Katharine Shilcutt's 10 Favorite Dishes in Houston
4. Venison carpaccio at Thanh Phuong
Photo by Troy Fields
Since I first visited Thanh Phuong in July 2011, the little family-run Vietnamese restaurant in Pearland that specializes in Texas game meat has enjoyed a wave of success. Chris Shepherd staged there before opening Underbelly, learning Vietnamese tips and techniques that he's employing deftly at his "Mutt City" restaurant that explores Houston's many different ethnic cuisines in blended dishes such as his Vietnamese-style meatballs with fish sauce. You can see the influence of such dishes as Thanh Phuong's addictive caramelized fish sauce wings in the Vietnamese chicken wings at The Hay Merchant, the craft beer bar that adjoins Underbelly.
But for as much as I love Thanh Phuong's own caramelized fish sauce chicken wings, it's the herb-laced pile of ribbon-thin deer carpaccio that is the most intriguing and delicious Texan-Vietnamese hybrid on the menu. Thanh Phuong's venison carpaccio makes excellent use of the soft, ruddy deer meat. The thin, opaque ribbons of deer are marinated in citrus juices and pungent fish sauce, served with strings of red onion and shallot woven throughout and liberally doused with crushed peanuts for a sweet, nutty crunch that plays off the sweet venison.
There's nothing new about using game meat in Vietnamese cuisine, but it's hard to find even in Vietnamese-heavy Houston. And because venison is one of the game meats that so many Texans grow up eating, it's fun to see it in a different capacity than simply backstrap or deer sausage.