I was excited to learn that two local restaurants still value and use traditional food preparation methods for at least some of their offerings. Houston Chronicle Food Editor Greg Morago has revealed some fascinating details about what goes on in the kitchens of these restaurants. I will be watching for Greg to reveal more secrets. Here’s what I learned from his recent articles:
Traditional Bone Broth at the Tiger Den
First, the chef makes his noodles from scratch even though he says “no one wants to make the noodles from scratch every day because it’s tough.” They are “Hakata-style ramen – thin, firm noodles that are made in house daily.” 1
But the second is what really got my attention. Chef Mike Tran cooks his ramen bone broth for 36 hours before straining and serving. That’s real bone broth!
“The restaurant offers four varieties of ramen: traditional tonkotsu ramen (pork noodle soup), garlic black bean ramen, miso or spicy miso ramen and tantan ramen, which is flavored with minced pork, peanuts, chilies and mustard green pickle.” 1
Ramen isn’t the only food on the menu, but it is what I found most interesting. The Tiger Den also offers a “long list of yakitori – robata-grilled skewers of chicken gizzard, chicken hearts, chicken skin, pork belly, pork jowl, beef tongue, lamb, ribeye steak, beef liver and shrimp.” Another notable detail: “the finishing sea salt sprinkled on meats has been toasted in the wok with shiitake mushrooms and seaweed for flavor.” 1
Reviews of the new restaurant vary, but most say the wait is long, both outside waiting to be seated and inside waiting for the food to arrive at the table. The menu is focused and prices seem reasonable–$8.50 – $9.50 for a bowl of ramen. Could long wait times be an indicator of really good food? Here are the reviews from Yelp and Foursquare.
Long Fermented Breads at Tony’s
The second discovery is about food preparation by Tony’s master baker David Berg. Now, Tony’s is a totally different kind of restaurant from the Tiger Den. It is upscale and pricey. For most people, it is a special occasion restaurant.
So why am I so excited about what Tony’s is doing? The reason: David Berg and his starter! Yes, he uses starter to make his breads! And, it’s not just any starter. His starter was created by his mother, “eight years ago in California, sourced from a friend who gave him a piece of a 200-year-old starter from France.” That sounds like a traditional starter to me! 2
David Berg knows how important his starter is to both his career and his baking success. He describes his starter this way: “‘It’s my child. I take it home every weekend. I nurture it and feed it, he said, adding that he takes it wherever he goes. ‘She needs to be near her daddy.'” 2
Making bread the traditional way is a long, intense process. “One loaf is a 36-hour process.” Although Berg had his own bakery in California and has taught pastry and international cuisine at Culinary Institute LeNotre in Houston, he gives most of the credit to his starter for his “bread’s flavor and texture.” 2
Berg makes “wheat and rye bread starters for Tony’s, which now offers house-made baguettes, honey wheat bread, focaccia and hamburger buns. Berg can also make ciabatta and bagels. . .” 2 The reviews for Tony’s are mostly very good to excellent. Read more at Yelp, Zagat, and TripAdvisor,
I wish we could buy bread like that made by David Berg with his pampered starter!! I haven’t yet found a good Houston source for buying truly traditional, long fermented bread from starter!
Although these traditional food preparations are great, I don’t have enough information about the sources of their ingredients and other food preparation methods to call the Tiger Den or Tony’s Real Food Restaurants. Does anyone know more about this?
You will need to be a subscriber to the Houston Chronicle to read these articles. They appeared in the print version in the last two weeks and are now available online to subscribers. I’m an old-fashioned real paper reader–both books and newspapers (I do recycle)–so I have access to both the print and online Houston Chronicle. There’s no extra charge for the online Chronicle if you subscribe to the printed version.
[Note: The above photos of tonkotsu ramen and baguettes are from Wikipedia, but, if you have access to the online Houston Chronicle articles, the real photos (copyrighted) are outstanding! Take a look at David Berg's bread and bread-making and Mike Tran's ramen and noodle-making at the Tiger Den! Mouth-watering photos!]