I Finally Ate at Oxheart...and It Was Pretty Good

Categories: On the Menu

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The creamy chocolate was unfortunately overpowered by rosemary.
While my friends munched on sous vide rabbit, I began looking forward to dessert, which, to be perfectly honest, is usually one of my favorite parts of the meal. The chocolate layer cake was not what I was expecting, though. It had a layer of rosemary-infused dark chocolate on top of a layer of rosemary-infused chocolate mousse, under which was a layer of almond cake, then a layer of Kieffer pear purée, followed by another layer of almond cake. It was lovely, to be sure, but none of us could get past the overwhelming rosemary flavor long enough to really enjoy the delicate, almost frozen pear or the smooth-as-silk mousse.

I get what Oxheart is doing, and I get why it was so groundbreaking when it first opened. And I really do appreciate the place. I can think of few other restaurants in Houston where such attention is paid to vegetables -- and unique ones at that -- and where so much time and effort are put into every detail of the preparation and the plating. To the talented chefs there, I say keep up the good work and use less salt.

Still, I feel like I might be getting to a point where I'm over loving the idea behind the food more than I love the food. Perhaps I'm already jaded, only three months into my job, but I can't help thinking that I want to be wowed by flavors, not by revolutionary concepts.

And I don't want to come home after a meal and eat a bowl of Texans Tackle Crackle ice cream before I go to bed. Like I said, I was hungry.

Location Info

Oxheart

1302 Nance St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant


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33 comments
mgovshteyn
mgovshteyn

Oxheart is not a populist restaurant, not because its exclusive or pretentious (where does all THAT come from), but because it has a very distinctive cooking style that doesn't work for everyone. It trades in subtleties and lacks a lot of what people typically mean when they say "mindblowing" - pointed use of animal fat and/or extreme umami concentration. Chefs know what we like and they play up to our palates. To Justin's credit, he's listened politely every time I've mentioned that to him and proceeded to not change his cooking one bit. Judging by how tough it is it get a reservation, he's made the right choice.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but this continued focus on how much grub this restaurant delivers is uninteresting. I expect to see this in yelp, but from a critic? It seems sophomoric. Like all Houstonians, I eat big. And still, I find myself hungry at Oxheart up until the very last course. After that, I certainly could eat another 4-5 courses of the same size, but it doesn't mean I should. Isn't a better question why all the other restaurants serve too much food than why Oxheart serves too little? And why is there an Eastern European hunters stew on a menu by an Asian-American chef? Exploring these questions would have made for interesting reading. Analysis on whether dishes stay on the menu past season boundaries? Not as much.

BTW - pretty sure many of the dishes on the current menu appeared after the summer break in late August.

Lea Brice Hougland
Lea Brice Hougland

I thought this place was perfect. Perfect portions, perfect ambiance, and perfect service.

john1934
john1934

I keep hearing glowing things about Oxheart and feel like I need to go just to experience it but I keep passing on trying to get a reservation because I really don't want to go.

I have been to Underbelly 3 times, once it was good, once it was really good and once it was below avg. I am not sure I need to go again really. Its not that compelling to me.

I am on the fence regarding going to Pass as well but since I like Provisions so much I have reservations in a couple weeks.

Vivian Norris
Vivian Norris

actually this review describes pretty much my expectations as well as the reality and the hunger I still felt at the end of the meal...

Vivian Norris
Vivian Norris

We went and enjoyed some of it but I would ask that they spend less time describing where things come from and serve more ample portions as we were forced to go eat a second dinner later that eve as we were still hungry...liked the cauliflower though.

HaveSomeRespect
HaveSomeRespect

Heathens. Oxheart is a unique and extraordinary restaurant. Compare the creativity and execution to a place that's overhyped, like Underbelly, which essentially serves pot roast as a big deal.

I'm looking for more thoughtful reviews from a food critic. This reads an awful lot like a yelp review that needs to be shortened. Does anybody edit copy at Houston Press anymore?

Emilia23
Emilia23

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MadMac
MadMac topcommenter

"I can't help thinking that I want to be wowed by flavors, not by revolutionary concepts." This is exactly reason number one why I haven't tried this joint. @Florida63's comment kinda seals the deal. This reads like a bad take on an OLD joke from an OLD sitcom. When I scrape together the scratch to take Mrs. McClellan to sup, I want imaginative flavors and warm service, pretense and smears make me feel like I've been gipped.

Oh, btw, "I wanted a bowl of it, but because that was not an option, I ran my fingers through the meager smear of leftover crème fraîche, then licked them," reads like something my Mrs. would say. And since she's NOT a barbarian, you're not either. Great review, Ms. Steinberg. I know what I'm facebooking/tweeting when I'm off Uncle Sugar's dime.

nomadsheart
nomadsheart

I agree that this review is spot-on.  The food is good and carefully crafted, but it does not wow and create the atmosphere of reverence that the myth of Oxheart has somehow achieved.  I found the food to be good to excellent - with occassonal thumps of misses from too many ideas without any editing.  Yes, for me, it was the ponderous and pretentious service, the casual "hipper than thou" vibe that the waiters put off (when asked one evening of a waiter, "How are you?", he replied, "Just living my dream, man.")  And one final thing...custom crafted ceramic plates which can apparently neither be heated or frozen, so hot food is not hot and cold food is not cold.  Come on...that is basics.  This place is All Emporor and No Cloths.

TRAPLORDE
TRAPLORDE

I feel you. The first time I went to Oxheart, I went straight to Whataburger after. 

Kylejack
Kylejack topcommenter

Yeah, 4 courses might not be enough, but I found 7 to be plenty.

Houstess
Houstess

"And I was surprised to find that when I left Oxheart I was still hungry."  If you've read anything at all about this restaurant you wouldn't have been surprised.

Florida63
Florida63

I can't imagine a restaurant not giving a customer more of what they want...particularly when it is of the bread variety. Seriously? I get they may have only made a certain number of the holy knobs of wonderment kneaded by blind nuns and that this is an elevated form of bread service but get over yourself. Your credibility as a critic just went up in my book as you called BS on one of the restaurants in Houston that up until now has had "Baby Jesus" status.

MadMac
MadMac topcommenter

" It seems sophomoric."

Yeah, no idea where anyone got "pretense" associated with this joint. Chuck E. Cheese is "tough," to get a reservation on a Saturday, does that make it fine dining? BTW, the over-sized portions certain restaurants serve is a constant point of debate here--and in The Chronicle, Food and Wine, and Bon Appetit--Professor. 

lonniefjames3
lonniefjames3

@HaveSomeRespect  it is 3 pages long and describes the full meal. i enjoyed the article and plan on trying Oxheart out now .

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@MadMac You know, if it were me and I was scraping together to go out for a nice meal with my honey this weekend, I'd probably go to either Giacomo's (comfort food), Provisions (comfort food with a twist) or Mala Sichuan (amazing Chinese). Then I'd come home for Texans Tackle Crackle and a Hitchcock film. No joke about the ice cream though. It's my new jam.

MadMac
MadMac topcommenter

That's what my Mrs. said about Damien's back in the day.

nhallfreelance
nhallfreelance

@Kylejack From what I understand, the portions are designed to sate, regardless of which tasting you order. There is commensurately more or less food on the plate per course, depending on whether you have four or seven, but I believe the intention is that either should be sufficient to satisfy.

The one time I've been to Oxheart was with my wife and two kids. Between the four of us, we had all three menus. That's one 7 course, and both of the four courses. It proved plenty for our party. 

I think it's worth noting that many lengthy menus I've experienced can have the opposite effect, leaving me over-full. I don't really enjoy the experience of high-end gluttony, and found the middle-ground of leaving me satisfied but comfortable a refreshing approach.

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@Houstess So much of what I've read has been just glowing! I suppose if I'd ordered the longer tasting menu, I wouldn't have left hungry. But no worries. It was a nice experience, and I love ice cream whether I'm stuffed or not!

MadMac
MadMac topcommenter

Yeah, won't be going/spending there.

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@Florida63 Well yeah, the waitress said that they only had a certain number of the pretzel rolls for service, so we understood. But seriously, I would have paid more for those. Karen Man is a genius with bread.

mgovshteyn
mgovshteyn

@MadMac It's only English, bubba. Don't be afraid of the words. I learned it as a second language and can tell you first hand - there is nothing to fear. 

MadMac
MadMac topcommenter

Making out my next "get out of the dog house," list now. Thanks, as always, on the tip-side.

nomadsheart
nomadsheart

@decklid...Generally, it is "Fine, thank you" and, in the hospitality business, quickly followed by, "It is a pleasure to have you here." 

Kylejack
Kylejack topcommenter

@nhallfreelance Some of my tablemates got 4, and the 7 was definitely more food. Also though, the slower pace of the seven courses allowed me to realize I was full sooner than typical.

jimbo1126
jimbo1126

@KaitlinS @Florida63 When I went in late August I too asked for more bread and got the very same response from the server! Thing is, I had the closest seat to the kitchen (practically in it) and there were WAY more rolls in there than would be used for remaining service. Whatever.

I had the same reaction to the food. It was beautifully presented and I liked all of it, but it did fall short of mind-blowing. I did have the full tasting and left stuffed. 

mgovshteyn
mgovshteyn

@MadMac I happen to have a free minute, so I will respond, despite the fact that it's clear that you know next to nothing about food or restaurants in Houston. The restaurants you listed have very little in common with each other. 

Feast and Oxheart are similar in having brilliant chefs at the helm and serving food that made people notice Houston on a national level. Feast was open for 5 years, which is a great run for a restaurant. The restaurant had some business challenges, namely an unsuccessful effort to open a location in New Orleans. But the food it put out was always some of the best in the city. I presume you've never actually been there to provide any commentary of value, but I and many others I know visited it dozens of times. It was a tremendous restaurant to the end. I hope Oxheart has a great run like that. 

Root had a young chef that never quite established its footing and burned out fairly quickly. It happens. 

Ruggles was open for 20-25 years. I wasn't a big fan, but it had a spectacular run in restaurant terms and was a very notable restaurant in it's day. 

Finally, I will note that talking about restaurants failing with a certain amount of glee is obnoxious and disrespectful to people who risk everything to start a small business. Judging by the number of comments you leave on Houston Press stories it's clear you have far too much time on your hands to be successful in any venture requiring similar commitment and focus, so you really don't have a lot of standing to talk about success or failure of others. 

If you understand that you're way out of line here, no need to reply. Everyone makes mistakes. 

MadMac
MadMac topcommenter

Cute. I'm sure your first language--condescension--will serve you well on the food truck when Oxheart joins Root, Feast, and Ruggles in the "yeah, I tried that place once," closing announcements.

Decklid
Decklid

@nomadsheart I realize that this may run contrary to norms and social graces, but wouldn't it be better to just not ask a question for which one does not want an honest answer?

"How are you?"

"Well, the rent's overdue and my corns are really acting up today, but I sure hope you enjoy your dinner tonight."


KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@Kylejack @nhallfreelance I definitely want to go back to try the seven course menu. I didn't dislike Oxheart at all. It just wasn't quite what I was expecting.

Also, I think my appetite has increased since becoming a food critic. And that's NOT a good thing.

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