Purple hull peas with bacon
The hype surrounding restaurants that serve local, organic and sustainable foods has reached such a shrill cry that some of us would gladly patronize a place that stressed its authenticity by flying in all of its ingredients from around the world.
But from the moment you take one bite at Restaurant Gwendolyn, the downtown temple to local fare, you realize there is really something wonderful to be had in your own backyard.
Our visit Tuesday as part of Culinaria's Restaurant Week began with a simple amuse bouche that consisted of a purple hull pea purée on a slender rectangle of toast with house-cured bacon. Simple, yes, but the freshness of the peas, from Cora Lamar's Oak Hill Farm, sparked with just the right amount of salt was a real eye-opener. And the crumbles of crispy bacon provided the right contrast of texture while complementing the flavor.
Arugula with Blackened Tomato Vinaigrette
From the three-course prix fixe menu, two of us selected an arugula salad with house-made andouille, rings of red onion and blackened tomato vinaigrette. The leaves were so fresh and beautifully piquant -- not to mention perfect in shape -- that they pleased both eye and taste. Everything on the plate had its own bold seasoning, whether it was the sausage or the lively, spicy tomato dressing. An equally vibrant 2011 Willm Pinot Blanc added a citric punch that just made the salad extra special. (It was so good, in fact, that I couldn't tell you what the other salad was, other than my friend finished it off.)
Braised pork shoulder
Our enjoyment continued to grow with the arrival of the entrées. Both friends had braised pork shoulder with house-made pappardelle, which they loved, though a small bite or two of the pork was chewier than the majority, which was fork-tender and perfect with the Spanish Tempranillo we shared. I had incredibly moist chicken from Peeler Farms, served over a bed of vegetables that tasted as if they had been picked that afternoon.
Dessert, a plate of chocolate for them and fresh fruit for me, was followed by a cheese plate that was the genuine highlight of the evening. An array of Texas cheeses, include a goat cheese and hard cow's milk cheeses, arrived with Christmas figs (dried figs seasoned with clove and winter spices), dried apricots, fried almonds with honey and crazy good buttered crostini. But it was the Brazos Valley Eden, a raw milk brie wrapped in fig leaves with a thread of vegetable ash running through the center, that was the real mindblower. It oozed an intense swirl of flavors with each bite and was gone all too soon.
Restaurant Gwendolyn's cheese plate
So, from the purple hull peas to that last taste of brie, Michael Sohocki makes the strongest case for eating local that you can make: You'll love it.
Culinaria's Restaurant Week continues through Sunday with a variety of eateries across town taking part. Multi-course lunches are priced at $15 while dinners are $35. For a full list of participants, click on the Culinaria ad at the top of the page, and then go out for a special dinner.
152 E. Pecan St.