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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Raw and baked

As Gulf oyster season is winding down, I had a chance to go dining with some friends at Pappas Seafood House in the Sharpstown area. While the cheapest oysters in town is the Happy Hour special at Ragin' Cajun which is $3 for a dozen, the Pappas chain sells theirs for $4 for a dozen all the time. I'm no Gulf oyster expert like Robb Walsh is (and I recommend you defer to his expertise in the matter), but I'll attest that the oysters I had were sweet, delicious, and beautifully presented. The last is important as earlier reports in other Pappas branches described a goofy presentation that resulted in loss of the oyster liquor.

Like most typical seafood restaurants, the Pappas menu is heavy on fried items and boiled shrimp, but one thing did stand out in my eye: a relatively inexpensive sushi selection. The sushi menu comprised entirely of either "sashimi" or ornate multi-ingredient "maki" rolls. Mostly the latter. And the fish used are either tuna, hamachi, salmon, shrimp, or scallops. Pretty safe, stereotypic stuff.

I tried the scallop roll, and the hamachi sashimi. The scallops were barely seared, and rolled into these enormous maki rolls, but were layered with a number of flavorful ingredients, from wasabi to other unidentifiable elements, but I did take away a certain sweetness to it. The sashimi wasn't so much sashimi as modern "carpaccio" - slices of pretty tender and fresh hamachi was topped with garlic oil, and chopped basil, alongside a sweet seaweed salad and these (superfluous) deep fried wonton skins. The fish was fine on its own, but all the distracting seasonings took away from enjoying the clean fish flavor. Maybe I can ask for "less is more" in the future.

In my opinion, though, the one thing they nailed that night, the thing that will make me come back, we didn't even pay for. The bread service was stellar. The bread itself was crusty, with a chewy interior, served warm and wrapped simply in some insulating cloth. The butter dish was generous, whipped, and at the correct spreadable texture; restaurants with much fancier calibers can't seem to get this part right. Had they served it with a side of coarse salt, and some perfectly ripe tomatoes, and I would munch on it for hours. In fact, we forwent dessert to munch on more bread.

It was that good.

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