Here are the 5 best things I ate last week
Editor’s note: Houston Chronicle restaurant critic Alison Cook eats many meals that often don’t make it to full review format immediately. Here, she shares her favorite dishes from recent outings, at places well worth a visit.
Frijoles a la Charra, Ixim
When beans makes this much of an impression during a meal, that’s news. Ixim, a new project in Bravery Chef Hall headed up by former Caracol chef Tim Reading and fellow Caracol alumna Rebecca Aguirre, delivers regional and seasonal Mexican fare from a tight little menu. And while the large-scale dishes can thrill, like the bowlful of fideo de marisco — the pan-toasted vermicelli imbued with rich shellfish broth and tossed with a wealth of beautifully cooked seafood — the charro beans actually made me gasp with their galvanic porky bloom. Bacon, chorizo and puffed chicharrones all made carefully layered magic with chile, tomato and creamy-centered pinto beans. Unforgettable stuff.
Ixim, Bravery Chef Hall, 409 Travis, 281-653-6767; facebook.com/iximhoustontx
Cherry trout sashimi, Soto
It’s hard to pick just one highlight from the finely wrought omakase tasting I experienced at Soto, the handsome new Austin sushi import from chef Andy Chen. But the bite that lingers most vividly in my memory is a vivid slip of cherry trout, or sakura masu, one of the fish on the day’s list of specials flown in from Tokyo’s Toyosu seafood market. The bright hue and the dense satin texture of the Northern Pacific fish, which is also known as masu salmon, leapt out against tiny touches of chive and moromi miso, a fermented soy paste. Those are the kind of finishing details for which Chen is known. You can look for cherry trout on Soto’s daily “Japan Express” specials sheet, priced at $7 for a piece of nigiri or $19 for three pieces of sashimi.
Soto, 224 Westheimer, 713-485-4514; houston.sotorestaurant.com
Arancini, Bocca Italian Kitchen
Chef Justin Turner, of the late Bernie’s Burger Bus fame, has landed in the upscale Redemption Square mixed-use development up near Lake Houston. An accomplished private chef before his burger phase, Turner is turning out a cozy, familial Italian menu that includes an alluring version of arancini, the molten-cheese-filled rice balls. This one’s pure opulence and ooze, with a wonderfully crisp fried crust over toothsome rice, and a bright tomato sauce for contrast. Get some osso buco to go with it and you’ve got a feast, alongside glasses of red from Bocca’s excellent Italian by-the-glass and bottle list.
Bocca, Redemption Square, 250 Assay, 281-741-0342; boccahtx.com
Enchiladas Potosinas, Night Shift
This exciting new East End bar from mixologists Justin Ware and Patrick Abalos has a talented chef in the person of Daniel Leal. His Enchiladas Potosinas spotlight a regional form of the genre that’s all too rarely seen in Houston, and they’re a tribute to his family’s roots in the central Mexican city of San Luis Potosi. Little masa turnovers stuffed with cheese get dipped in guajillo sauce, fried and garnished with more toasty red “Drunk Salsa,” plus a refreshing heap of lightly marinated cabbage salad that bristles with pickled red onion and cilantro. Some ribbons of crema, a base of refried black beans, some crumbles of queso fresco and the all-important trimmings are complete. Ask your bartender to suggest one of the exceptionally well-balanced cocktails (I loved the refreshing Green Line) to go with them, or a glass of the day’s agua fresca. Note that they serve late, and that they’ll soon be doing Saturday and Sunday brunch.
Night Shift, 3501 Harrisburg; nightshiftbar.com
Open focaccia, Badolina Bakery & Cafe
The savory pastries from this new Israeli bakery in Rice Village taste as compelling as the sweet ones — perhaps even more so. I am fixated on a spongy, seeded foccacia, oblong centered with gloriously caramelized onions, a filling sharpened by salty black olive and a jot of tomato. The crusty chew, the yielding interior, the punctuation of toasted pepitas and nigella seeds — all lift up that lush filling. It took me back to the first time I encountered pastry chef Michael Michaeli’s marvelous breads at Israeli-owned steakhouse Doris Metropolitan. This roll could be lunch. Or breakfast. Or a midnight snack. Take some home, or have one on the bakery’s delightful, plant-filled patio with a really good flat white brewed from the house blend.
Badolina Bakery & Cafe, 5555 Morningside, 832-649-5909; badolinabakery.com