100 Favorite Dishes 2012: No. 3, Roast Summer Squash at Oxheart

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Photos by Katharine Shilcutt
This year leading up to our annual Best of Houston® issue, we're counting down our 100 favorite dishes in Houston. This list comprises our favorite dishes from the last year, dishes that are essential to Houston's cultural landscape and/or dishes that any visitor (or resident) should try at least once.

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Oxheart specializes in the unexpected. Justin Yu and Karen Man take otherwise familiar foods and transform them into something uniquely theirs -- squash blossoms not stuffed, but made into a rich soubise sauce, okra not served in coins or covered in batter, but stood on end at attention like vegetable soldiers in a war against needlessly meat-heavy menus -- but they also specialize in introducing unfamiliar ingredients or techniques with straightforward, unpretentious cheer.

Don't know sofrito? It's that velvety, plush green sauce under your roasted potatoes that adds a sweet, earthy note to the dish. Never heard of namalaka? It's that ganache -- a Japanese version of the stuff -- in your chocolate-and-beet dessert. Wait, there were beets in that dessert? It tasted too sweet, too dense, too decadent to have vegetables in it! These are the very things that make Oxheart such a fun, adventurous place to dine, and the reason that it's been placed on every Best New Restaurant list from Alison Cook's to Bon Appétit's.

And while others have spotlighted that okra dish as an example of the best dish at the vegetable-heavy restaurant that seats only 30-odd people, my personal favorite from the stunning menu I tried in June was a simple dish of roasted summer squash with vadouvan and a squash blossom soubise.

Vadouvan is another of those on-trend ingredients that Oxheart uses to great aplomb, but never in an obnoxious way. Instead, it's combined in a way that makes sense: Here, the French-Indian spice blend -- bracing and strong with notes of sweet fenugreek, turmeric, cloves and nutmeg against smoky cumin and musky curry leaves -- is used to further enhance the rich caramel flavors that emerge when roasting a simple length of green squash, split in two like a spindly piece of firewood.

Underneath is just enough of that creamy, buttery soubise to make you crave another spoonful, amply coating each bite of oven-softened squash, making you feel a bit selfish for wanting more. The selfishness is washed away, however, by the realization that good, honest food -- local produce, bought in season, from a farmer not far from your own home or Gulf seafood from nearby fishermen or Texas meat from a friendly rancher -- can be every bit as magical and transporting as the most expensive, exotic ingredients when handled with care and keen vision.

Oxheart's food also serves as a reminder that we don't often enjoy vegetables on their own merits, instead relegating them to a side dish or covering them with cheese. Oven-roasted vegetables are some of my favorite things to eat: healthy, delicious, easy and completely accessible. Even if they're not as artfully presented as the ones you get at Oxheart, dining there is an inspiration to enjoy these simple treasures and to find more beauty in everyday life. Go home, roast a squash, be happy.

The list so far:

No. 100: Chili cheese mac at Jus' Mac
No. 99: Texas turkey sandwich at Spec's
No. 98: Custard at Petite Sweets
No. 97: Caprichos mixtos at Taqueria Monterrey Chiquito
No. 96: Pineapple-wasabi burger at Lankford Grocery
No. 95: Farmer's MKT Pizza at Phoenicia's MKT Bar
No. 94: Potatoes at Money Cat Brunch
No. 93: Breakfast tacos at Sunrise Taquito
No. 92: Hot dog at Tacos D.F.
No. 91: Avocado gelato at Frozen Cafe
No. 90: Chicken sandwich at JerryBuilt Homegrown Burgers
No. 89: Beer-battered asparagus at Hearsay
No. 88: Honey Badger omelet at Kraftsmen Cafe
No. 87: Pastelitos de carne at El Jalapeño
No. 86: Pancakes at Union Kitchen
No. 85: Wild boar and crab pizza at Boheme
No. 84: Breakfast croissant at BB Donuts
No. 83: Pretzel at Anvil Bar & Refuge
No. 82: Short rib sandwich at Shepherd Park Draught House
No. 81: Grilled shrimp po-boy at Pappadeaux
No. 80: Dahi puri at Shiv Sagar
No. 79: Aporreado at Los Corrales
No. 78: Oxtail francobolli at Aldo's Cucina Italiana
No. 77: Tonkotsu at Cafe Kubo's
No. 76: Spinach danish from Angela's Oven
No. 75: Pupusas at El Petate
No. 74: Pheasant dog at Sammy's Wild Game Grill
No. 73: X-Tudo burger at Friends Pizzeria
No. 72: Esparragos gratinados at Tintos
No. 71: Gua bao at Yummy Kitchen
No. 70: Geisha dog at Happy Endings
No. 69: Oyster po-boy and gumbo at Goode Co. Seafood
No. 68: Ceviche at Sirena Seafood
No. 67: Caldo de mariscos at Taqueria Arandas
No. 66: Banana pudding at Pizzitola's
No. 65: Fried catfish and gumbo at Cafe-A-La
No. 64: Soft-shell crabs at Banana Leaf
No. 63: Macaroni and cheese at Vic & Anthony's Steakhouse
No. 62: Torta burger at El Gran Malo
No. 61: Black bean burger at Ziggy's
No. 60: Parillada at Pampa Grill
No. 59: Peanut butter and jalapeño jelly burger at Wicked Whisk
No. 58: Eggplant involtini at Giacomo's Cibo e Vino
No. 57: Lone Star dog at James Coney Island
No. 56: Sushi at Sushi Miyagi
No. 55: Palestinian chicken at Al Aseel
No. 54: Roast beef sandwich at Local Foods
No. 53: Mexico City plate at Molina's Cantina
No. 52: Tacos at Brothers Taco House
No. 51: Branzino at Lucio's BYOB
No. 50: Beef sweetbreads at Feast
No. 49: Golden Doomba Special at the Rice Box Truck
No. 48: Malted waffle at City Cafe
No. 47: Banh mi bo kho at Cafe TH
No. 46: Chicken fried steak at Triple A
No. 45: Larissa plate at Harry's
No. 44: Spaghetti carbonara at Coppa Ristorante Italiano
No. 43: Wings and grits at The Breakfast Klub
No. 42: Frito pie at C&D Burger Shoppe
No. 41: Pollo con mole at El Gallo de Jalisco
No. 40: Fried avocado taco at H-Town StrEATs
No. 39: Rigatoni in bolognese sauce at Paulie's
No. 38: Chorizo kolaches at Peña's Donut Heaven
No. 37: Sashimi at Dadami
No. 36: Half-pound burger at benjy's
No. 35: Fried chicken at Haven
No. 34: Whole-fried speckled trout at Liberty Kitchen
No. 33: Moules congolaise at Jeannine's Bistro
No. 32: Pancakes at Fountain View Cafe
No. 31: Pineapple with chile en polvo at Canino's
No. 30: Fried chicken at Barbecue Inn
No. 29: Dirty Burque at Green Seed Vegan
No. 28: Egusi at Finger Licking Bukateria
No. 27: Brisket and turkey at CorkScrew BBQ
No. 26: Menudo at La Mexicana
No. 25: Shrimp and grits at Shade
No. 24: Kinilaw at Reef
No. 23: Lamb at El Hidalguense
No. 22: Gumbo at Danton's
No. 21: Chicken-fried water buffalo at The Hay Merchant
No. 20: Roasted cauliflower at Roost
No. 19: Truffled egg toast at Dolce Vita
No. 18: 63-degree egg at Brasserie 19
No. 17: Drunken foie gras at Philippe
No. 16: Beet salad at Triniti
No. 15: Yogi thali at Pondicheri
No. 14: Bialy and lox at The Hot Bagel Shop
No. 13: Ribs at Gatlin's
No. 12: Venison carpaccio at Thanh Phuong
No. 11: Camarones henesy en hamaca at Arturo Boada Cuisine
No. 10: Prosciutto and arugula pizza at Pizaro's Pizza Napoletana
No. 9: Crawfish at The Hideaway on Dunvale
No. 8: Pho at Pho Binh
No. 7: Ceviche at La Fisheria
No. 6: Ma po tofu at Mala Sichuan
No. 5: Machi cure at Uchi
No. 4: Tuna and bottarga at Tony's

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Location Info


1302 Nance St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

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