100 Favorite Dishes 2013-2014: No. 21, Foie Gras Crème Caramel at Just Dinner
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.
Photo courtesy Just Dinner Foie gras crème caramel is now one of my food groups.
Full disclosure: I did not take that photo. I don't even have a photo of this dish. I'm often fairly bad at remembering to photograph my food, especially when it's really good. I'll get excited and take a bite, and then I'll take another bite, and by the time I remember to take a picture of something, it's usually nearly gone. Even my friends who aren't food writers (just avid Instagrammers) are better at remembering to capture moments than I am.
So yes, this photo came from the Facebook page of Just Dinner, a charming little restaurant tucked away in a 1920s bungalow on Dunlavy. When I saw "foie gras crème caramel" on the fall/winter menu (still available!), I instantly knew I had to have it. Crème caramel and foie gras are two of my favorite things, and the combination of sweet and meaty sounded too good to pass up.
Oh, and it was. I don't know why it took me half a year after moving to Houston to finally eat at this little gem of a restaurant (thanks to a suggestion from my editor), but I'm glad I did, if for no other reason than I now know foie gras crème caramel is a thing.
Photo courtesy Just Dinner It looks modest on the outside, but within are magical, magical meals.
I've had other foie gras sweets like macarons and truffles, but never have I had such a beautiful blend of sweet and savory foie gras as in this dish. True to its name, the crème caramel has a wonderful caramel flavor like brown butter and burnt sugar, and combined with the rich, almost marrow-like flavor of foie gras, it's incredibly decadent.
If that were all that the dish was comprised of, it might have been too much of a good thing, but fortunately, the chef knows how to temper the fatty custard with some genius accompaniments. The round of custard is served in a pool of chile oil and chive oil dotted with pickled sweet potatoes, pickled rhubarb and fresh pomegranate seeds.
The spicy and herbed oils add more dimension to the dish, while the pickled roots and stalks add an acidic brightness that cuts the fat of the foie and cream, making it infinitely more palatable. I can't recall ever having had pickled sweet potatoes before, but now I'm ready to make some of my own.
As an added bonus, the dish is served with toasted slices of slightly sweet brioche, on which I spread generous portions of the custard before dipping the whole thing in the oil. I would have gladly eaten the round and its accompanying condiments with a fork or spoon, but the brioche was a nice touch.
So, I'm sorry I don't have a better photo for you. The lighting was low and my hunger got the better of me. But you really don't need a photo to entice you to eat this. Just take my word for it. You want this food on your table.
I don't know when the chef at Just Dinner will be making the switch from the fall/winter menu to the spring/summer one, but I sincerely hope that when he does, that crème caramel will stay. After all, if it's still freezing here in March, I think it's safe to serve "winter" dishes year-round.
See the full list of favorites on the next page.