With one original location in Jacksonville on Florida’s Atlantic Coast, the multi-faceted restaurant-bar concept that beckons “Meet Me at the Finn” has set its hungry eyes on Texas. Blackfinn American Grille opened with a bang (or at least a really big crowd) last night in Houston’s bustling Midtown, with a second Texas location in Austin only months away.
After a nifty tour of the huge property (four distinct “experiences” that seat a total of something like 435 in 11,000 square feet) led by Houston-born operating partner Ralph Matthews, we sat down to record radio with him and Houston-born executive chef John Turner. Happily, to both guys who grew up in this ethnically diverse dining city, the term “American” includes Asian as with the sweet-spicy shrimp in the top photo, as well as Hispanic in the picture directly above. Yes, Virginia, those are carne asada nachos!
We were lucky enough to enjoy course after course at Blackfinn with a steady drumbeat of craft beers and fine wine. We also got to visit with event and marketing whiz Michelle Tarallo, also from Houston by way of Tulane University in New Orleans. Such pleasures weren’t 100% necessary, however, when bearing down on Chef’s Turner’s wonderful “Hong Kong-style” Chilean sea bass, marinated in soy, garlic, ginger and – the secret ingredient – Chinese oolong tea. Yum! And that’s a cake of sticky sushi rice underneath, given purpose by curry and coconut.
While “American” can and does mean all these things in terms of cuisine, what it usually ends up meaning for us is meatloaf and mashed potatoes – and Blackfinn hits that one out of the park. It’s an individual loaf, if you can imagine such a thing,wrapped in bacon before cooking. The mashers here are sweet potatoes (roasted, not boiled, Mr. Bond) and the greens are collards, apparently already drizzled with vinegar as they always should be. There’s some honey chipotle ketchup along for the ride, but everything else was so good we barely touched the red stuff.
Oh yeah, another thing the word “American” tends to promise is large desserts with one foot heavily planted in mid-century nostalgia. And so it comes to pass at Blackfinn. There is, for instance, this fusion (usually my least favorite “f word”) of carrot cake and pineapple upside down cake, the carrots inside and the pineapple out. If you think they forgot carrot cake’s mandatory cream cheese icing, au contraire. Cream cheese is present and accounted for, in all that whipped cream.
Finally, as conclusive evidence that our l’oeil always need a good trompeing, we present Blackfinn American Grille’s… Hot Chocolate. Yes, it comes in an oversized cup. But what’s inside is more like a warm, still-gooey brownie your mother forgot to bake all the way through. Loosely described as a “fallen souffle” of chocolate and a little peanut butter, with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream and drizzled caramel, the dessert is a heavenly vision from a past we never quite got lucky enough to have.