Best dishes we ate at Houston restaurants in August, from Pondicheri, Bludorn

2022-09-10 05:42:00 By : Ms. Sunny SONG

Each month, the Houston Chronicle food team dines out... well, we won't put a number on it, but let's just say we make a lot of restaurant visits between the five of us full-time staffers. Especially right now, as we prepare our annual Top 100 Houston Restaurants guide, which comes out this fall.

Here are a few of the best dishes we've had in the past month of eating; we think they're all worth seeking out.

The skillfully fried shell on Tatemó’s squash-blossom quesadilla was so thin and burnished, it looked almost translucent. Its dusky tint came from Conico Azul, one of the heirloom corn varieties featured in each dish of chef Emmanuel Chavez’ seven-course, $125 weekend tasting menus.

The flavor of that blue corn, which is nixtamalized and ground into masa in-house, fairly bloomed. And the filling of fragile blossom trailing stretchy strings of Oaxacan cheese showed brilliant restraint. So often squash blossoms get lost among too many ingredients, but not here.

On the side came a tiny cup of assertive avocado green salsa dabbed with crema and a blob of American sturgeon caviar. That was fun, too, but the quesadilla would have soared all on its own.

The Friday and Saturday set menus here must be booked ahead, but the online process is efficient, the dining room in front of the masa studio is a candle-lit study in spare chic, and I found every single course fascinating.

4740 Dacoma, Ste. F., no phone, message;

Gelato from Rocambolesc in Uptown Park 

Walking into Rocambolesc — the soft-serve gelato and sorbet shop from Spain’s Michelin-decorated Roca brothers  — is like finding a science lab meets Willy Wonka Factory. The candy-striped railings and rows of neatly stacked cookies didn’t distract me from an order of silky coconut and violet gelato, however. It was one of the better soft serves I’ve enjoyed the past few summers.

The subtle tropical and floral notes of the gelato would be great on their own but it was impossible to resist the toppings. A violet marshmallow with sugar crystals looked like it belonged in Elizabeth Taylor’s jewelry collection. Little spheres of lychee popped like the tapioca pearls used in bubble tea. The chocolate shortbread cookies tasted like what you’d nibble on for afternoon tea.

This wizardry comes from Catalan pastry chef Jordi Roca. He and his brothers are known for their modernist techniques, which established their fine-dining restaurant El Celler de Can Roca as the best restaurant in the world back in 2013 and 2015 (at least according to the World’s 50 Best Restaurant awards). But he dials it back here to more simple pleasures, which is exactly what I wanted for a summertime treat.

1101 Uptown Park Boulevard, 281-501-3499;

It had been too long since I hit Pondicheri on a Monday night, when the menu is entirely vegetarian. I was hardly surprised to see the River Oaks restaurant packed after diving into a plate of buoyant, perfect mushroom momos, chef (and Houston Chronicle cooking columnist) Anita Jaisinghani’s take on the beloved Nepalese dumplings.

Filled with cabbage, morel mushrooms, sweet potato and spices, the crescent-shaped bundles swim in a pool of warm, chile-crisp-tinged broth. They’re garnished with a bit of fresh greens, strips of radish and more cabbage for crunch.

My suggestion, especially as the weather cools? Try the momos on Pondicheri’s festive, oasis-like patio, followed by jackfruit biryani and a dosa moderately swiped with intense ginger chutney.

2800 Kirby, 713-522-2022;

Temptations abound as Houston Restaurant Weeks continues to play out through Sept. 5. The value of the HRW set menus at high-end restaurants can be striking. A recent two-course $25 lunch in the elegant dining room at Brennan’s of Houston in Midtown is a prime example. First-course options include chicken and andouille gumbo; fried green tomatoes; Creole campechana; or a cup of the signature snapping turtle soup. For the mains, dishes such as beef tips Diane, vegetable enchiladas, and eggs Benedict called out. But I went for the fish.

The grilled salmon was a showy thing; burnished and glossed with brown butter made stoked with Crystal hot sauce mash and resting on a nubby, veggie-happy Creole ratatouille. Rich, for sure, although it also felt somewhat healthy. So go ahead and spring for optional $6 dessert: beignets, praline parfait or Creole bread pudding. And 25 cent martinis at lunch never hurt anyone.

3300 Smith; 713-522-9711;

Baked Alaska dessert at Bludorn

A while back, my cousin took a trip to Bludorn and attempted an approximation of the restaurant's Baked Alaska during a very intense game of Catan Seafarers at home. I had never tried Baked Alaska and thought it was good, if a little tart. (Sorry, Joshua.)

So when I got to Aaron Bludorn’s restaurant for a late birthday celebration, I figured I’d try the real thing. Every bite was a symphony of textures and flavors — from the crisp and fluffy meringue down to the strawberry jam, ice cream and robust sponge cake within. I think the recipe has since changed to a pistachio ice cream and cherry jam now, but I have to imagine it’s just as good.

A few other highlights of that meal were the twice-baked potato that came with my dry-aged New York Strip steak, and the Dove’s Nest — a mocktail involving grapefruit, lime and vanilla with a refreshing chili bite.

A best-dish-of-the-month honorable mention goes to the appam my mom made for my dad’s birthday. It’s incredibly difficult to get the rice-batter pancake's edges crisp and the center cooked through.

807 Taft; 713-999-0146;

An unexpected thing happened during my first visit to Tony’s: A side order of pommes souffles transported me back to Arnaud’s, the classic Creole restaurant in New Orleans’ French Quarter. 

Credit goes to the chefs at this beloved Italian restaurant in Houston, under the direction of chef Kate McLean, for a textbook perfect version of this fried potato recipe with French origins. While the dish at Arnaud’s arrives as puffy square pockets, Tony’s looks like a wedge of potato that’s been gutted of all its starch and pumped with air. It’s fried golden and crisp without any unnecessary grease. I can’t wait to come back to double up on some carbs with the pommes souffles and a plate of pasta.

3755 Richmond Avenue, 713-622-6778;

Alison Cook - a two-time James Beard Award winner for restaurant criticism and an M.F.K. Fisher Distinguished Writing award recipient - has been reviewing restaurants and surveying the dining scene for the Houston Chronicle since 2002.

Bao Ong is a restaurant columnist for the Houston Chronicle.

Greg Morago was a features editor and reporter for The Hartford Courant for 25 years before joining the Houston Chronicle as food editor in 2009. He writes about food, restaurants, spirits, travel, fashion and beauty. He is a native Arizonan and member of the Pima tribe of the Gila River Indian Community.

Jody Schmal has worked for the Houston Chronicle since 2012. She edits restaurant and cooking features; travel stories for the Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News; local home design content; and HC Magazine, which has won Best Niche Product twice in the Society for Features Journalism's Excellence-in-Features Awards. She was the Chronicle's Style Editor until 2014. Before that she was an editor with Modern Luxury magazines. The Houston native graduated from the London College of Fashion in England.

John-Henry Perera is a food writer for the Houston Chronicle. JP has been with the paper for close to 10 years and is responsible for trending and buzzy food coverage, including guides and other fun things.

Prior to joining the Features desk, he was the social media lead for and homepage producer for