As I mentioned the other day, I spent last weekend in Houston at the Mom 2.0 Summit. When I travel for work (which I do pretty regularly), I make it a habit to find a really great restaurant. I'm kind of picky when it comes to food, so sometimes, it's hard to find someplace that meets my critical standards. However, I had no issues in Houston.
One of my clients is the Mushroom Council. We promote the use and nutritional benefits of domestic, cultivated mushrooms. Cool gig, right? Anyway, the Mushroom Council has this awesome program called the Chef's Advisory Panel, and one of the participating chefs is Monica Pope, my new favorite person, and chef/co-owner of t'afia in Houston. (Monica is the cool one smack dab in the middle of the above photo, wearing the Cranky shirt. Photo courtesy of Yvonne from Joy Unexpected.)
Early last week, prior to my trip, I made a reservation for Saturday night for four people at t'afia. At that point, I had no idea who would join me. I figured that worse comes to worse, I'd change the reservation to one and sit with my own bad self at the bar. Little did I know. By Saturday afternoon, we were up to a party of 11, and practically had Tino the manager on speed dial. "Hi Tino. Can you add one more mom? Can you add a baby?"
The menu at t'afia is a true showcase of local foods and, as expected, there were a ton of choices that featured mushrooms. It was truly hard to decide what to get, so most of us stuck to the five course tasting menu. It's hard for me to do the food justice with words alone, so let's start the photos, shall we?
These chickpea fries were a table favorite, and they weren't even part of the Tasting Menu (As I mentioned, Monica is awesome, so she kept bringing the crazy mom bloggers little treats.) They were served with a spicy ketchup, and sprinkled with za'atar. The inclusion of a Middle Eastern spice was a running theme throughout the evening. As Monica explained, Houston is on the same latitude as Beirut and Cairo, so it only makes sense.
This was the first course of the tasting menu; Homemade crackers with raw milk cheddar and mustard fruit. I had NO CLUE what mustard fruit was when I saw this on the menu, but I'm glad I tried it. Turns out that it's dried fruit cooked with mustard. I was sitting next to Devra (from Parentopia) at dinner. We are both Jewish, and we agreed that it was kind of like the tsimmes or compote that our moms make, but with much more of a kick (which was an improvement, if you ask me).
This was a Vegan Sweet Potato Soup. It was incredibly creamy and savory. Again, you could really taste the Middle Eastern influence. One of the things I loved best about this soup was how well it paired with the rosé that was served alongside it.
Sitting next to me on my other side was Catherine (from Her Bad Mother). She didn't do the tasting menu, but she ordered REALLY well, so I snapped some photos of her food as well. These were the Tempura-Fried Crimini Mushrooms. They looked and smelled amazing, and Catherine devoured them, all while juggling a very tired Jasper (who is the sweetest little 9-month-old around). This photo also does a great job showcasing the adorable tables at t'afia. They were super bright and colorful, and lent the restaurant a very elegant, yet casual feel. Loved them.
The endive folks aren't a client, but if they were, I'd tell them to just travel the country serving this salad to food bloggers. Endive can sometimes be bitter. Not the way t'afia serves it. The endive was crunchy and cool and sweet, and was a perfect foil to the candied walnuts, the tangy bleu cheese, and OH YES, those awesome Criminis. I love that the Criminis here were served raw. Most people don't serve raw mushrooms, but I love them. Finally, the black truffle vinaigrette pulled everything together. If it were up to me (and if I were rich), I'd sprinkle everything with black truffles, but Michael doesn't love them, so I rely on fabulous restaurants to get my truffle fix.
A couple of the ladies were concerned about the presence of venison on the tasting menu, but when they expressed those concerns to Monica, she told them not to worry. She was totally right. There was no gaminess. The medium rare meat was as tender as can be. This is venison that people who hate venison will LOVE.
This was another dish that Catherine ordered, called Balsamic Caramel Beef Cubes with Shiitake Mushrooms. (The gorgeous Isabel from Alpha Mom ordered it as well, but Catherine's plate was closer to my camera.) I have to say that I was kind of jealous of this dish. It looked and smelled divine.
By the time dessert rolled around, I was in too much of a food coma to snap any more photos, but trust me when I tell you that we were all making satisfied moaning sounds and threatening to pick up the ramekins to lick out every last bit of goodness (especially the chocolate mousse, and Julie, Ms. Mother Goose Mouse herself, would have totally done that if I wasn't watching, I'm sure of it).
The ladies at the table kept thanking me for arranging the evening, but I really need to thank THEM. I had such a blast, and it was a zillion times better than eating by myself at the bar.
The t'afia Dinner Club Attendees:
Yvonne from Joy Unexpected
Isabel from Alpha Mom
Julie from Mother Goose Mouse
Catherine from Her Bad Mother (and Jasper!)
Devra from Parentopia
Sarah from Sarah and the Goon Squad
Joanne from Pundit Mom
Amie from Mamma Loves
Lindsay from Suburban Turmoil
Aimee from Greeblemonkey