football teammates was the Student Union. “Now, The Union
Kitchen has become the perfect ‘union’ of good friends and
great food,” he says.
Thanks to the city’s generally mild climate, many of Miller’s
entree salads are year-round favorites, as he expects will be the
case with Pistachio-Crusted Goat Cheese with Fresh Strawberries and White Balsamic Vinaigrette (shrimp can be added).
“This was a special ‘featured salad,’ but it proved so popular
that we’re adding it to our warmer-weather menu,” he says.
The goat cheese is a local product, and a specific one is
selected and ordered for the coming month only after much
product tasting. To prepare the salad, a 5 lb. log of cheese is
cut into ¾ oz. bites. “We roll the bites into little balls, then
roll them in a mixture of ground pistachios, panko, salt and
pepper,” Miller says. Next, he flattens the balls slightly and
fries them in a pan on high heat with a bit of extra virgin olive
oil, just to sear the cheese for crunch. “The outside is hot,
the inside is warm and the contrast of warm goat cheese with
cold strawberries and cool lettuce leaves—a combo of baby
greens with arugula for a nice pepper flavor—is lovely,” he
says. Miller suggests a glass of Sauvignon Blanc as the perfect
During the decade she worked as a food scientist in the
research labs at Mars/Uncle Ben’s, Houston, Sylvia Casares
developed her palate to recognize just the moment when a
product is at its optimum flavor, that is, fully developed and
pleasing. “Often, that takes a lot of trial and error, but I always
shoot [for it] to be a 10,” she says.
Casares, a Brownsville, Texas, native, owns Sylvia’s
Enchilada Kitchen, with two locations in Houston. She built
a solid reputation for authenticity, high quality and flavorful
consistency with her enchiladas, then turned her attention to
bringing her various fajita salads up to that “perfect 10” level.
Now, they’re all solid sellers.
“I start off by using the best slaughterhouse,” Casares says. “I
have one brand that I specify, and we do the trimming ourselves.
Then, we marinate the beef in my [secret] seasoning for 10 hours.
The cool thing is that by the end of the marinade, beef typically
loses its natural beef flavor, but with my recipe, the beef tastes like
beef. It was trial and error over a two-year period to figure it out.”
For a super-authentic Brownsville flavor, she cooks the beef
to almost fork-tender on a wood grill. “My supplier tells me others are buying less expensive cuts since the cost of beef is up
about 40% over last year because of the drought,” Casares says.
“But we just have to bite the bullet. My customers would know.”
At Sylvia’s, fajitas—a 5 oz. portion of beef ($13.50) or
chicken ($12.50) or shrimp ($13.95)—are served atop a Caesar
salad, a base of romaine lettuce with roast corn, black beans,
fresh avocado slices, tomatoes and a sprinkle of queso fresco.
The grilled meat, sliced diagonally against the grain, is placed
across the salad. The chicken breast is given a two-hour marinade
in oil, onion and garlic, just for a bit of flavor before it’s cooked
on the grill. “These fajitas are not served sizzling to the table.
That’s more of a show,” Casares says. “People are sufficiently
impressed when it goes into their mouths.”
Those familiar with Atlanta’s Luckie Marietta District
gravitate to Stats, a sports-themed restaurant known for the
quality of its ingredients, to enjoy chef Christopher Von Egger’s
Grilled Thai Steak Salad ($13 for a 6 oz. portion). “We use New
York strip that’s not as fatty as the more economical hangar
steak,” Von Egger says. “We buy the whole loin and trim the
fat off. The steak is served hot, while the chili/lime vinaigrette
is room temperature, and ideally, can be prepared a day or two
ahead to become more flavorful.”
The dressing packs a distinctive punch with its components
of pickled ginger, red onion, lime juice, rice wine vinegar, red
peppers, sambal paste, sweet chili sauce, chiffonade of basil,
minced jalapeño, cilantro and sugar, plus salt and pepper. By
comparison, the two-hour steak marinade is a relatively mild
combo of soy sauce, sugar, water, chopped garlic and chili
flakes. To serve, thin slices of steak top a salad of diced Roma
tomatoes, bias-cut fried green beans, julienned green papaya,
seeded and shaved cucumber, shaved romaine, herb salad,
fried rice noodles and chopped roasted peanuts.
“It’s a popular dish—equally popular among both men and
women—especially during warmer months,” Von Egger says.
The Solitaire, a popular salad at Racines, is Alaska salmon with tossed baby
spinach/arugula, fresh seasonal berries, feta cheese, curried pecans, red onions
and tomatoes, with orange balsamic vinaigrette.