My runaway favorite dish from the past week was the Deep-Fried Crispy Rabbit from Thanh Phuong, an attractive and surprisingly ambitious Vietnamese spot in Pearland.
This may be the perfect entry-level rabbit dish: boneless pieces of meat cushioned in a puffy, slightly sweet batter that has been crisped and bronzed and spangled with sesame seeds during a final turn through a wok, so that the pieces pick up butter and toasted shards of garlic.
The play of textures, savor and sweetness is dazzling. A faint tinge of sweet spice (is it cinnamon?) skims the surface of the fried rabbit chunks, which really do taste like an earthier version of chicken. The toasted sesame seeds add pop — along with the sweetly glazed garlic slivers that function as a sort of rubbly garlic candy.
For cool contrast, there's a leafy pile of fresh vegetables and herbs on the side; for warmth, flaps of sautéed onion and green pepper. For an invigorating peppery tartness you add to taste, just squeeze the wedge of lime provided into the cup holding salt and black pepper, then dip at will.
Just when you think things can't get any better, or more interesting, comes the capper: a side dish of pan-fried sticky rice cakes that go with the rabbit. These little half moons are crisp without and stretchy within, suffused with a haunting note of coconut milk.
So fetching are the rice cakes, with their counterpoints of crushed peanut, scallion and fried shallot, that I would happily eat them for dessert. (They'd be splendid with Vietnamese coffee.) In fact, I plan to order them at every opportunity when I dine here again.
That will happen sooner rather than later, because the best dishes here are destination-quality stuff. Not just the rabbit and the sticky rice cakes, but the electrifying venison carpaccio served salad style, with herbal twinges of rau ram and a crunchy nest of thinly slivered water-spinach stems underneath. It costs all of $12.95.
Like that magnificent fried rabbit, which goes for $14.95, it's one of the finest Vietnamese dishes in Greater Houston.
(Thanh Phuong, 3236 E. Broadway (FM 581), Pearland. 281-412-7868. Open daily 11 a.m. — 10 p.m.)