Houston Restaurant

In February, Mr. Yu got his hands on some turkey that a farmer outside this city had raised from a heritage breed called broad-breasted bronze. The drumsticks and thighs he braised, pulled and dressed with sour cream and oregano. Together with crisp skin and cooked radishes, the meat was rolled up in a wrapper made of thinly shaved turnips. It looked a little like a Vietnamese summer roll.

Turkey may be an unconventional choice for a seven-course $79 tasting menu in a restaurant that the Houston Chronicle critic Alison Cook gave four stars after it opened last year. But Oxheart is one of the growing number of places around the country that are rearranging our notions of what fine dining means. It is also an example of the growing ambition of the Houston dining scene, and one of two places that lured me here to kick off this occasional series of reviews of restaurants outside New York City.

Traditional signifiers of luxury are scarce at Oxheart. No valet materialized to park my car after I descended from Interstate 10 to a pocket of industrial buildings and frame houses north of downtown that the developers forgot to tear down.

We were a few minutes early, and Oxheart has no space for a lounge, so we were sent to the front porch. We stood next to trash bags full of mesquite and a covered compost bin. Three or four servers, each friendlier than the last, came out to take our drink orders and check on us while we watched people passing by who may have been bound for the tattoo parlor, a recording studio or a bar where the door is always closed (knock twice to get in).

As this urban-wildlife setting suggests, ambitious restaurants are less concerned with comforting the comfortable than they used to be. What the comfortable want, what even those of us who merely aspire to be a little less uncomfortable want, is an experience that feels authentic.

The markers of luxury have even changed on the plate. Truffles, Dover sole, lamb that went to private school? Insignificant. Wildflowers, bizarrely named but abundant fish species, any and all members of the botanical family known as the brassicas? Incredibly significant.

At Oxheart the night I visited, there were two brassica courses, starting with a salad of sliced raw chard and kale leaves with pickled chard stems and a dressing of mint and basil oil with the juice of, yes, more chard. In the center, looking like a poached egg white, was a spoonful of tart goat-milk whey. It was one of the most inventive and delicious salads I have had recently. And, if you consider painstaking attention to detail a sign of luxury, it was one of the most luxurious, too.

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