Friday, April 24, 2009

White asparagus at Charivari

It's the season for white asparagus

Spring is the high season for white asparagus.

I much prefer white asparagus to green. It has a more delicate flavor -- less bitterness, less vegetation. And it is often softer in texture. Unlike green asparagus, the stalks are grown without light to prevent the plant from producing chlorophyll.

It is not that white asparagus is a great ingredient. It has a slippery, squishy texture. Its flavor is bland and unexciting, yet elegant and refined.

Which is much how I think of Charivari.


Charivari serves authentic, old-school European cuisine. The chef/owner is Romanian, but spent years cooking in Germany before moving to the Texas.

Walking in this restaurant is like stepping back in time to Houston's idea of an elegant restaurant 30 years ago. The dining room is framed by dark red, elegant curtains. Tables have white tablecloths and flowers. This is what fine dining looked like before most high-end restaurants chose a more contemporary style.

Appropriately, the customers at are older. At noon, many white-haired genetlement wear suits with ties and a matching handkerchief in the pocket. It might have more customers if it were located in Tanglewood or Memorial, rather than Midtown.

The White Asparagus Menu

For some reason, I only remember to go to here in Spring, when it serves a special white asparagus menu. For this lunch, I started with a white asparagus soup. The soup was cream-based, with lovely tender chunks of white asparagus. It had very little salt -- a rarity in Houston. The testure of the soup was silky smooth. And it was topped with sprinkles of chives and baby parsley.

My initial reaction was that the soup tasted bland. But after a few bites, I changed that description to "subtle."

It was the sort of dish we do not find very often in Houston. At first, it did not grab my attention. Yet when I gave it my attention, I began to notice simple and elegant flavors that my jaded tasted buds rarely pick up.

A second dish was asparagus risotto. Chunks of white asparagus mixed in the rice made an interesting comparison with the green asparagus spears placed around the edges.

The dish had less flavor than you find in most risottos served in Houston restaurants. But the dish displayed elegant textures. Like the soup, I had to focus my attention to pick up the subtle flavors.

All the dishes I have tried at Charivari are like these. The quality of ingredients is exellent. The preparation reflects the labor of a precise and dedicated chef.

The dishes may not grab you at first, but like great music and literature, they reward sustained focus and attention.


Rubiao said...

I will probably not be visiting as these prices seem ridiculous (is white asparagus the new gold?), but I found it interesting that your white asparagus dishes weren't on the white asparagus menu. Looking back on it though, I guess the soup was the Veloute.

Looks like they had some leftover chives around.

JRM said...

The fact of the matter is most young chefs around town really don't get subtle, alot prefer to "show their moves" as one chef in town puts it. That's great, but real cooking is taking great ingredients and letting them do the talking, not piling on with this or that, just to be pretenious and appeal to the food blogging community saying "Hey look at me". It is much harder to know what to leave out of a dish than to add to it.

anonymouseater said...

@Rubiao - Both of those items were a lunch special. I believe the price was under $15, including some sorbet. Charivari is pricier at night.

@JRM - I agree to a point. Sometimes it also is fun to be wowed by big flavors.

Dorothy said...

@JRM, interesting comment. I read once that chefs often are (contrary to what we might expect) not very sensitive tasters, and that they need stronger flavors to really taste the food. It's a theory . . . .

Anonymous said...


To that point, during my years of bartending and working in restaurants, everyone smoked.
I really think the amount of chefs/cooks that smoke dulls their palates to subtly.
Just my opinion.


danhole said...

Charivari is a wonderful restaurant with a great chef and worth the cost. The lunch specials are truly inexpensive, but in the evening it is pricier but you get your money's worth.

Anonymous said...

@ Rubaio: fun fact: you know what they call white asparagus in the Netherlands: the white gold...
And yes, white asparagus is a huge thing in Holland. Great with cooked ham and eggs, great with salmon and hollandaise, great in soup, great in... well a lot as long as things are subtle! said...

There's no doubt, the dude is absolutely just.

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