Monday, April 07, 2008

Feast - Rustic European Fare

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.

Rustic Atmosphere

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.


Anonymous said...

rite on! i mad it to one of theit open-houses but missed the food. im proud of this team - they have got "balls"...

i just hope houston will continue to support them!

anonymouseater said...

On the support issue, my wife worries that Houstonians may react to Feast like they did to laidback manor. I disagree so for several reasons.

First, Feast is in one of the two "hot" locations for food -- Washington Ave. and lower Westheimer. LM was in a part of Main that looked like it was poised to take off, but never did.

Second, unlike me, most Houstonians prefer big portions. At Feast, one cassoulet was enough food for dinner, and lunch the next day.

Finally, LM was post-modern, and perhaps most of Houston just wasn't ready. Feast's style is somewhat pre-modern or anti-modern, which just might work. Plus, Houstonians seem to dig pub food. The Black Laborador has been successful for around 20 years, and its food is not near the quality of Feast.

Having said all that, if the city reacts to Feast like they did to LM, I think I will have to move.

Anonymous said...

I checked out Feast last week and thought it was excellent. I hope this place sticks around.

Some pictures and words here.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm. Blogger doesn't like link tags.

Try this instead:

writememory said...

Nice to have you back - great review of Feast.

I've got a review up of Uchi in Austin. They have an omakase!

anonymouseater said...

Misha -- Is that your site? There is some very good content -- especially Karl Rove at Cavour. What a funny image. It almost spoils the romantic feel of Cavour for me.

Writememory -- Nice photos and descriptions about Uchi. I need to start using more photos like you. I wrote up my omakase experience at Uchi here. Although not perfect, it is one of the most interesting restaurants in the state at the moment.

Anonymous said...

Anonymouseater: yes it is. BTW, I have run into some stellar and some truly awful meals at both Indika and Soma. Can't quite explain it.

Writememory: love the name for the blog. Obscure Cisco IOS command, food and bike racing. Oddly enough, Tasty Bits started as a microniche blog for people who obsess about food and extracting best IO performance from network storage gear. Then the storage project was over and all I had left was food.

Try Teppay on Westheimer. Just a notch below Nippon in quality, but more interesting choices. They even served me a beef tendon preparation (I am hesitant to call it "sushi") when they realized I'd eat just about anything.

Rouse House on the Road said...

My wife and I visited last night (Thursday evening). Other than the staff, we were the only people in the restaurant. The appetizers were amazing. Snails on Toast were perfect. Duck Liver Pate was excellent, although considering the amount served, a few more pieces of toast would have been nice. Beef Osso Bucco (their spelling) was bland, overcooked but juicy, not tender. Is there really such a thing as "Beef" Osso Bucco? The cheese plate was "pedestrian" (my wife's term).

Prices are reasonable. The atmosphere is very comfortable. Other than the jackhammer across the street (which is not the restaurant's fault), you feel like you are in a countryside bistro.

I feel a little pretentious with this one last nit. Considering we were the only customers that night and put our wine selection in the hands of James, it would have been nice for him or his wife to visit our table.

I don't know if our experience with Feast will be like Shade or Da Marco's (restaurants we were unimpressed with upon our first visit, but grew to enjoy) or like Aries (never understood the critical acclaim, each experience was worst than the previous). I hope it is the former. Houston deserves a high quality, reasonably priced, daring restuarant.

anonymouseater said...

Thanks for the report Lindsey.

When I went to Feast on Sunday, James and his wife were out of town. Could they have been out of town last night?

Although I have found a lot of wonderful suprises at Feast, I have run across a few dishes that were bland and one dish that was not very good. I expect an occasional disappointment at a restaurant that experiments by changing the menu every night, rather than a restaurant that serves all its "greatest hits" each night.

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