Philip Speer, Culinary Director of the Uchi group heads up one of the hottest new ventures in town at St. Philip. I need to go back to do a more thorough review as my 1 trip so far was pre-opening. But I thought I should post my highlights as it is topping many best of lists for the year.
St Philips occupies part of the space that used to be Cannoli Joe’s which was an all-you-can-eat Italianish food. Although better than many buffet places, the pizza there was flabby and greasy. So the beautiful pies that Speer’s crew are turning out are truly tasty. We had the Wild Mushroom with Ricotta, Baby Kale, and Umami Sauce ($14) Not sure what was in the umami sauce but it is my new favorite condiment. I think it would easily make catsup its bitch.
Forget Chicken and Waffles and try the Churros and Chicken. I don’t think this is still on the menu but I really liked the spicy and creamy dipping sauces with the boneless chicken breast and mini churros. The menu updates often with seasonal items and the creative whims of the chef. Had to mention this one though with churros coming up as a new hot item, I really liked the creativity of the savory sweet pairing.
The restaurant seems small but that is most likely due to the eager anticipation that still packs the place on a nightly basis. Tables are close but great for people watching. There is also a huge bar with a long list of Texas beers and wines on tap. Yes, even many of the wines are on tap. There is also a nice porch area outside for the inevitable wait if you try to pop in. Service is friendly and attentive, even bringing us cold ice water outside on a warm day while we had a brief wait on our table.
Speer is still one of my favorite pastry chefs in town. Although he may not be baking on a day to day basis, you can bet he is training and guiding the crew filling the huge pastry case that has its own dedicated area. One of the main reasons I need to return is because there were only slim pickings left on our visit but we did enjoy a rootbeer snickerdoodle, a soft oatmeal cookie, and a puckery sweet lemon chess pie.
So for Uchi dining standards but with wholly new flavors check out St. Philips and see what’s new.
I was pleased to be offered an opportunity to try the new lunch menu at the Hightower on East 7th. I always get anxious about finding parking downtown but things were off to a great start to pull up to a reasonably sized parking lot. The inside is full of warm wood and soft lighting. There is a huge, gorgeous bar and a tiny postage stamp sized kitchen. But the chef is working his magic despite the petite work area.
The chicken liver pate is rich and complex. It comes with quince jam and candied peanuts for salty sweet fix that ain’t your mama’s pb&j. ($7)
The gnocchi with house made ricotta, Brussels sprouts greens, butternut squash puree, turnip confit, almonds and sorghum was my favorite dish of the day. The pillow soft gnocchi on the warm winter puree with bitter greens and slightly sour turnips would be especially comforting on a chilly winter day. ($12)
The fried oysters with sriracha aioli, flying fish roe, sunflower sprouts and avocado oil was interesting. It is served as an open face sandwich with practically a full salad on top as well as on the side. The thin crispy bread gave a needed textural contrast to the plump oysters and pop of the fish roe but made for an extremely messy sandwich. Forge ahead as best you can with a knife and fork. It’s worth it. Owner said they were looking for a new bread source, so it might change to more traditional looking. ($12)
As a pastry chef, I always have to try dessert and appreciate ones that are made in house and not your typical pie-cake-ice cream. And the tiny kitchen did not disappoint with a twist on the classic buttermilk pie. A thin layer of custard is baked sans shell in a wide bowl which gave an especially chewy/crunchy texture to the edge of the “filling”. The bits sprinkled on top are toasted meringue with a pretzel crust crumble for the crunchy, salty bits you usually get from a crust. It also has a chiffonade of mint which took me a bit to decide if I liked. A personal pastry prejudice is mint on top of desserts. Less often now but frequently in the past, desserts were topped with a sprig of mint more for a pop of color than for the flavor profile. But in this case, I decided I liked the fresh green mint with the sour-sweet custard. ($5)
So if you are looking for a reasonably priced lunch downtown with parking (and maybe a tasty beverage or 2) check out the Hightower. They also do brunch both Saturday and Sunday with similar offerings. And thanks to the Hightower for having me in. I’ll be back with friends soon!