Blog of an aspiring foodie

Just August Project – First visit notes

Posted by beer_chris on 27-August-2010

First visit – dined with K & D on 19-August.

We all agreed this was one of the most enjoyable tasting meals we had ever experienced, and the price was simply amazing given the quality of the dishes and the overall experience. I took some raw notes  down on my menu – just want to get them (and my thoughts) transcribed down somewhere so I don’t lose them!

Although I drank beer, we did bring some wine, and K, D and J all enjoyed these. I didn’t get the exact details of the wines, but I know the varietals. We opened a Sancerre, a Paso Robles Syrah and a Gruet.

I brought a 22 oz bottle of Stone Ruination (a double IPA), and a bottle each of the Spanish witbier Estrella Damm Inedit, and the Flemish red ale  Duchesse du Bourgogne. The wit and sour ale I bought based on recommendations made by the folks at Just August Project. The Ruination was my own choice – but only because I like it better than the recommendation of Stone IPA.

The words in bold and italics here are transcriptions from the menu. I’ve offset my comments with an indentation.

Snacks

pickled cabbage stems / roasted yeast aioli

avocado / harissa / pith puree / crumble / candied seeds

crackling / red wine vinegar / elderflower

The Stone Ruination was a fabulous and exceptionally tasty match with the cabbage dish. Just amazing play with the slight sourness of the pickle but especially the roasted yeast. None of us had ever heard of roasted yeast, but wow what a great flacor profile. Slightly bready, just a little crunchy. The garlic and oil really enhanced the yeasty flavors, and these just exploded the hops in the Ruination. I was really looking forward to how this was going to pair with the beer, and wow did it not disappoint. What a great start to the meal!

We enjoyed the powdered red wine vinegar very much, and were licking our fingers to mop up the excess. K & D really loved the crackling.

I don’t remember what kind of seeds were on the avocado. All of us liked the interesting balance between the bitter pith, sweet crumble and smoky fire from the harissa.

Raw Course

lamb / yogurt / melon / shiso

Although the Ruination didn’t match well with this dish, this was my favorite dish of the night. We all felt very fortunate to get this, as it was the last evening for the dish on the menu. The lamb was prepared like a tartare, using the yogurt as an acid. The yogurt was smoked (slightly), and this played off of the other flavors wonderfully – shiso, black garlic and the pickled canary melon. This dish was just artful in how it took some similar rich smoky and smoke-like components and melded them together to create a delicate and subtle balance of different flavors. Great.

Bread Course

cocoa nib rye

red miso pan au lait

I didn’t drink beer with this course, as I finished the Ruination bottle after we were done with the raw course. I think an old ale are even an english style barleywine would be great with the rye – something with some good malty sweetness would really be perfect. The bread itself had a really mellow chocolate flavor, although I didn’t get too much of the spiciness of rye. Granted, I’m used to rye in my beer where it hasn’t been cooked at 400+ degrees 🙂

The red miso pan au lait (we started calling them dinner rolls) was great. The miso paste had some up front and lagging heat that was great, and the bread was so darn tender and soft. We could have eaten these for dinner by themselves. The bread course was also served with a compound lardo butter that was excellent – as lardo always is. Again, a nice malty beer – maybe even a dunkel – would have been excellent with the lardo and the bread.

Fish Course

grouper / cucumber / pumpernickel / onion

This dish included pickled radish as well. Although the play on bread with the pumpernickel puree was interesting, this dish worked the least for me. To start (and maybe to end), it was just too salty. The grouper was poached in goats whey, and although there was a hint of goat’s milk ‘tang’ in the flavor, I think maybe that was the source of the saltiness. The cucumbers were prepared three ways – one I didn’t write down, but the other two were sauteed in brown butter and in a cucumber vinaigrette. The brown butter cucumbers were very bitter to me, and I did not finish mine. I opened up the Estrella Damm Inedit for this dish (I had been saving it for the fish course), and it is really an excellent beer – brewed as a wit but with some nice light floral notes. A very unique farmhouse/witbier.

EntremetHouston Dairymaids Blue / honeycomb / pork salpicon sabayon

I *think* this is when we had this dish, which was a fun little break. I also am not entirely sure that what we were served was a salpicon – I didn’t quite understand what the chef said when he gave this to us, and I had to look up this word. I originally wrote down ‘Semillon’, which I know cannot be correct 🙂

Note, I was corrected later by none other than Justin Yu – this was a SABAYON, not a SALPICON. My bad!

Meat Course

old spot pork / sarsparilla / choucroute

This dish was amazing. All of us were looking forward to trying the Revival Meats pork belly and it did not disappoint. We three agreed – this was probably one of the best pork belly dishes (if not the best) any of us had ever had. The pork was meltingly tender, but had great pork flavor. The choucroute was a nice counterpoint, but the highlight of the dish for me were the micro leaves of oregano – these just smacked all the flavors of the dish together into a great whole. To be honest, I am not entirely sure if the sweetness came from the pork itself or the Sarsparilla. I would believe it was the meat, it was that good. That pork belly could move mountains. The Estrella Damm Inedit did OK with this dish, but quite honestly the dish was so good I could have been drinking Bud LIgh and probably wouldn’t have noticed.

If you can believe it, this didn’t even make my top three. That’s how great the next course was to me.

Pre-Dessert

horchata granita / goats milk

I love horchata – the mix of mexican cinnamon with nuts is just a classic combination. I also love hielos, so putting it over ice was great, and serving with fresh goats milk was just amazing.  This dish defined what the Just August Project was all about in my mind – globetrotting, cutting edge chef creativity, combined with a sense for what cuisine in Houston really means with a strong sense of treating fresh ingredients in a way that really makes them shine. I’m still thinking about this dish today, and how great it was. It really captured the moment in time that was our meal, and that’s why this dish nearly eclipsed the raw course as my favorite.

Dessert

chocolate namelaka / mushroom / thyme / figs

The mushroom was dried and integrated into the namelaka. The figs were split and simply roasted, and served with a sour cream ice cream.

The thyme was fried, and I could eat pounds of the stuff. I love fried basil and thyme

I cracked open the Duchesse for this course, and it was good – but I didn’t think it paired that amazingly well. We all had a little and finished the bottle over the remainder of the evening.

Mignardises

sunflower macarons

fennel truffle / saltine cracker

The sunflower macarons were good, but the fennel truffle had an interior that reminded me of a Three Musketeers bar – it had a nougat-y like consistency, but tasted of that unique anise-like flavor of fennel. The salt from the cruched cracker (the truffle was rolled in cracker crumbs) was a nice offset to the richness.

The Duchesse played really well with these flavors, as the funkiness and sour flavors were pretty well rounded out, and the fennel brought out the hint of malt sweetness that’s is in the beer.

Iced Coffee

60 % Brazil Carmo Estate, 25% Brazil Monte Alegre, 15% Costa Rica Finca San Luis

J really had it right – even if you don’t enjoy coffee, you have to enjoy David’s blends. It’s like a rule or something. This was just a magnificent brew that was (of course) designed to be served cold, and the flavors changed substantially from the beginning of a sip to after the last bit was swallowed down. Chocolate, roasted bread, cherries, stone fruits, earth  – all there, all balanced bu featured at some point during the overall taste. Awesome, awesome stuff.

The overall verdicts:

D: First – pork, Second – Raw Course, Third – Horchata

K: First – pork, Second – Raw Course, Third – Cracklin

J: First – pork, Second – Horchata, Third – Red Miso Pan au Lait

Me: First: Raw Course, Second – Pickled Cabbage, Third – Horchata

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