentioned the owner of The Cajun Stop in the article, writing her name as Lisa "Carney."

The next day I got a special delivery from The Cajun Stop, along with a business card with the name circled: Lisa Carnley.

Carnley, not Carney, as in the creepy people who work carnivals.

I was embarrassed, and I immediately fixed the misspelling, but fortunately CarnLey had a great sense of humor about the whole thing. She wanted to make sure I never misspelled her name again, so she sent me something to help me remember. She sent over her delicious fried catfish topped with a Cajun crawfish tail cream sauce, hoping that it would have an impact on my memory.

Oh, has it ever.

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