Warning: This post contains material for an adult audience. Children, sensitive readers, and vegetarians should read no further. They also should not go to one of my new favorite Houston restaurants called "Feast."
Parts of the cow I've never eaten
The American steakhouse is for sissies. The standard steakhouse only serves 3 or 4 select cuts (fillet, strip, rib eye) from the whole animal. The only other varieties of meat you might find are veal chops, pork chops, rack of lamb, or chicken breast. How spoiled we have become. How effete.
Real carnivores eat meat from the whole animal.
At least that is what I told myself Saturday night, as I was trying to decide whether to take a bite of the dish called, "Tongue and Testicles with Green Sauce." I thought this small plate would arrive as bits of organ meat discretely covered and disguised with a green sauce.
When it arrived, the dab of green sauce was off to the side. The tongue and two testicles sat before me in all their naked glory. The tounge was unmistakably tongue-shaped -- a long tower from the bottom to the top of the plate. The testicles were carefully placed on each side of the base of the tongue.
It looked just like . . . well, you know.
Of course, this visual joke could only be dreamed up by a Brit. They are the culture where every pub is required to serve a long phallic pudding with spots called "Spotted Dick." Or at more posh restaurants, "Spotted Richard."
The tongue and testicles tasted far better than I expected. I have had tongue in taquerias, but this one was less greasy, more firmly textured, and more tasty. As organ meats go, tongue is relatively healthy, with only a bit more cholesterol than ordinary meat, plus all the extra vitamins.
I had never tried testicles. After searching the internet, I simply cannot find their nutritional content. They were firmer than I expected, and chewy. But the flavor was not as strong as many organ meats. They tasted a bit like dense meat balls. I just don't know what is inside them -- well at least not from the standpoint of nutrition.
The strongest flavor in the dish was the green sauce. It was a mix of raw garlic, vinegar, dill, and some other herbs. For people who might have a hard time stomaching tongue or testicles, the pungent sauce might help.
British pub food -- but much more gourmet
The three principals at Feast are Chef Richard Knight, manager/master butcher James Silk, and Meagan Silk. I am guessing from the accents, the humor, and the food that they are British.
The menu, which changes daily, is unlike anything in Houston. One of the more interesting features is the huge variety of meats. Today, the menu includes not just beef tongue and testicles, but pork belly, pigeon, lamb shank, lamb's tongue, rabbit, merguez sausage, gizzards, squid, swordfish, and as I discovered, pig's feet.
Another feature is the cooking philosophy, which is summed up by the restaurant's slogan "Rustic European Fare." Today's menu includes rustic soups, terrines, braised meats, and two different bean-based dishes. The style is mostly British, but there are French, Spanish, Italian, and Alsatian influences.
For food of this quality, the prices are very reasonable: $6 - $7 for small plates and $16 - $23 for large ones.
Best Cassoulet in Houston - with pig's feet
The best dish of the meal was a surprise -- cassoulet. This pot-of-white-beans dish is one of my favorite comfort foods. But too often it can be dull and uninspired. Feast's cassoulet was amazing. The beans were cooked firmly. The unusual meats served whole in the beans were rabbit and merguez sausage.
The most interesting aspect of the dish was the texture of the tomato-based sauce. It was thicker, starchier, and chewier than I had tried in cassoulet. There were crunchy bread crums on top, but that could not explain the wonderful, gummy texture of the sauce. I asked James Silk how they made it, and he responded that the chef had played around with the dish for a long time looking for the right consistency. He said the chef found it when he "boiled down some pig's feet." He may have mentioned some other ingredients, but I couldn't understand his accent.
Two other dishes we tried were also good, if not quite as inspired. Roast pork belly was served with crisp, a clean-tasting radish and orange salad -- a nice contrast to the fatty belly. "Lamb, Asparagus and Mint" consisted of cold, thinly sliced lamb leg with thick asparagus and just a touch of mint. Although it had the lamb flavor I love, the leg tasted a bit like cold roast beef, which is not my favorite beef preparation. My wife liked it, which was good because she wasn't about to eat the testicles.
Wine and Desert
Feast has a brilliant small wine list. It consists of small-production European wines from outstanding lesser-known regions such as Apulia, Jumilla, Monstant, Prioriat, and Basque Country. Although they have wine glasses, their default wine glass is a tumbler. I guess it's a pub thing.
We passed on the spotted dick and ordered a dessert named something like, "chocolate mousse with lemon pudding." Either I missed the name or it was a bit misleading. Most of the dish consisted of a wonderful, thick, dense chocolate ganache. A little lemon cream was splashed on top. It tasted far better than the description sounded.
Feast is in an old house on lower Westheimer, formerly the home of Chez Georges. The walls now are covered with rustic-looking European paintings of, for instance, a peasant eating a giant bowl of beans.
The dress is fairly casual, as is the vibe -- which is what you might expect from a place that serves a dish designed to look like a steer's penis.