First Look at Pax Americana
At the table next to us, three business-suit clad men let out exclamations of excitement when their first round of plates arrived. Many of the plates were topped with tufts of mixed green herbs, already something of a signature at the two-week-old Pax Americana.
Photo by Mai Pham Huge gulf shrimp from the "sea" section of Pax Americana's menu.
"We have a farmer who's planting these herbs for us," says Pax's chef Adam Dorris when asked. "It's changing constantly. It's changed since we did our friends and family meals a week ago," he says, adding that the vegetables are all organic.
Dorris, who spent time as chef de cuisine at Revival Market before spending a few months traveling, is comfortable with the greens, adding them to dishes with almost gleeful zeal.
They topped his farm fresh skillet eggs, which came buried beneath the loosely arranged blob of fragrant greens. You had to lift the mixture of scallion, mint, shiso,Thai Basil, basil and Vietnamese rau ram with a fork to see what was underneath -- eggs cooked to just the right doneness, their yolks a creamy golden yellow that soaked up beautifully when dipped with the crisp artisanal bread that accompanied it (made by Common Bond -- the only restaurant serving their bread at the moment).
Photo by Mai Pham Farm fresh eggs come topped with a big mound of garden fresh, organic herbs.
An order of the super large shrimp, dressed in lime juice and sesame oil, got the same treatment, but with a smattering of peanuts on top. Grilled to a slight char, their flesh sweet yet briny, the shrimp displayed a good dose of umami thanks to a deftly applied fish sauce seasoning. In this case, the herbs combined with the fish sauce brine to give the dish a decidedly Southeast Asian sensibility. It was something you could have encountered on a coastal town in Vietnam.
Photo by Mai Pham Worried that the brisket might be too heavy? It's not. Fresh herbs lighten the dish and make it perfect for summer.
Then there was the meltingly tender smoked beef brisket,
the meat sous vide each slice coated with a glossy barbecue-esque black garlic vinaigrette so that the striations were barely noticeable in the meat-- also topped with the signature tuft of herbs (though a slightly different mix). It was classic Southern with a twist. It was familiar, yet new, delightfully fresh, and just so, so delicious. That's the moment when you "get" Pax Americana, the moment you realize that even in its fledgling stages as a restaurant -- Pax is the very definition of new Houston cuisine.
In the Pax kitchen, sriracha and fish sauce are used just like barbecue sauce and foie gras. It's Vietnamese and American, French and Southern, and more -- everything equal. It doesn't matter that rau ram is an herb that doesn't even have an English translation. In the same way that Houston has become the most diverse city in the country, the mix of flavors and ingredients --normally used to distinguish specific types of ethnic food -- comes together effortlessly in this new kitchen. Dorris attributes no specific ethnic influence to the menu, saying that the dishes, created in collaboration with co-chef Plinio Sandalio, are evolving daily .
This story continues on the next page.