- Smokin Joe
New Offerings from the Houston Omni and Noe Grill
Maple is one of those trees that brings a sense of comfort and dare I say magic to my mind. Real Maple Syrup on Waffles or Pancakes. Maple cured bacon or ham. Maple wood barrel aged Whiskey or Whisky depending up on the national origin. Maple smoked meats. Even maple planks on a bowling alley–your roll, Dude. Of course when it comes to comfort in the form of food, beverage, environment and luxury, the Houston Omni Hotel, the Noe Grill and the Black Swan over off of Woodway near the Galleria is one of the best Hotels, restaurants and bars to provide all of those and more at their facilities.
Very recently, the Houston Omni had a change in Food/Beverage management, along with several experimental dishes in their Noe Grill and not to be outdone, a new seasonal menu themed on The Magic Of Maple. I had the privilege of meeting with Mr. Edward Parker, who comes the Houston Omni after a number of years in Southern California with other well-heeled hotels. Parker is a Native of New Orleans, which immediately kicks in my nostalgia from growing up in Louisiana. Besides enjoying a few great cocktails with Mr. Parker, we also got to try some of the Magic of Maple Menu series, which is running this summer at the Noe Grill. Much of this menu is a return to the original Cali-Asian Fusion menu that the original Noe in SoCal created, but with a delicious regional twist. Chef Franklin Thompson was one of the minds behind this menu, but was unfortunately not available. What ended up playing out was a great dinner and conversation with Mr. Parker and impeccable service by the Omin’s very capable staff.
Some of y’all who follow my Instagram account saw more than a few photos of the dishes and cocktails. Here’s a more detailed take on these wonderful beverages and bites: We started off the evening with the signature cocktail of the Black Swan known as the Black Diamond: This Black Swan signature cocktail combines luxurious Belvedere Vodka, lush dark cherries and Chandon Sparkling Rose for a tantalizing and delicious cocktail. It’s served in a chilled Martini glass with the Lusardo cherry on the bottom slowly infusing it’s way through the liquid while the Chandon is floated across the top. The cocktail starts slightly sweet and sparkly, finishes rich and slightly sour. To say this was a great way to start off the evening would be an understatement–but then again such a luxurious cocktail is truly befitting of the Houston Omni and the Black Swan.
One other cocktail we had during the meal was The Houston Sour: a soon-to-be Black Swan favorite combines peach notes with the full body flavors of Hennessy VS for a great, well balanced cocktail. For those who might want a frame of reference, the nearest cocktail to its flavour profile is an Old Fashioned. Thanks to It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, any time I say the name of that cocktail I hear Jim Backus like Mr. Howell saying “We need to make those Old Fashioneds the Old Fahshioned way!!!” However, this version here was a great variation on the traditional cocktail. The Black Swan rendition of a classic cocktail, this drink features a touch of Houston and Texas personality. The Texas Whiskey flavour echoes elements found in some Old Fashioned’s (especially those who add a dash of Southern Comfort to the mix) plus the hint of lemon and a red wine float give it a bold, unique texture. This is a New Houston take on an Old Fashioned that was nice easy sipping.
Although Head Chef Franklin Thompson couldn’t be there that evening, Noé Chef Alan Hartigan took the reins and put together a great menu for us that ended up being quite a sumptuous dinner. We started off with an appetizer of grilled Shishito peppers with apple vinegar & drawn butter. Shishito peppers are a sweet, Asian variety that seems like a cross between a Hatch Green Chile and a Pepperoncini. They’re finger sized and have a strong herbal element, but give a hit of heat on the back end. Dipped in the drawn butter, you get a mix of umami, herbal, heat and fibre that make these a fun veggie to snack on! Grade: A+
At this point, it was time for more appetizers and this next one was a pleasant slap in the taste buds: Maple Chili Chicken Wings served with pickled toy box peppers, and chunky Blue Cheese Dressing for dipping. The sauce on these wings was spicy, a little bitter but mellowed out by the addition of maple in the flavour profile. Between these and the Shishito peppers in the previous course, you can see that indeed Noé Grill is leaning back into its Asian Fusion roots, but in a very good way. The wings were like a fancier, slightly sweeter version of Gochujang Wings you can get at a number of Korean restaurants. As a man who loves hot wings, this version was an elevated taste that still hit the spot!
Next up was an Asian style Chop Salad. This fresh, bold salad included Napa Cabbage, Spinach, Kale, Red Onion, Candied Cashews for crunch and sweetness, and a littlet Pickled Ginger Vinaigrette for a more herbal sour hit. Kale sometimes gets a bad rap because some folks go a little too cuckoo over it. When I was younger, Kale was a garnish you didn’t eat. However, it’s like a crunchier, greener cabbage that is quite good for you! When prepared in the right way–blended with other ingredients in a salad or made into chips. it is quite tasty! This salad makes you want to eat it and all your veggies too!
Any multicourse meal should include a soup course and we were served a wonderful Curried Corn and Crab Chowder with Corn flour Beignet (there’s that New Orleans influence!) The soup was poured fresh over the Beignet and had a mild, creamy texture with just a hint of curry in the back end of the taste. A larger bowl of this stuff would have made a nice lunch. As it was, still a great soup I’d highly recommend. Grade: A
You can’t run a proper Hotel Restaurant along the Gulf Coast without having a good seafood dish and the Noé Grill brought one of their better ones for this meal: Pan Seared Salmon with an nice carmelization to the top served with Celery Root, Spring Vegetables, and topped with Maple Bacon Marmalade. This was a beautiful dish to behold, but even better to eat. The salmon had a crispy surface but underneath was juicy, tender, and flaked in nice long sections. The veggies were full of great garden fresh flavour too–some crunch, not limp nor overdone. The bacon marmalade gave a smokey, pork punch to the flavour profile and made this dish a clear winner.
Those of you Dear Readers who know about Mr. Moustache and Uncle Tex along with my son’s whole herd of Bad Piggies know I have to apologize to them for this next dish. However, it was too darn delicious to not enjoy to the fullest! Slow Braised Pork Belly served atop Sweet Potato Pancakes with warm maple syrup, Asparagus, and crispy Cipollini Onion. Just look at that photo: it’s built like a miniature castle. The pork belly was super tender, juicy, and worked oh so well with the sweet potato pancakes and maple syrup. The sweetness of the aforementioned items was well cut by the herbal asparagus and pungent, salty onions. Clearly this was the main course for those of us who love pork belly and the composition and plating made it the Number One Hit for this set at Noe Gril! Grade: A with nearly 100 Pluses after this! My favourite dish of 2016 up to now!!!
Of course there was a dessert course (and we had been setting asides portions of the items that would travel well to take home so we would have room!). We were served salted caramel ice cream from local favourite Fat Cat Creamery (one of my favourite flavours from there I might add!) served with an assortment of French Macarons which included berry, chocolate and pistachio in the mix. While we enjoyed a couple of the Macarons and all of the ice cream, a large number of the Macarons were boxed up and brought home as they are one of my daughter Helena’s favourites. A wonderful end to a great meal! Grade: A+
I want to heartily thank Edward Parker, Alan Hartigan and the rest of the staff at the Noé Grill and the Houston Omni for a wonderful dining experience. FYI: Father’s day is this Sunday and taking your dad to the Noé Grill for dinner followed by Cocktails at The Black Swan would most certainly be in order! Tell them Hank on Food sent you by!!!
The Houston Omni Hotel is located at: 4 Riverway Houston, TX 77056 Hotel: (713) 871-8181 Noé Grill: (713) 871-8177
Hours of Operation Dining Room: Monday – Sunday: 5:00 – 10:00 p.m.
NOÉ Bar: Sunday – Thursday: Noon – 1:00 a.m. Friday & Saturday: Noon – 2:00 a.m.
Eat Happy, Y’all!!! 吃得开心!!! Hank