September 7th, 2009

Feast: An Offal, Satisfying Experience

In 9 Words: Offal, Pig, Rabbit, Puckish, Heaping, Pimm’s, Feast, Rustic, Brains

Feast is a welcome addition to the Houston foodie culture. Just over a year old, they almost met their match with Hurricane Ike last fall and struggled to keep the restaurant afloat. To our collective benefit, not only did they survive the setback, but it is quickly becoming the current crown jewel of Houston’s thriving culinary community, splashing the pages of the New York Times and Bon Apetit. Hit their website to see the impressive list of reviews. (Fair warning, stretch your scrolling finger first, not responsible for the carpel tunnel causing single page web design)

Exiting I-45 at Pierce on a summer Sunday afternoon, sun still burning in the late sky, I flick on my wipers to clear the familiar random sprinkles forever poised to drip from the humid Houston air. My dining companion was already concerned about her hair and the inevitable rain dodging dash into the restaurant. I was annoyed by the precipitation at first, but what could be more fitting than rain to bless our first trip to Feast. If there were ever a cohesive nugget to link Britain and Houston, rain would surely top the seemingly short list.

Feast is situated on Westheimer between Taft and Bagby, in an area I often pass but rarely visit, except for the occasional stop back in the day at, the now relocated, Late Nite Pie. Driving up Westheimer we quickly identify the hanging sign proudly wearing the familiar pig logo and the blue and grey accented two-story house that is Feast. Blinker on, we patiently wait for the single car that arrived just before us so we can move off the street and assuage the increasing displeasure of the driver caught behind us. We pull in, get our complimentary valet ticket and move through the light rain toward the door. To our relief the valet stand is an abbreviated jaunt to the striped awning and sturdy entrance to the restaurant.

We enter Feast in full view of the kitchen straight ahead and we are greeted by quick smiles from the owners, recognizable from their website. Once greeted, our names are marked off the reservation list, the chefs turn and move deeper into the kitchen and we are lead to our table underneath the burly, brown overhead beams. We are immediately struck by the heavy wooden accents and relaxed atmosphere. Simple stained glass windows still glowing with evening light and rustic, provincial still-life paintings mark nearly every wall. Our formal footwear is loud on the old wooden floor and marks our steps through the sparsely populated internal chambers of the restaurant. We come to rest in a very cozy corner in the furthest room. Still early in the evening, we are one of the first tables for dinner service.

Looking around from our seats the décor continues to recommend Feast’s culinary persuasion. It is lodge-like with a guttural, sporty sensibility that somehow still retains its English manners. The whole restaurant from website to ambiance to food seems to deftly balance refinement and vulgarity, creating a unique and fulfilling experience. The painting facing our table is a busy still-life of a large woven basket overflowing fish, oysters and crabs, just pushing you to be adventurous. A cursory reading of the daily menu furthers the mood; it abounds with brains, black pudding and liver delights. If the initial menu description seems unappetizing, worry not, there is plenty of delicious sounding plates for more conservative diners as well. As we settle into the menu we can overhear a conversation among expatriate Britons dining behind us, heightening the authenticity of the experience.

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After a cursory reading, the menu seems full of daring and new delicacies for our palates. It doesn’t take long to find the offal dishes that have helped Feast gain attention. The fare may be uncommon in American food, but the ingredients will resonate with Loopsters. Houston has an authentic, diverse and rich culinary tradition that has long used offal: Barbacoa & Menudo on Telephone Road, Chitterlings & Boudain on Scott St. and Fish Head Soup on Milam. Undoubtedly, Feast is a dressed-up, continental version of these Houston staples, but its local soul mates have long been driving our appetites deep into the innards of adventurous cuisine.

Our server for the evening, who happens to be one of the owners, greets us soon after being seated to get us started with drinks. He has a friendly face and is dressed in chef’s whites, top buttons undone, and a long black apron with white pinstripes, top half let down. Encouraged and adventurous we are convinced to start with an unfamiliar British cocktail: “Pimm’s”. Described on the menu as: Pimm’s with sprite and a cucumber, in the words of our server as slightly unmanly, but refreshing: a real British tradition. I figure that I am surrounded by enough masculine imagery to take a chance on a cocktail, but to compensate we also ordered the Terrine of Bacon, Lambs Brains, Chicken Liver and Red Peppers. I was tempted to indulge in the Black Pudding, but a previous…unsavory…experience reared its memory and guided me back to the Terrine. In the end, the drink was extremely tasty, none too emasculating, and refreshing. The Terrine was amazing, though not for the (lilly-livered) faint of heart.

The service was perfectly timed and the server was genial and undeterred by our constant questions each time he approached our table. Intimate with the menu, he was able to walk us through the different offerings in an appetizing way. However, like the restaurant, his formality is tinted with a puckish playfulness. Where I first saw slightly disheveled black and white from head to toe, a closer inspection reveals tattoos peaking from the neckline of his collar. Talking through the menu his eyes dart and face turn mischievous as we are thrown off by curious listings like: “bubble and squeak”, “Chicken Onion” and “Spotted Dick and Custard.” I read in previous reviews that you should be adventurous, so I was determined to have at least one thing I had not had before.

To my chagrin, when asked for a recommendation he immediately recommends the Cassoulet with Duck Confit. Cassoulet is definitely a favorite of mine, alas, Cassoulet in back to back Loop Scoop postings wouldn’t do. So, after some torment, I choose the Crispy Roasted Pork Belly with Potato Cake and Red Cabbage with Apples and she selects the Rabbit with Bubble and Squeak and Zucchini. He recommended a reasonably priced wine to compliment our dinners, we agreed and he was off, leaving us to continue with the delicious, yeasty homemade bread.

We finish our terrine as he returns with our wine. Half expecting goblets, he plops two short, beveled drinking glasses on the table to be filled; one more reminder of the constant balance that Feast displays. We continue to talk about the food and Feast continues to fill tables one by one. Our plates arrive in due time, hot and steaming. We each size up each other’s plate, taking score of who chose most wisely this time, and quickly realize that there was no loser at this meal.

The first thing that you notice is the heft of the portions. You can safely bring your chronically hungry companions without fear of too much white space on a dinner plate. This is my first time eating pork belly and I am curious about it after the recent Pork Belly Throwdown. Like a growing number of us, I am an unabashed pork fan. Pig tastes good, it just does; and the chefs at Feast really know how to celebrate the pig. So, I entered this experience head-on with enthusiasm and I was duly rewarded. This may be too far inside my own world to translate, dear reader, but the Crispy Roasted Pork Belly was like a savory version of a perfect Crème Brulée. It required a firm tap of the knife to break the outer skin and the middle was rich and soft. If you can’t follow me with the Crème Brulée, think of a perfectly crisped, fried chicken. Lest I miss the other amazing offerings, I should move to the mashed potatoes and cabbage with apples. Both are perfect compliments to the main dish and are well executed. The potatoes were perfectly mashed and slightly browned on the top as if they were laid in a frying pan before serving. The cabbage and apples were a great compliment to the richness of the pork belly and they were seasoned wonderfully, not too vinegary.

The rabbit was equally as impressive and the “bubble and squeak” (Mashed potatoes with leftover veggies mixed in) was scrumptious. There must be a version of this British classic passed down as family tradition somewhere on this side of the Atlantic. It has all of the makings of a southern meal, but I have never tasted cabbage in potatoes. It is so obvious and delicious. The portion was more than enough and required a serious commitment to dessert for us to restrain ourselves from savaging the whole main course.

Looking over the succinct dessert menu it all seems basic and, well, English. We opted for Sticky Toffee Pudding, once again recommended by our server. Totally delicious, it was sticky and toffee, but less pudding and more like a heavy, moist bundt cake. It was warm and rich, but it only added to the feeling that I may not be able to walk out of the restaurant without auxiliary assistance.

We say our goodbyes and thank you to the waiter and head for the door. As the evening light has faded the rooms look even more ancient and warm. You really do feel a different time and place being in Feast, both exotic and home at the same time. I can’t resist picking up a card with the Feast logo as I grab the door and step out to the valet back into the familiar Westheimer noise. Pulling out, we both take more look back at the towering shell of Feast, our stomachs still round as a temporary monument to a wonderful experience.

When you go to Feast, be prepared. They take their name very literally so you can’t say they didn’t warn you. And yes, you can even get the t-shirt… A few other Feast offerings that are worth mentioning – if you want a real lunch value on Friday and Saturday: 2 courses 12.95, 3 Courses 15.95. The lunch servings are full portions and just as daring as the regular menu. The pea soup with pork belly and snails is simply perfect. Also, every second and fourth Sunday there is a Sunday roast menu, reservations expected. I can assure you that this will be one of my first outings once the weather turns colder, I can imagine that the restaurant comes even more alive in the winter and fall and I certainly look forward to the outdoor 2nd floor patio. See you there?

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Where – Montrose  (219 Westheimer Road, Houston, TX 77006) View Map
What – Feast of Adventurous Cuisine
Wear – The Dangerous Cool of 007 or the Three Piece and Wingtips of Holmes
Who – Pretentious Foodies or Your Perpetually Hungry Uncle Mike
How Much – Heaping portions $15-25 for dinner and $12.95/15.95 for lunch
When – Dinner: Monday, Wednesday – Sunday-  5-10 (Closed Tuesday)
Lunch Friday & Saturday – 11-2:30
Sunday- Roast- 12:30-2:30 (2nd & 4th Sunday of month, reservations required)
Webhttp://feasthouston.googlepages.com/home

— Aaron

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