100 Favorite Dishes 2013-2014: No. 16, Okra with Crème Fraîche at Oxheart
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 by T.Tseng Vegetables at Oxheart are treated with the utmost respect.
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.
My favorite plate of the evening was a crescent of thin, delicate roasted and pickled okra pods -- the thinnest and least slimy I've ever encountered -- arranged on a bed of spiced crème fraîche and dotted with little pearls of smoked black garlic purée, all garnished with a smattering of aromatic Thai holy basil.
Photo by Kaitlin Steinberg I'll have five more plates of it, thanks.
Though I had a few complaints about Oxheart when I first went there, I truly think that no other chef in Houston is able to coax as much flavor out of vegetables. Yu knows his vegetables. This okra had a sharp, tart flavor that's instantly soothed by the smoky crème fraîche and once more elevated with the unusual flavor of roasted okra. The black garlic purée is alluring, and the basil adds a pop of herbal flavor at the end. Combine every element in one bite and your tongue won't know what hit it.
This dish, found on the summer/fall version of the seasonally fluctuating garden menu at Oxheart, was such a treat that I regretted the small size of the courses. I wanted a bowl full of okra and exotic black garlic, but because that was not an option, I ran my fingers through the meager smear of leftover crème fraîche, then licked them like a barbarian.
Because Oxheart's menu changes seasonally, this might be the only item on my list of 100 favorites that you couldn't go out and get tomorrow if you wanted it. I have heard from Yu and other diners that it's incredibly popular, though, so perhaps if we ask Yu really nicely he'll bring it back.
Who wants to start a letter-writing campaign?
See the full list of favorites on the next page.