That first dish put us all in the good mood. Well, better mood; the initial sips of the initial cocktails had already helped. Presented on a wood serving board, the Coconut Jam Toast, etc. consisted of a small glass Mason jar filled with a dark reddish liquid that was in which, upon closer inspection, egg whites were floating in the sweetened not-really-salty soy mixture, three thinly cut pieces of thick, airy toast, and a big dollop of cream-colored coconut jam. It was terrific, and probably the overall favorite among the four of us. The flavorful and balanced creamy jam, excellent bread and the light soy mixture-drunk eggs all worked very well together and each on their own. The only downside was that there was not enough bread to sop up all of the egg-soy mix.
I enjoyed the two salads that quickly followed the Coconut Jam Toast even more. These were not at all dim sum-style, or even Cantonese or Chinese, I don’t believe, not even the Crispy Rice Salad. This featured puffed and crispy grains of rice providing a welcome textural contrast to the array of fresh herbs and the bright ripe cherry tomatoes. The Tomato & Avocado Salad that came at the same time also had a medley of fresh herbs, wedges of ripe green avocado and even more tomatoes in hues of deep purple and robust red. The tomatoes were terrific. The quality of tomatoes are something I am especially sensitive to these days, eating far too many woefully underripe and amazingly tasteless slices of Franken-tomatoes that seem to come more often than not atop of margherita pizzas in Houston, which I have encountered during the course of my Margherita Pizza Project research. Not only healthful-tasting, but vibrant and wonderful, these two salads are quick to recommend for any brunch visit here, even if a salad for brunch won’t come to mind for many.
The dumplings were good, if not quite as enjoyable as the salads. The Boiled Pork Dumplings set in a light sauce with chile oil were filled a mixture of ground pork and had a nice flavor though the thin pasta exterior fell apart a little too readily for my tastes, and my chopsticks. The fairly stout dumpling-esque Smoked Boudin Siu Mai were light on the smokiness, which was fine for me and easily enjoyable. It is one of the many dishes among the two dozen or so that easily and smartly mix some of the different cuisines that get traction among Houston diners. Executive Chef Chris Shepherd showed over the tenure of Underbelly, and currently at One Fifth Romance Languages, how he and team can combine items from seemingly disparate cooking traditions into something sensibly delicious. The Xi'An Hot Pocket and larger, seemingly step sibling, the Beef Curry Hand Pie, are both fun and a little messy to share. The four pieces of the Crispy Snapper Puffs were easier to split. The fried tendrils extending from the brownish spheres of deep-fried fish added a squid-like appearance that further emphasize the watery provenance, though these were nicely quite clean-tasting, without even much brininess.
The eight dishes we split had a nice mix of tastes and textures, with not much in the way of bold flavors or significant spiciness. Instead, it was a collection subtle flavors – some Chinese, most not, and not even Asian – from obviously excellent ingredients interplaying in a very insightful way, tied together with mostly well-practiced techniques. And none of the dishes were terribly heavy. It was easy to keep eating and eating, as the ordering is done in piece-meal fashion, just like dim sum. The somewhat different collection of preparations worked very well together on the table for us, and work well the menu, which includes a large seafood tower and a stuff fried boneless chicken.
I really enjoyed my first visit to UB Preserv, as you can probably tell. Set in the not-so-large space that once housed Poscol and Café Montrose before that in a humble strip center, this is easily the nicest incarnation. Plenty of easy brown colors and straight lines made this comfortable for lunch, except the loud noises from the cocktail shakers behind the bar in the left half of the two dining areas that rebound a little too easily off all of those hard-edged surfaces. It would be easier to ignore during the evening, I’m sure. That might be the only demerit. It’s a cool place and the food is even cooler.
1609 Westheimer (just west of Mandell) 77006, (346) 406-5923
Boiled Pork Dumplings