Last year, the Mobil Travel Guide gave five stars to only 17 U.S. restaurants. And only one of those was in Texas.
What Texas restaurant got that rating? The Inn at Dos Brisas in Brenham.
A free meal
I had been planning to try Dos Brisas when a "press" friend made me an offer. Dos Brisas was hosting press and bloggers. If I took a day off work, I would get a free meal and wine.
I am rarely offered free meals -- because I'm anonymous. And even then, I don't write about them. It often is not a fair representation of the food.
But this was one I couldn't pass up.
Dos Brisas has a huge advantage over most restaurants. They get to grow most of what they cook. The inn is on a sprawling, hilly estate with a very large, organic garden. Your meal is picked hours before serving. There are a number of full-time gardeners.
Freshly picked vegetables really do taste different. For instance, these tomatoes tasted very sweet:
The garden flavors are highlighted by the subtle cooking of Chef Jason Robinson. I respect his approach: don't do anything change the fresh produce flavors. But don't go here expecting big flavors.
The tomatoes were accented only by herbs and a light "lemon essence." I did not detect any salt. And little, if any, oil.
Similarly, risotto balls are served on a puree of basil. Perhaps because the puree does not use much oil, the flavor of the basil does not spread out on your palate. You have to concentrate to pick up the flavor of basil -- perhaps that's the point.
I was surprised at how much of the meal came from the garden. Allegedly, the only dish with ingredients from elsewhere was a halibut in a cucumber, rhubarb broth.
The halibut was somewhat overcooked, and served more as a foil for the cucumber. It made sense: these folks are so proud of what they grow that they inadvertently dissed the non-local ingredient.
The most striking, and best, dish was this squash tian with garden ratatouille. A tian is a baked vegetable dish in layers. Thin slices of zucchini were beautifully wrapped around a filling of ratatouille. It tasted completely of the garden.
Even a dessert, eggplant beignets with eggplant ice cream, was focused on food from the garden. It tasted great, but I had a hard time detecting any eggplant flavor.
Wine and Cheese
The wine guy, Christopher Bates, is also part of the reason to go. They have a fantastic cellar -- focused primarily on European wines. He does a great job of pairing with the sweeter-than-average vegetables.
But the biggest surprise was the cheese. He is making his own cheese! I expected something amateurish. Instead I tried some of the best cheese I have had in this country.
What's the secret? I could speculate, but I won't. Let's just say that the cheese gets the flavor of some of those young European cheeses that we simply cannot get in the U.S. If you are a cheese fan, you know what I mean.
Best restaurant in Texas? I'm not going to say anything like that, especially after they paid for my meal.
Plus, for my tastes, the flavors are too restrained. This is subtle, elegant food focusing on fresh garden flavors. I respect that -- a great deal. I dig the philosophy. But my tastes are a little more wild and wooly.
Still, I am extremely impressed with the produce quality -- and the wine and cheese. Prices for most dinners start at $85 per person. The best option sounds like the all-vegetable tasting, which I believe costs around $140. Jackets are strongly suggested, and the place appears quite formal.
I am going to return. Next time, I will pay for myself. And maybe wear sunglasses and a fake Jesus beard.