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First Taste of Townhouse in Dallas

I went to check out the new Townhouse Kitchen + Bar at the Dallas Galleria the other night, not because I had some shopping to do but because – like the Monkees in their ’60s theme song – it may be comin’ to your town. In  fact, the Dallas restaurant is the first of three scheduled to be up and running in Texas by the end of this summer. The others are, quite happily, slotted to open in Houston and Austin.

Any restaurant that has deviled eggs on the menu has to be at least a little into childhood food nostalgia – and on some dishes Townhouse is a lot into it. Sure, there’s a dizzying variety of popular Latin tastes plus a nifty array of Asian (as you’ll see). But American food is the key to understanding the high-quality but also high-casual cooking emerging from this kitchen. These deviled eggs, by the way, are excellent, mostly the classic mix of mayo-lush and mustard-tangy but given a kick by the Asian hot stuff called sriracha.

And… speaking of Asian, one of the menu’s acts of pure genius is something called kung pao shrimp tacos. Come on! That’s like three of my favorite things, in a single dish. The spicy shrimp with peanuts are out in full force, all ablaze in the hot-meets-cool collision that makes Vietnamese and Thai food so terrific. And after all, few actions make anything taste better than putting it inside a taco. 

Nobody doesn’t like a quesadilla, right?  And nobody doesn’t like barbecue either. Those seem to be the deep truths behind the duck barbecue quesadillas. It’s cheese, of course, that glues the two tortillas together. But inside of that lurks some of the deepest, sweetest and smokiest meat you’ll ever slip into your mouth. There’s an extra wonderful taste here that I never could quite identify, and I ate a bunch in the effort to do that for you. Neither the menu nor the chef was in any mood to give away secrets.

Just as there’s the Better Burger movement making the rounds in America, there’s what I hereby dub the Grownup Mac-and-Cheese Movement. You know the type: usually dripping with obnoxious truffle oil, a product that most actual truffle lovers (like me) despise. In this case, the mac and cheese is classically yellow and extremely cheesy, with no truffle oil in sight. And for a few extra dollars, you can make it almost an entree by adding applewood-smoked bacon or shrimp.

Side dishes, it turns out, are one of the strongest suits at Townhouse Kitchen + Bar. When you’re not shoveling mac and cheese in the general direction of your lips, you really need to try the hash browns. Or, to be precise, the Jalapeno Bacon Hash Browns. I ate as much of these as I could, then took the rest home. In my kitchen, the leftovers will soon find a home in what might be the best potato omelet ever.

With everything else Townhouse has going for it, including a fun wine list and even funner cocktails, you’d expect large, indulgent desserts. And you would be correct. The one we sampled was all that and more – involving, like so many other dishes here from start to finish, a salty-sweet flourish of bacon. These are “bacon doughnuts,” fried balls of sweet dough in a sugary caramel sauce plus bacon crumbles on top, topped by the perfect vanilla ice cream. Maybe your mouth needs something as simple as vanilla ice cream after an assault of barbecue duck quesadillas and kung pao shrimp tacos!


Rethinking the NYC ‘Hotel Restaurant’

When most of us think of a hotel in New York City, we think of a place that’s big and bustling, with maybe 1,500 to 2,000 rooms. And when we think of a hotel restaurant – or “F&B outlet” outlet in the industry’s parlance – we think of much the same: something large, loud and forgettable. With only 66 room spread over a very narrow 24 stories between Fifth and Madison avenues, the Gotham Hotel  on 46th Street has every reason to rethink how we eat while visiting  New York as well as how we sleep.

With new executive chef Nickolas Kipper in the kitchen, the “hotel restaurant” called Tenpenny is emerging as not only a place worth a couple meals from the folks renting beds upstairs but even from guests of other hotels and from the toughest nut to crack of all – New Yorkers themselves. Dinner last night, which started with an amazing salad of both fresh and dried components, plus some house-cured bacon with grilled rustic bread – left no mystery as to why a crowd with all the choices in the world might well choose to eat here.

Though the name Kipper, as the saying goes, doesn’t end in a vowel, there is considerable mastery of the Italian tradition coming out in dish after dish. Pastas at Tenpenny get treated as entrees for the most part, which of course isn’t traditional; but this chef goes the extra mile to make sure things are interesting enough we can finish a whole big plate. This mushroom risotto, for instance, arrives topped with enough forest mushrooms to cover a large pizza, in addition to a crispy golden crumble made from Parmesan cheese.

Though my heart has been known to belong to mushroom risotto, with only asparagus risotto a close second, I was excited to sample Kipper’s “porchetta ravioli.” A very special edition of roast pork, so-called “porchetta Romana” is served everywhere in Rome, from street stands to fine-dining palaces. That very same seasoned and caramelized pork finds its way inside ravioli at Tenpenny, and boy am I glad it does.

Call it the Sick-of-Chilean-Sea-Bass Vote, but I sure do seem to be seeing (and eating) a lot of halibut in restaurants these days. You might say it’s become my default fish, the way salmon is for everybody except me. Tenpenny has a delicious and interesting rendition of halibut – pan-seared, of course, served over parsnip puree pretending to be mashed potatoes and some lovely sauteed Swiss chard. That “ice cream” on top of the fish, well, isn’t. It’s a tart-sweet mousse made from cranberries.

If you need further proof that we’re not in hotel restaurant Kansas anymore, just check out Tenpenny’s intriguing rendition of ribeye. Far from being the “big steak” that eateries inside hotels had to have for most of the 20th century, this ribeye is closely trimmed of fat, grilled and sliced, then set atop a Spanish-tinged romesco sauce. Vegetables abound, including orange-glazed chanterelles and butter-braised baby leeks. Chefs cook with a lot of hyphens these days.

And if you, like most people in Tenpenny’s dining room last night, are trolling for something sweet, head directly for the folksy-sounding huckleberry pie. There… now Chef Nickolas has me using hyphens too. Though folksy-sounding, the dessert is pretty much a class act, more of a delightfully warm crumble than a pie, with a caramel sauce underneath and vanilla ice cream melting on top. The way mealtimes are going at the Gotham Hotel on 46th Street, I may never “go out” to dinner in New York City again

Dang! There’s Great BBQ in New York City!

After driving 14,783 miles around Texas to write a book on the state’s barbecue, I certainly never expected to discover some of the best smoked brisket, pulled pork and ribs of my life in New York City. Then again, I can take some solace knowing that the guy who gave the world Dinosaur BBQ did so originally up in Syracuse, and that he did so only after riding his motorcycle on several tasting tours of Texas and the rest of the South.

To say that the Harlem – yes folks, that Harlem! – outpost of Dinosaur serves Texas BBQ would not be accurate. There’s a whole lot of big Texas flavor served up ’round the clock here; but that doesn’t keep its founders from celebrating the best of Memphis and Kansas City, Mississippi and Alabama, even the far-distant BBQ mystery known as The Carolinas. If it’s BBQ and it’s delicious, it’s probably on the menu. And having tried a few places alleging to make BBQ around touristy Midtown and its Times Square, I’ll now choose a subway, bus or taxi up to Harlem every time.

The folks at Dinosaur BBQ know their way around the Texas Hill Country, and they saw the way the old German or Czech butcher families resisted being in the “restaurant business,” instead of the “meat business.” That, for instance, is why such places in Texas have been slow to introduce appetizers, like that would mean actually taking care of people. There’s no such silly reluctance at Dinosaur, where you can get a sampler of starters that includes everything from kicked-up deviled eggs to super-spicy boiled shrimp, with stops for fried green tomatoes along the way.

When it comes to sides, same story. The next time some Texas BBQ joint offers what amounts to a choice of white bread or Saltines, I’ll wistfully remember the embarassment of riches alongside the meats at Dinosaur. The “salt potatoes” belong to Syracuse as much as wings belong to Buffalo, and they are terrific, but everything else is delightfully all over the map. There’s lush mac and cheese, an amazing  swirl of sweet potatoes and even a BBQ “fried rice” that keeps one foot firmly planted in Chinese food, where I say it belongs. Most things come with a Deep South vision of cornbread that’s hot, sweet and moist.

There are significant desserts offered at Dinosaur BBQ in Harlem, some dipping deliciously into the soul food tradition, along with a list of local and other craft beers that just won’t stop – including two brews I tried that are made in Syracuse just for these restaurants. On the sweet side of things, the customer favorite may well be the key lime pie, which may strike you as oddly non-Texas and even non-Alabama, until you remember that guys traveling the country on motorcycles couldn’t possibly resist heading down that highway of bridges to Key West.

Totally different but every bit as good is the new apple cake with a whiskey caramel sauce. Talk about tasting homemade! And somehow, the whole thing kept coming into my mind with the word “Dutch” in front of it… thinking of Johnny Appleseed and his adventures through countrysides tamed by Dutch farmers, thinking of “Harlem” itself, even thinking of a city long ago known as New Amsterdam before the redcoats decided they couldn’t leave well enough alone.

At Dinosaur BBQ in New York, just as at any BBQ joint worth its dry rub in Texas, if you ask enough questions about wood, seasoning, time and temperature, you’ll probably luck out and get a tour of the pits. Here, a company stalwart  named Garth seasons meat just beginning to get real good, the way each of perhaps 30 items at our table already was. And since there’s a new Dinosaur opening in Newark, with others on tap for Connecticut and, yes, even Brooklyn… this Syracuse-born BBQ chain has no intention of letting us ever “fuh-get-about-it.”

‘A Whole New World’ at Houston’s Aladdin

In the weird way these things work out sometimes, I’d eaten so-called “Mediterranean cuisine” all over the Mediterranean itself – including forays into all corners of Turkey, plus Morocco and Egypt, plus the melting pot that is Israel – before I made it to Aladdin Mediterranean Cuisine at the fabled corner of Westheimer and Montrose.

And since that corner is about to get even more fabled with the opening of Uchi, I thought it was high time yesterday that I let my friend Samira Anne Salman and restaurant owner Ali Nahhus show me the Mediterranean ropes, Texas style. Aladdin itself is clean, comfortable and unadorned, built to be affordable in other words. And the food, delivered as a kind of far-out version of the cafeteria, is amazing.

In these travels, though meats like chicken and lamb figure in many memories, what I remember most are the wonderful vegetables. And even more specifically, the salads. People in the eastern Med don’t have a salad for an entree or even as an appetizer – they have a roomful of the darn things, mostly chopped and carrying the telltale regional signature of olive oil mixed with lemon juice (instead of vinegar) and plenty of fresh herbs led off unexpectedly by mint. As such, their salads have a light, cleansing quality that keeps you munching on them throughout your meal.

Meats kept hot for the choosing at Aladdin (there actually is a “1 meat, 4 veg” special, just like in old-time lunchrooms across the  South), include several versions of chicken, beef and lamb, ranging from quick-grilled to slow-braised. And there are a couple impressive spins on what the Greeks, and therefore most diners in Houston, know as the gyro – apparently a Greek word first used for this dish in Chicago. All the meats are delicious, sided by a puffed-out bread that combines my favorite aspects of Greek pita and Indian naan, plus salads like Lebanese taboulleh and another one built on chick peas and what, for all the world, seemed to be pinto beans.

And there are some terrifically exotic meatballs in gravy, meatballs made with lots of spinach in the mix. In fact, the next time somebody tells me, “Eat your spinach,” I’m not going anywhere near Turkey, Morocco, Egypt or Israel. I’m  heading straight to the corner of Westheimer and Montrose.

Raising the Bar at New Del Frisco’s Grille

I was intrigued in Dallas a few days back – walking, then driving, then riding a 1926 wooden trolley through Uptown along the wonderful McKinney Avenue – to spy something new called Del Frisco’s Grille. As a longtime fan of Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouses, I wanted to know what this Grille (with one location in Dallas, plus one in New York City) was all about. Last night, looking down at the serving line from the second floor dining and drinking area, I think I started to understand.

Two stories, two bars, two patios – things tend to come in twos around Del Frisco’s Grille. And as GM Sabrina Scully and executive chef Aaron Henschen explained during our radio taping together, this new, hip but less fancy, less expensive and more-devoted-to-fun concept is a way of luring in younger people, along with folks of any age who feel or live younger. The two bars play a major role in that, keeping their energy front and center, right along with “bar food” home runs like these cheesesteak eggrolls – a rework from the company’s oh-so-popular Sullivan’s Steakhouses.

In fact, you might say that if Del Frisco’s Double Eagle and Sullivan’s had a baby (whatever gender issues might be involved in two steakhouses doing that), their offspring would be young and hip and fun, just like Del Frisco’s Grille. For me, Chef Aaron put the whole thing in perspective with his Pimento Cheese Fritters. I don’t know how a New Yorker will react, but here in Texas it’s the perfect upgrade on a flavor we’ve enjoyed all our lives. That creamy dipping sauce, by the way, is a really good chipotle aioli.

Like most restaurants this classy, Del Frisco’s Grille would never dream of serving “pizzas,” even if they’re exactly the kind of thing many want at one of the bars while watching football, basketball or baseball on the TVs. So they serve “flatbreads” instead, making them their own menu category. The list starts with this basic roasted tomato and cheese (yes, like pizza margherita), but then goes wandering through white clam, pulled roasted chicken, wild mushroom and even garlic shrimp.

Ever since my father threw together pizzas from a box every Sunday night while we watched Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color (on our black-and-white TV!), I’ve had a serious love/longing for the mushroom variety. So that was the second flatbread I ordered. The cheese this time out is fontina rather than bubbly mozzarella, along with four varieties of wild mushroom, caramelized onions and the final peppery accent of arugula. A perfect marriage, on a light, crunchy, chewy crust from dough made in-house twice daily, sayeth the chef.

This being a Del Frisco’s, the same prime steaks are served at the Grille as at any Double Eagle – a carefully selected handful anyway. But there’s also what I call the comfort food component, each dish with a major to minor twist on some tradition: from veal meatloaf with wild mushrooms to “stroganoff” repositioned around a big hunk of hyper-tender beef short rib. All such blasts from the past make mac and cheese (jalapeno-bacon, no less) one of the most perfect sides imaginable.

And of course, since virtually every table has a nice view of the bar (where the tropical martini called the VIP happens constantly), there are burgers and fries on the menu. We caught up with these fries last night, no doubt on their way to an elicit rendezvous with some burger. Both beef burgers feature two four-ounce patties (yes, rather than a single eight-ounce, in a wink-wink doff of the hat to fast food) but we’re also excited to try the Grille’s “lamb burger,” which goes a little bit Greek (yay!) with roasted tomato, arugula and cooling cucumber-yogurt tzatziki sauce. 

One thing you learn cooking for people who try to “eat healthier” – whether that’s an individual or a generation – is that you’d better not cut back on dessert. Here is the Grille’s crazy-good coconut cream pie. At least it’s sort of a pie, with that individual wraparound “crust” of crumbled vanilla wafers. And yes, all that stuff poking upward like modern architecture is shaved white chocolate, like a whole other dessert hitching a ride on top of this one. From early to late, Del Frisco’s Grille in Dallas is packing them in – no doubt inspiring their customers, and me, to do pretty much the same.

Brand-New Brunch at Aldo’s Cucina Italiana

With a nod to Italy’s most famous egg dish, the frittata, legendary chef Aldo el Sharif introduces his fresh spin on brunch this Sunday at his new restaurant in the Woodlands area, Aldo’s Cucina Italiana. The festive service from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. marks the eatery’s first expansion beyond its ambitious nightly dinner menu. 

Aldo’s brunch features the chef’s creative spins on many classics of the genre, including the eggs Benedict pictured above and other dishes upgraded with crabcakes, salmon or filet mignon. Still, the heart of the brunch menu has to be Chef Aldo’s Festa di Frittata, with no fewer than seven variations on the baked omelet-style delicacy beloved in all regions of Italy. 

“Brunch is happy,” pronounces el Sharif, clearly aware that champagne cocktails such as bellinis and mimosas will play a role in guests’ brunch experience “It’s up, but it’s also a pleasant way to wind down after Saturday night. I want a brunch where people can sit, have a bite to eat, listen to piano and relax.” 

In lieu of the once-omnipresent hotel Sunday brunch harpist, Aldo’s version will feature the lively stylings of Lee Laforge, a combination of Broadway melodies and wonders from the Great American Songbook. A veteran of both Houston’s restaurants and musical theater productions, Laforge has become a popular part of the nightly Aldo’s Cucina Italiana experience. 

The Festa di Frittata features the traditional Italian baked egg dish with flavorful touches like shrimp Provencal, prosciutto di Parma, Italian sausage and meatball, grilled chicken and mushroom, even grilled skirt steak. In addition to the brunch menu, each dish served with fresh fruit, baked beans and O’Brien potatoes, a three-course meal chosen from the dinner menu is available for $30. 

Reservations for the new Sunday brunch at Aldo’s Cucina Italiana can be made by calling 936.447.9623. For more information, check out the restaurant’s website at

Culinary Comforts of Rathbun’s Blue Plate Kitchen

All my life – well, at least as many years as I’ve known chef Kent Rathbun, which isn’t quite as long – I’ve wanted to eat at Rathbun’s Blue Plate Kitchen, which serves the “neighborhood” in Dallas known as the Park Cities. Since these places include Highland Park, University Park and the like, they take in people who know something of the best in food and drink, who can afford the best when they want it – but who don’t want to dress up for some fancy, cheffy dinner every night of the week. By all evidence, Blue Plate and its oh-so-welcoming bar have become their home away from home.

Make no mistake: there’s no shortage of pizzazz coming out of this comfort-food open kitchen, especially since executive chef Jennifer Newbold from the Seattle area moved over from one of Rathbun’s other concepts – the very popular Jasper’s, now going great guns in Plano, Austin and the Woodlands north of Houston. This seems a natural step up for her (as she described it on the radio show we recorded last night), since Jasper’s specializes in something it calls “Gourmet Backyard Cuisine.”

We sampled several things during the taping with Chef Jennifer and Blue Plate GM Dennis Egert: a nifty mussels dish with Texas beer (perfect for sopping with grilled rustic bread), a super-good beet salad with pleasantly chewy spinach on the side, and Gramma Minnie’s Country Fried Chicken, a yummy Rathbun family favorite. But really now, whose gramma ever heard of any “coleslaw” that features shrimp, crab and lobster, all turned south-of-the-border tropical with cilantro-lime dressing?

Whenever restaurant people say, as they do often, “Get the duck,” I usually don’t. I’m not a huge duck fan, really. But whenever anyone anywhere (but especially in France) says “Get the cassoulet,” I become like putty in their hands. This Blue Plate Kitchen dish is called Hickory Grilled Maple Leaf Farms Duck Breast, to be sure, but it comes with white bean cassoulet, confit duck leg and port wine jus. I don’t suspect there’s any French countryside outside Blue Plate, but you could have fooled me.

In the old days, there was usually an unbroachable frontier between “savory chefs” working the “hot line” and “pastry chefs” working, well, in any space they could find. Chef Jennifer is one of a growing new breed who has handled both jobs (and apparently has both quite different personalities) here and there on her resume, and she makes an incredible flourless chocolate cake to prove it. The delightfully chunky-chewy orange marmalade underneath carried me back to breakfasts with my parents in my childhood. And after all, isn’t that comfort food’s job in the first place?

Taste of France at Omni Galleria

Seems like every year, Omni Hotels takes it chefs and food and beverage directors off on some pilgrimage in search of great ideas. This year they all went to France – wine lovers rejoice: they visited Champagne, Burgundy and Bordeaux, plus the F&B folks went to the Loire Valley – and the result at our own Omni Galleria is called A Taste of France. Since the local property’s executive chef is Jacques Lolliot, everything feels pretty normal about that. 

The menu isn’t Chef Jacques’ alone, of course, coming as it does each year from the Omni corporate office. But still, listening to the chef talk about his upbringing in the Champagne region, we couldn’t help think he squeezed in a few extra-bubbly twists. This butternut squash bisque, for instance, may be the best Cream of Anything Soup we’ve ever tasted. In France or anywhere else.

Few French words turn up to describe so many different things as ragout – no, not Ragu like the spaghetti sauce!  In this appetizer, the things that really matter are wild mushrooms, cooked (but not too much) in a chervil butter and sandwiched between slices of puffed pastry. It’s a classic idea but here given a bit of a fresh French spin. And I can assure you: it’s good to the last champignon.

One of the things worth remembering often about true French cuisine is that it isn’t always complex, the way we tend to do it and see it done in this country with three sauces, four condiments and seven different cooking methods. Few things, honestly, are more French than a perfectly roasted chicken, which turns up on the Taste of France menu at the Omni with mashed potatoes colored (and delightfully flavored) with red bell pepper, plus crisp-tender green beans amandine.

Despite the smile-inducing resemblance to a darkly tanned man wearing a stiff collar and a funny hat, the “filet de boeuf” portion of the evening is a big success. The dish comes with a sauce Perigourdine, created in the Perigord region around its lustrous foie gras, as well as with a single “raviolo” stuffed with braised shortrib. The sauteed spinach underneath is terrific as well, so you can eat your vegetables.

The Taste of France dessert menu, served in the Omni’s restaurant called Noe through the end of the year, has one classic we love above all others – Tart Tatin. But the best sweet finale, especially if you love chocolate,  might well to be petit pots de creme. One of the pair is Mocha (tasting, therefore, of the coffee long ago shipped via the port of that name in Yemen) and the other is Valrhona chocolate cream. Vive la France, for darn sure!

Italian Brunch at Luca & Leonardo

If you’re the least bit like me, you’re probably wondering what an “Italian brunch” might be. Or even more precisely, what you could do to brunch to make it “Italian.” Considering that Luca & Leonardo on the Waterway in the Woodlands is launching its new Italian brunch on Saturdays and Sundays, it seemed high time yesterday to find out. As this version of oh-so-French eggs Benedict makes clear, the process is mostly about using Italian ingredients – like prosciutto, for instance – instead of whatever is traditional or familiar.

Executive chef Daniel Miranda works wonders with egg dishes that show up beneath a blanket of hollandaise, a lot of people’s idea of what brunch is all about anyway. For seafood lovers, he takes Benedict to the woodshed and doesn’t let it come back till its loaded with crabcakes plus a sprinkle of bright red caviar. Not exactly for folks on a diet, the dish is about as rich as anything can be – demanding, we’re convinced, a flute of prosecco to wash each bite down.

Probably every pizza on earth has somebody who thinks it’s the “best” – the differences over taste and texture are that great. But since Luca & Leonardo (the first U.S. venture of a classy restaurant company based in Mexico City) turns out excellent pizzas, we couldn’t resist this masterpiece of artichoke hearts and olives. Only three lighter-side pizzas make it onto the brunch meu, but you can order a pizza with anything the kitchen has handy.

Poor side dishes – nobody ever mentions them. At Luca & Leonardo, however, even roasted potatoes pack a lot of flavor  – even before you follow my lead and start dunking them in your hollandaise. These potatoes have a great time frollicking with olive oil and fresh herbs, plus a bit of extra taste supplied by sundried tomatoes.

And of course, you know there’s one in ever crowd: the person who thinks their main dish at brunch should be sweet rather than savory. Luca & Leonardo has plenty of greatest hits for such a person, though we think the blueberry pancakes might actually be the best choice. The pancakes come with syrup of the side, but we think somebody should simply back up a truck filled with the whipped cream and fresh berries. It must be healthy, with the berries and all, right?


Peruvian Foods (and Wines) at Houston’s Charivari

With the overdue arrival of cool weather, my heart turns to the rustic central European pleasures of Charivari. So we walked in last night only to discover that Johann Schuster – my absolute favorite French-techniqued German chef from Transylvania – had “gone Peruvian” on us. From the special fish he served to the wines he poured, the country that grew up with the ancient Incas around the Andes Mountains is alive and well at Charivari. And Chef Johann has made no fewer than four trips there to figure it out.

Of course, there are many non-Peruvian reasons to go to Charivari this time of year. As this basket of chanterelles makes clear, no place does a better job of cooking and serving “wild” mushrooms. And as each autumn for going on twelve years now, this is the season for Charivari’s special wild game meu. We sampled the wild boar chops (a bit of unsweetened chocolate in the sauce, as often in Tuscany) and the venison saltimboca. Both game dishes were amazing, especially when sided with Schuster’s wild mushroom risotto with a bit of truffle from Alba shaved aromatically over the top.

In some dishes, wild mushrooms from places like Oregon aren’t just bit players anymore. For example, here is Chef Johann’s lush mushroom “cappuccino,” essentially a cream of mushroom soup better than anything that ever came out of any can. We liked this even more than the cream of garlic soup that Schuster serves in the spirit of his Transylvanian roots, even declaring it “Dracula’s” on the meu. On the other hand, a vampire according to legend won’t go near garlic, unless maybe this Count is half-Italian.

Since we knew that the chef and his wife ran a restaurant in Germany’s Black Forest before relocating to Houston, we couldn’t resist the strudel for dessert. The pastry was paper-thin and crisp enough to be at least as Greek as it was Austrian, and the dark fruit filling beneath the snow of powdered sugar was incredible. Schuster makes all his own ice creams too, some exotic and some “plain vanilla.” Thanks to his mastery, even vanilla doesn’t taste “plain.”

More than wines from Argentina or Chile, the Peruvian vintages poured at Charivari strike us as very French – which is nobody’s idea of a bad thing. Most of the varietals are familiar from either Bordeaux or the Rhone, with the reds pairing perfectly with all that wild game. There is, however, a nifty sauvignon blanc for that special Peruvian fish – called paiche (pa-EE-che), carefully and sustainably farm-raised till up to 500 pounds in the Amazon region. Pan-sauteed over mashed Peruvian purple potatoes, it was one of the mildest, sweetest, flakiest fish we’ve ever tasted. For a long time last night, I debated suggesting Chef Johann use paiche to make British fish and chips, fearing that poor man’s dish might be beneath him. When I dared, he merely grinned and said, “I already made it. And it was great.”