Despite only opening in mid-March, Oxheart is already winning hearts across Houston and breaking ones too far away to grab a bite. Justin Yu was on to something with his pop-up dinners, but he is really on to the extraordinary with his first restaurant.
He explained to TEXAS MONTHLY that the menu is still evolving and changing. "Not everybody loves the idea of being asked to do tasting menus, but Houston is ready for a restaurant like this," he said. "When I was growing up in Houston, it didn't seem like people were all that progressive or had an outlook on newer food trends. When I came back and did the pop-up restaurant, we had such a huge response and I realized there was a craving for something that was different and wasn't tired."
Yu had been ready to open a restaurant for a while, but admits he was waiting around for the right inspiration and concept to spring itself on him. "I wanted the restaurant to have aggressive, progressive food, but not overly formal. The idea for Oxheart really clicked when I went to a restaurant called Relae in Copenhagen, and it was a sum of the ideas I had ever had. I was like, 'These guys are doing exactly what I want to do.' It was out of this world."
Oxheart recently featured Gulf oysters with spring onions and brown butter on its menu, and the dish quickly became a favorite. "The idea of using the roots, the bulbs, and the green parts of a spring onion is great. Those parts are often discarded by a lot of people, but they are really tasty," Yu said. Oddly, the unique concept behind the dish came to Yu by "crappy accident."
"A chef was letting me play around with some different dishes, but I was getting in the way of one of his cooks by using the oven, so I turned it to steam, didn't let it steam very long, and pulled them out when he needed to use the oven. It wasn't cooked all the way through because if it did it would have popped open, but I just ate it anyway. It had this great raw flavor to it."
Gulf Oysters Steamed in their Shells with Spring Onions and Brown Butter from Oxheart. Recipe from Justin Yu.
Makes 6 portions
6 Gulf oysters, preferably larger
3 spring onions, cleaned with greens and roots separated
1 medium yellow onion
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, browned
6 sprigs broccoli flowers
Separate the tops, the bulbs, and the roots from the spring onions. Wash and rinse off the roots three times in cold water to get all the excess dirt out. Spread them thinly on a parchment-lined half sheet pan and put in a 180-degree-oven overnight to dry and crisp.
With the bulb of the onion, slice in half and toss in one tablespoon of grapeseed oil, a pinch of salt, and black pepper. Place face down on a sheet pan and roast for 10-12 minutes on 325 degrees Fahrenheit or until the thickest part on the bulb can be easily pierced with the tip of a knife. Turn up the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit for one minute before pulling from the oven for a heavy caramelization.
Slice the green tops of the onion into one-inch thick pieces and juice it along with the one medium onion. Strain the juice through a sieve.
To assemble, set up a steamer and steam the oysters on high steam for 45 seconds. Shuck the oyster from its shell; it should be slightly translucent, but not raw, and place it and all the oyster liqueur in the bottom of a small bowl. Season the oyster with a liberal amount of finishing salt. Place the roasted onion on top of the oyster. For the sauce, warm the brown butter and add 1 tablespoon of juice to the hot butter, salt the sauce, and let the raw onion flavor cook out of it for about 1 minute on medium heat. Spoon the sauce over the oyster and garnish with a sprig of broccoli flower and the dried onion roots.
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