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100% ORGANIC Grass-fed Beef at Sal y Pimienta

With all the health issues associated with the consumption of meat, “organic” has become one of the most valuable words of the 21st century.

A single dinner at Sal y Pimienta, a fabulous South American Steak House in City Centre was all it took for me to learn and understand the extraordinary concept and benefits of what is known as “organic grass-feed beef”, something I had never even heard of before.

It so happens that the cow meats we eat, are of course the result of what they eat. Following that chain, unless we are vegan or vegetarian, we are also the result of the quality of the meats we eat. Case in point, what a cow eats will finally end up in your body.

What I didn’t know though, is that cows can be fed in a variety of different ways, resulting in the quality of the beef we end up consuming.

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We are all quite familiar with the word “organic”, but what we may not know is that “organic” has a wide range of different meanings. This is also true in the world of cattle raising. I won’t ellaborate on all the different ways to receive the title of “organic”, but I’d rather focus on the excellence of organic beef.

It all starts in Uruguay, a small country in South America, right between Brazil and Argentina, the two largest producers of cattle in Central and South America. Yet, it so happens that Uruguay is the only country in the southern hemisphere allowed to export meats to the US.

Modeling New Zeland’s standards, Uruguay uses a unique double system to track every single one of the 12.5 million cows born in the country every year. Every one of them has an identifier, a unique number known as “caravana”, which allows the government to know when, were and how the animal was born. Additionally, each new calf is inserted a chip through the skin and into the body the moment it’s born, which allows to digitally read and track its place of birth, growth, transfers from one facility to another, and a wide range of valuable additional information to guarantee its development, quality and even time and cause of death. The information provided by this chip is updated electronically into a database through the life of the animal. This advanced quality control is not new to Uruguay, which for 300 years has had the reputation as having one of the finest livestock in the world. This ultra-high standard and quality control process granted Uruguay the status that today holds as one of the preferred countries in the world for meat exportation, including by the high standards of the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture).

INAC (National Meat Institute) is Uruguay’s authority in control of production and export of livestock. Additionally, ICAN promotes their meats throughout the world. This effort is placing Uruguay at the level of the best organic meat producers in the world, such as New Zeland and Australia. However, Uruguayan model is New Zeland, as the country producing the best milk, the best butter, the best lamb and the best cows. Both Uruguay and New Zeland are very similar in size, population, landscape and exports base. But the most important similariry is their focus into “natural” products.

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Let’s clarify the use of the term “natural”, since this is a word that has been abused and misused throughout the world. In our case, by “natural”, we mean that 90% of Uruguayan cows are grass-fed. Furthermore, they feed their cattle in what is known as “open range”. This means their livestock is not fed with grass in dry bundles in stables or enclosures, but rather in an open field, where each cow has over one ‘hectarea’ (2 1/2 acres) of space under open skies, 365 days a year. This can only happen under certain climate conditions, not found but in a few countries. Uruguay offers those conditions; even in winter you don’t need to cover the cattle. The apparent disadvantage for ranchers feeding cattle under these natural conditions is that during the three months of winter, given the fact that pasture growth slows down, cows gain less weight, and sometimews even lose a little. This is part of a natural cycle. During times with less rain and pasture growth, the animal eats less, slowing down the growth process. As spring comes along, with the Southern hemisphere’s heavier rains and grass growth, cattles eat more, with the resulting fast growth. In other words, ranchers completely depend on the natural conditions of the weather. Business wise, this could be a challenge under bad climate conditions, but the consumers gain by receiving some of the best beef on earth.

Another great advantage of growing livestock in open ranges, is its humanitarian aspect. Animals are treated in a very humane manner, exposing them to a natural, stress-free environment, having a direct impact in the health of the animal and the quality of the meat.

Another great component of Uruguayan beef is that since 1968 it is prohibited by law the use of growth promoters (hormones and other nutritional supplements, used to force the growth) in cattle. It is interesting to note that in the United States the use of those growth promoters is allowed by the USDA.

In addition to this, in ranches subject to the “organic” classification, it is also prohibited to use antibiotics in animals, and pesticides and fertilizers on the pastures. These two elements guarantee that cows are not only fed with fresh, green natural grass, but also free of chemicals of any kind. Again, the impact on the quality of their meat is direct and meaningful. This is what you would call true Kosher.

Another interesting component to highlight is the fact that most meats you buy at the store in our country, come from grain-fed cows. This doesn’t necessarily mean that at some point in their lives, those animals were fed with grass, but for the most part, they have been raised eating grain, which in turn has been grown with fertilizers and pesticides.

The problem with this type of commercial beef is that traces of hormones, nutritional supplements, antibiotics, pesticides and fertilizers are being absored by consumers. Antibiotics thus transmitted into humans, make them more resistent to the efects of those types of antibiotics. Similar effects occur with the ingestion of hormones and supplements, which result in children’s premature growth.

Nature’s Cut is the country’s exclusive representative to comercialize Uruguyan meats, and is certified by USDA Organic.

Sal y Pimienta Kitchen, Houston’s premier Uruguayan cuisine, in beautiful City Centre, offers this top-of-the-line beef. There you can definitely experience the difference between the pale red standard meats served in most restaurants, and the deep red organic beef from Uruguay. The difference in texture and flavor is remarkable, the way nature intended beef to be.

And while you are at it, you might as well treat yourself to one of Texas’ finest selections of appetizers (try my favorite “beef empanadas”), dishes and desserts from South America. Too many to list here, so we’ll save this for a future review on Sal y Pimienta Kitchen.


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818 Town and Country Blvd #105, Houston, TX 77024

The Flavors of Havana at HAVANA HOUSTON

We all know every city has remarkable culinary secrets, only reserved for “the few and the chosen”. We have just found one of them: “Havana Houston”. Owned by Hanoi Simanca and Jesus Cabeza -of course from Cuba-, they have gathered their extensive backgrounds as restaurateurs to develop a true Cuban treasure that tops all of my previous Caribbean discoveries of the past 33 years of tasting some of the best cuisines in the nation.

Cuban restaurants across the country are very casual and rustic, almost as if you were in the island. Unlike most other Cuban restaurants, Havana Houston offers a warm and inviting ambience, a white tablecloth dining experience, accompanied by a violinist and pianist alternating nightly. Starting with the ambience and decoration, this is another world, worked to the smallest detail. Everywhere you turn, there is something to admire and enjoy.

Within the city of Houston, you will come across many great Cuban restaurants. However, Houston’s unquestionable best Cuban flavors are to be found in Memorial, right off Memorial Drive at Dairy Ashford. No one that appreciates Cuban food, and is willing to take the risk of getting addicted, can afford not to visit Havana Houston.

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The kitchen of Havana Houston goes beyond the island’s style: This is what I would call a refined international cuisine with a wide variety of dishes from the Americas, the Caribbean and Europe, all merged together with a fusion from the most popular and authentic dishes and flavors of Cuba.

Let’s start our visit with some great appetizers, such as the Tuna Tartare with Guacamole, a fresh ahi tuna tartare with lemon oil, mint sauce and sesame seed oil, or the Guajiro Sampler Platter, stuffed toston cups with béchamel sauce, ham and cheese; fried maduros, fried yucca in chimichurri sauce, and fritura de Malanga.

The Steamed Mussels in Green Chili Coconut Sauce, seasonal mussels cooked in chili lime coconut sauce, white wine and cilantro, or the Cubano Sampler, composed of ham croquettes, a chicken & cheese empanada, a beef empanada, stuffed plantains with shrimp, and beef stuffed potatoes. The Beef Carpaccio, a thinly sliced beef tenderloin topped with shallots, parsley, balsamic reduction, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, also makes a great choice. Perhaps you may decide to go with the Cheese Plate, an assortment of cheese, grapes, nuts, crostini, and spice quince paste.

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The soups include Split Green Peas Soup, a unique twist with asiago and crema, or the Potato and Leek Soup, silky smooth creamy potato and leek soup topped with Manchego cheese and fresh green onion.

When it comes to the salads, you don’t want to miss the Havana Houston Salad, a spring mix tossed with three radishes, carrots, quinoa, avocado, enoki mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, and apple vinaigrette, or the Baked Goat Cheese Salad, combining spinach and baby arugula, goat cheese crostini with pomegranate seeds and balsamic vinaigrette. The Cuban Salad, Lettuce, tomato, avocado, cucumber and lemon vinaigrette make another favorite.

Now let’s move to the meats. The Veal Piccata with Capers Lemon Butter Sauce, is a delicious thin sliced veal filet pan seared in lemon butter sauce, with fricase of fingerling potatoes and french green beans. Another great option is the Fire-grilled Filet Mignon, an 8 ounce Prime Mignon served with scalloped potatoes, broccolini with a port wine reduction sauce, or the Grilled Caribbean Ribeye Steak, a 12-ounce Rib-eye seasoned with Caribbean spices, stuffed potato croquette and sautéed baby carrots, served with green peppercorn sauce.

And of course, you can’t pass up the unique Cuban signature: Ropa Vieja, shredded beef slowly cooked in criolla sauce and red wine, served with green fried plantains, or the Osso Bucco, braised in a red wine and Cuban spices served with crimini barley and baby carrots.

For those who prefer pork or chicken, options include the Oven Roasted Herb Chicken, a roasted airline chicken breast atop a cannellini and sausage stew topped with chorizo broth, or the Chairman’s Reserve Premium Pork Double Bone Tomahawk Chop, an oven roasted double bone pork chop, sautéed fingerling potato, asparagus, and dried figs with a Madeira wine reduction.

Other house specialties, now from the seas, include The Skuna Bay Salmon, a fresh cilantro and tomato curry wild rice, sautéed asparagus with a mango sauce, or the 7 Mares Paella. A Cuban version of this classic saffron rice dish guarantees seafood in every bite; loaded with clams, mussels, shrimp, scallops, crab, lobster and fish. You may also consider trying the Varadero Lobster, made from lobster chunks in a creamy béchamel sauce served with mascarpone spinach risotto.

All recipes are original creations of Chef Nelson Duarte. Allow me to stress the clear distinction between a chef and a cook. A cook will put together a dish from a recipe. A chef will create, improvise, and compose a delicious dish from scratch, and make it as unique as you please. And this is what happens at the “Chef Table”. Inside this private room for a small VIP group, you are greeted by the Chef Duarte himself through a private door connecting right into the kitchen. Here your dream dish will become a reality, right out of your own imagination. Anything and everything is possible.

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The wine list includes the best options from the top producers in the world. Now, let’s be clear, a perfect dining experience must end with a magnificent dessert and a cappuccino or an espresso. Under the creations of Argentinian pastry chef,Claudio Fotti, you are guaranteed to seal your lunch or dinner like royalty.

The desserts alone are an invitation to keep you coming back. Options include the Yuca Buñuelos, a traditional Cuban dessert made from yuca in sweet syrup, or the Grand Marnier Double Chocolate Cake, a soft and amazing chocolate cake lovers fantasy. The Crème brûlée, traditionally a French dessert, is another favorite. Now imagine this one: Hazelnut & Mocha Cake, milk chocolate covered dome of hazelnut mocha cake mix adorned with gold leaf edible garnish. A true delight!

New York Style Cheesecake with Guayaba Sauce, made famous in New York for its creaminess is a favorite. The Mango Mousse with Raspberry Sauce, is a mango mousse custard square cupped shaped and filled with raspberry sauce. Finally, the Hand Crafted Gelatos, made fresh weekly at Havana Houston, are creamy and rich Italian style gelatos with flavors such as Vanilla, Mango, Rum Raisin, Lemon or Whisky.

Havana Houston offers live music nightly but exclusively on Thursday’s they offer a “Cuban night” where you can enjoy the owner’s signature 15-year-old recipe for Mojitos and have the opportunity to dance authentic cuban salsa at the patio.

Sundays the restaurant is closed, but they are ready to open it to host your private event. Additionally, they offer catering and even their chef is available to come to your home to make your private party an occasion to remember.

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The patio offers the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors in the midst of a gorgeous decoration. Now is the perfect time of the year to enjoy it.

I thought I would never say this in a review, but a visit to the restroom is a must you can’t afford to miss. This is an experience of its own. On a final note, the complimentary valet is always a major plus.

Ready to be spoiled at Houston’s top Cuban adventure? Join me at Havana Houston! 5 Estrellas.