Category Archives: New Openings

State of Grace

We’d like to say we’ve dined at this oh-so-hot new restaurant, but every time we’ve tried to make a reservation, all the fashionable dining hours have been booked.  We just need to plan further in advance or our next foray will be to try the seafood bar where we understand reservations aren’t required.   In the meantime, we fondly remember what we tried on our visit early one Saturday evening.  We were seated at a table but elected to sit at the bar, which we heard can be quite lively many evenings.  The cocktails were nicely done and service was good.

Unlike most of the diners around us, we didn’t try the lobster hushpuppies for which the restaurant has become well known.  We opted for the shrimp toast (crispy and hot but not engendering the wow factor), kale caesar salad (delicious), queso “oaxaca” (who can resist wild mushrooms in gooey cheese with amazing bacon fat tortillas), and the garganelli with jumbo lump crab and toasted lemon (also delicious). 

As noted, reservations are a must, and valet parking appears to be the only option in this entirely renovated location in the strip mall across from Lamar High School (where the now Atlanta-based owner, Ford Fry, went to school).

3528 Westheimer; 832/942-8050

http://stateofgracetx.com/

Salt Air Seafood Kitchen

It’s a foregone conclusion that this place would be packed from day one — it’s owned by the same folks that have brought Houston Ibiza, Brasserie 19 and Coppa.  Thus, no surprise, even in July — when many of the crowd that flock to these restaurants are out of town — Salt Air has been hopping since it opened a couple weeks ago.  We ventured in early one recent Sunday evening.  The large square bar in the middle of the restaurant was sufficiently inviting that we passed on our reserved table.   (Goes without saying that reservations are a must right now.)  Like one of its predecessors at this location (Pesce), Salt Air has an open kitchen environment with the raw bar in the center of the restaurant.

The menu is expansive and somewhat eclectic — everything from multiple raw bar selections to hot fish, seafood and vegetable offerings.  It’s clear the restaurant strives for freshness, with many of the fish and seafood choices changing based on availability. Don’t expect a lot of fried seafood, although there are a couple small plates of fried claims and calamari.  If you’re looking for something cooked, grilled and steamed items seem to prevail with the fish and seafood items.

Certainly, we’ll return as we only tried a couple dishes — the fried claims (served with a gribiche sauce) and the octopus carpaccio (not really raw, but steamed and very thinly sliced).  We enjoyed both dishes, although the octopus could have done with more of the taramosalata sauce, and the gribiche sauce could have had a little more tang given its traditional ingredients of mayo, pickles, capers and herbs.   The fried claims were very well executed (not the least bit greasy and and the portion size a very good value for $10), but the crust was a little heavy (perhaps because it’s cornmeal based?) for our taste.   The same crust perked up when used on the salt & pepper calamari, which we sampled from the plate of the guy sitting next to us.  Our neighbor also wasn’t too thrilled with the crust or the asian-based sauce served with the calamari, but the latter was remedied with a quickly brought remoulade sauce.  The woman sitting on our other side raved about the tuna tartare (on quinoa) and the seafood salad (same tuna with the addition of cold shrimp on greens).  We’ve heard good things about the lobster bisque (lighter than most traditional versions), the steak tartare, and the roasted carrots.  (The bok choy and avocado were not touted with as much enthusiasm.)

3029 Kirby

713/521-3333

www.saltairhouston.com

Bramble

Houston foodies have closely monitored Randy Rucker’s various restaurant endeavors over the years, starting with his ahead-of-the-times laidback manor to Bootsie’s Cafe in Tomball.  Chef Rucker has returned to the Memorial Area (yes, outside the loop but at least within the city of Houston) in a former Italian restaurant on Voss near San Felipe.  Just opened a few weeks, Bramble, like Rucker’s prior restaurants, highlights local ingredients in a casual, contemporary setting.  We understand the menu changes regularly and, understandably, with a new place trying to get its footing, the menu offerings were somewhat limited.   The cocktail program needs a little work as we didn’t find our drinks as balanced as we’d like (one with rum and the other with bourbon).  The wine list was small but reasonably priced.  We had no issues with the prompt and courteous service.

On the evening we were there, for starters, we tried the roasted corn with cotilla cheese (delicious) and the roasted sunchokes (well executed, but a little bland).   For our main courses, we went with the marinated grilled quail and shrimp and grits.  Both dishes were quite tasty but under cooked.  We sent the quail back, and it improved with some more time on the grill.  We couldn’t fault the creamy grits and sauce, but one of the three jumbo, heads on shrimp was close to raw.  We fully appreciate a chef’s concern about not overcooking the ingredients, but a little more time turning out the main courses would have been a good thing.  Perhaps the highlight of the evening was the pickled greens au gratin side dish; the rich cheese was a delicious foil to the tartness of the greens.

We’d read a review of Bramble that suggested Chef Rucker is playing it safe compared with the dishes he turned out in his prior life.  We don’t really fault him for that, particularly with a new restaurant.  But the pickled greens dish hinted to us of the creativity for which this chef is known.   And we’d note that we really liked Rainbow Lodge during Chef Rucker’s brief stint there where he managed to beautifully execute (with a twist) a number of more traditional dishes.

No reservations (we got there early and the place filled up quickly) and parking wasn’t a problem.

2231 S. Voss

832/819-0332

www.restaurantbramble.com

Weights + Measures

Brought to Midtown by the 13 Celsius folks (also of Mongoose versus Cobra), very recently opened Weights and Measures includes a restaurant, bar (Love & Squalor), and a bake shop.  Both the restaurant and the bar are pretty good sized and, while the bar seems to fill up quickly, at least there’s somewhere to wait as reservations are not taken.  The ambiance is relaxed and casual, with an open kitchen.  Open throughout the day, starting with breakfast through dinner, followed by a late night bar menu served until 2:00 am, this is an ambitious undertaking, although, from all appearances, it seems to be working out of the gate.

In the vein of Coltivare  (and, to some degree Provisions and Pax Americana), Weights and Measures has artisanal cocktails, “breads”, small plates, salads, pizza and entrees, with interesting twists on seasonal ingredients.  Price points are also similar, in the middle range.  The cocktails are as good as any in town.  We both liked the ones we tried on our first visit so much – the smallish room (bourbon, lime, maple) and senor punche (tequila, lime and something pink) – that we ordered them again the next time.

We’ve tried a number of the starters — chopped chicken liver, pig trotter terrine, baccala brandade, ribeye meatballs, relish plate, and grilled romaine.  The chopped chicken liver included diced boiled egg and lacked the depth of other versions around town.  Similarly, the baccala brandade (salted cod spread) could have used more seasoning.  The pig trotter terrine (gelatinous bits of the pigs foot shaped in a patty, covered in bread crumbs and fried) had good taste although at least one of us was a little put off by the texture.  The meatballs are an excellent version of a  basic dish and, judging by looking around at nearby tables, are a popular starter.  The relish plate — olives, celery, carrots, bread and a savory bagna cauda dip (warm olive oil with strong notes of garlic and anchovy) — was a light start and very sharable.  The grilled romaine represented the restaurant’s twist on a caesar salad, served with a preserved lemon dressing and white anchovies.  (Enjoyable but not quite as good as the very similar salad at Provisions.)

We can’t pass up pizza but weren’t quite up for the roasted carrot and cheddar version (although it’s gotten great reviews from others), so we went for the basics — pepperoni topped with arugula. We aren’t huge fans of salad on top of pizza, but the light sprinkling of leaves worked well, and the pizza was very good.  If we had to rate them, we’d probably score this version a little higher than the same pizza at Coltivare.

For entrees, a number of folks at our table tried the seared Ahi tuna special.  The large serving of beautifully fresh tuna was appropriately cooked (with everyone challenging the kitchen with a different degree of preferred doneness) but, lacking a sauce or much seasoning, it wasn’t quite as strong a dish as the quality of the tuna deserved.  On the other hand, the Wagyu flat iron steak was fabulous.

For dessert, we ordered the doughknots (fried dough rolls, not sufficiently sweet for our taste) and the bittersweet chocolate cremeaux (a pudding-mousse creation that was very good, with just the right level of sweetness).  To go from the bake shop, we left with brownies and cookies that capably satisfied our sweet tooth the next day.

There’s a large parking lot (no valet), although it fills up quickly with the restaurant’s current popularity.  Ample street parking is accessible in the surrounding area.

2808 Caroline (at Dennis)                                                                                                      713/654-1970                                                                                                                 http://weights-measures.com/

BCN Taste & Tradition

We’ve not been keeping up with our postings, and we are way over due writing about this recently opened restaurant.  We’ve now been twice, including Valentine’s Day, and we’ve been very impressed.  We were somewhat reluctant to go on Valentine’s Day, particularly as it was a Saturday night, and were dubious about the phone reservationist’s assurance that the chef would have his full menu and not a fixed course and price menu.  Sure enough, while the menu may not have been absolutely every item, it was darn close.  And the quality and service were very impressive for such a busy holiday.  We weren’t rushed and the food was as good as our prior visit.

The chef who hails from Barcelona (with great Spanish cooking cred) cleverly borrowed the Barcelona airport designation in naming this new restaurant.  A lovely contemporary environment sets the stage for this small, ambitious, upscale restaurant serving what we’ve dubbed “contemporary continental” cuisine, although the restaurant’s description is “traditional and modern Spanish cuisine.”   Like most restaurants in Houston nowadays, all manner of attire is seen, but dressing up a little would not be out of place here.  Our reservations were honored right on time; however, as we were leaving, we heard some grumbling in the bar area (which is quite small) that folks with reservations had been waiting quite awhile to be seated.

Complimentary olives and bread set the stage.  For Valentine’s Day, we tried two of the gin and tonic specialty cocktails.  They were refreshing and delicious, particularly the one with rosemary.

For starters, we tried the salted anchovies (both visits) and the mussels.  We can’t get enough of the anchovies — a standout dish, briney and swimming in olive oil, the little filets were delicious topping toasted bread that was very lightly smeared with tomato (Having visited Barcelona a couple months ago, we can atest that the toasted tomato bread is served with many dishes.)  The mussels were very fresh, served in a light cream-based broth with hints (perhaps a little too subtle for our taste) of leeks and Iberico ham. On our second visit, we tried the Iberico ham starter (also served with the toasted tomato bread), and it was delicious.  We shared the roasted vegetable and goat cheese salad which was quite pleasant but not exceptional.   We enjoyed the poached cod with saffron aioli gratin and fresh vegetable ratatouille.  Our second entree — stewed pork cheeks (with prawns and artichokes) — was appropriately tender, but we were seeking perhaps a little more depth to the sauce.   We concede only remembering we had a fish entree on Valentine’s day, and it was very good. 

This is a great addition to the Houston restaurant scene, one of our new favorites. Prices are on the high side but not over the top or unreasonable.  Given the location, complimentary valet parking is a must (access off Roseland). 

4210 Roseland Street (near the intersection of Montrose and Richmond)
(832) 834-3411

www.bcnhouston.com

Pax Americana

Foodie buzz preceded this opening on Montrose in a former Thai restaurant which also housed an early Monica Pope place.  A number of well known folks in the Houston restaurant scene are behind this restaurant — the Zimmermans (La Colombe d’Or), Shepherd Ross (Glass Wall, BAC), and Ryan Pera (Revival Market).

An inviting bar, outdoor patio seating and glassed in kitchen in the dining area make for a welcome addition to the trend in creative contemporary cooking.  The serving sizes are small and designed for sharing.  The limited menu changes regularly.   Creative cocktails and an interesting beer and wine list.

On a recent visit, we enjoyed the goat cheese ricotta, mild and creamy, served with toasted Common Bond bread.  On our next visit, the ricotta had disappeared, but the roasted bone marrow remained (also served with Common Bond bread), and it was excellent on both occasions.   Gone from the menu, but not forgotten, was an intensely flavored mushroom risotto, which, given the intensity of the flavors, was probably the best dish we’ve tried.   We also enjoyed the sliced sirloin which, although, appropriately cooked, perhaps needed some additional seasoning or a more interesting sauce to support that lean but not super flavorful cut of meat.  Faring better was the octopus that appeared on our second visit. Cooked sous vide and then wood grilled, it was quite tasty (although not as good as the gold standard at Caracol).  Friends enjoyed the grouper and brisket.  And we tried the dark chocolate filled donut holes,  with an interesting addition of pigs blood in the chocolate, adding a noticeably tang that seemed more of a novelty than a beneficial addition.  Credit to the server for pointing out this ingredient as a heads up to any vegetarians who don’t speak Italian (and, thus, weren’t clued in by the description “sanguinaccio fritters”). 

Reservations are recommended; parking is a little tricky in the area, but there’s a complimentary valet behind the restaurant off the side street to the immediate south.

4319 Montrose Blvd
(713) 239-0228

www.paxamericanahtx.com

Coltivare

 This restaurant hit the Houston foodie scene with quite a lot of buzz,  with its ownership the same as the folks that own Revival market just down White Oak in the Heights.  Quite casual, no reservations, the focus is on the food.  Both Saturday evenings when we’ve eaten at Coltivare, we’ve arrived a few minutes before the 5:00 opening time as the restaurant was full within less than an hour.  There’s both indoors and outdoors dining.  The bar area is small and fills up quickly.  (We had friends who noted that, while they had to stand outside on the sidewalk waiting for their dinner, the local mosquitos were feasting quite well.)  At first, there was no valet parking, but apparently even the most laid back restaurants in Houston require valet parking as it’s now available here, which is likely welcome, particularly later in the evening, when the local street parking fills up.

Coltivare is no exception from many restaurants nowadays with its interesting cocktail menu.  We tried the bourbon-based Ava Crowder (a slightly citrus twist on a manhattan) on our first visit, and now we’re devotees.   Such fans that we haven’t sampled the wine list which we understand is quite interesting and reasonably priced.   We’ve had no issues with the service on either occasion.

The food has been outstanding.  The menu changes over time.  Feeling contrarian, we didn’t try the roasted cauliflower on our first visit even though pretty much every table around us ordered it.   We succumbed on our second visit and, yes, it’s very good, with pine nuts and golden raisins, but it didn’t strike us as overly creative.  On our first visit, we tried the bycatch baccala; as its name implies, who knows what type of fish it was but it was quite tasty  spread on grilled bread (although not on the menu for our second visit).  We also really enjoyed both the chicken liver mousse and grilled leek salad (with pancetta and a poached duck egg) on our first visit.  But one of the real standouts has been the calamari salad on our more recent visit, marinated and grilled, with olives and various greens, it was really good.   If sweetbreads are on the menu, we usually try them, and Coltivare’s crispy sweetbreads pair well with the salty anchovy and horseradish tapenade-style accompaniment.  We also enjoyed the pepperoni pizza.  (We know, kind of boring but, when pepperoni is homemade from Revival market, it’s really good.)  We could not, however, figure out why they threw a salad (greens and shaved parmesan) on top of the pizza.   When you’re going pizza old school, better to stick with the tried and true.

Like Provisions, Coltivare is serving some of the most creative, flavorful food in town in a comfortable, casual setting.   We like to see a kitchen take risks, even if we don’t love every dish, and we like that the menu keeps changing.  Now, if only they took reservations and had a larger bar area …   

 3320 White Oak Drive
713/637-4095
http://coltivarehouston.com

 

Bradley’s Fine Diner (Closed)

Bradley Ogden has been around the Bay Area dining community for many years and his son has  joined the family business, opening his first restaurant as executive chef in Houston.  BFD (initials used on the restaurant’s logo, not an editorial comment by us) anchors one end of a new strip shopping center, which is very close to I-10 , with Bradley’s Funky Chicken, a fast food fried chicken place (more about that later), at the other end.  Thankfully, there’s ample parking in the lot, so no need for a valet service.  Reservations are taken.

The restaurant is quite lovely, in a somewhat ubiquitous casual contemporary mode.  Lots of wood and brick, high ceilings, big windows.  Service was prompt and very friendly.  Cocktails were interesting and tasty.

We didn’t have an appetizer, going right for ample portions of fish and chips and a cheeseburger.  The former was well prepared, probably as good as anything we’d had recently in London.  The homemade tartar sauce was a nice addition and the french fries were piping hot.  The cheeseburger was also quite good, and we opted for the macaroni and cheese instead of more fries.

In the end, we really enjoyed our meal and, if we lived in the neighborhood, we’d probably go back more often.  BFD has a lot of competition in Houston, with similar establishments, so we wish it well.

P.S.   Having eaten a little more lightly than usual, we left room for a piece of fried chicken for dessert at Funky Chicken.  With a crisp, light coating, it was very good.  (Not as good as Barbecue Inn but better than our other more recent fried chicken experience at Punk’s Southern Kitchen.)   Although we didn’t try any of the sides, we’ve heard positive reports.

191 Heights Boulevard
832.831.5939
http://bradleysfinediner.com/

 

Punk’s Simple Southern Food


Pretty much everything the Clark Cooper restaurant group does turns to gold, and it appears Punk’s is no exception.  Located right next to the group’s Coppa Osteria on Morningside in the new Rice Village mixed use complex, Punk’s is a casual, family friendly spot with the usual suspects of comfort food offerings.

We had a reservation for 7:00 on a recent Saturday evening.  We arrived about a half hour early and were asked to wait at the bar, where we ended up dining since the hostess never came back for us.  (And we didn’t appreciate being reported to Open Table as a “no show.”)  No real harm, as the bar was a fun place to dine.  Good selection of bourbon and well made classic cocktails.  Slightly harried servers (as reflected in a mistaken order).

We started with the deep fried black eyed peas, a tasty riff on Coppa’s fried chickpeas.  We polished those little gems off right quick.  The pimento cheese (with Ritz crackers) was also really good.  While we ordered the shrimp and oyster po’boy, we got just fried shrimp (no oysters), although copiously served and sided with a bag of potato chips.  It was the better of our two main dishes as we regret to inform that we weren’t as impressed with the touted fried chicken.  Certainly, it tasted very good, but it didn’t knock our socks off.  (Anyone for a trip to Barbecue Inn?)  On the other hand, the red eye gravy served on the mashed potatoes was unique and very well done, and we couldn’t criticize the sides of a biscuit and a deviled egg.  We also tried the mac ‘n cheese, a traditional version that reminded us a lot of Kraft’s boxed offering (the kind with the foil packet of cheese sauce, not the powder variety).  That’s not really a criticism since who doesn’t like Kraft’s.

Punk’s is close to where we live, and we’ll certainly be back to try more.  Let’s see how the open air environment works as the days get hotter. 

5212 Morningside
713/524-7865
http://punkssimplesouthernfood.com/

Nara


Not that we were big fans of Katsuya, but we’re hoping this restaurant has longer legs than its predecessor in West Ave.  Fortunately, Nara benefitted from the the Asian influence of Katsuya as the decor doesn’t appear markedly different.  The sushi bar remains in the middle.  The rest of the menu is decidedly different, reflecting a mix of Asian influenced dishes with an emphasis on the owner’s Korean heritage.

Don’t expect the same dynamic as Houston’s long-standing Korean restaurants.  There are no grills in the middle of the tables (replaced by trendy hot rocks brought from the kitchen) or multiple (banchan) side dishes.  Nor are the prices nearly as spender friendly as the long-standing Long Point locations.   (My Korean friend was shocked with the price we paid for a couple standard dishes.)  But this is in an upscale retail complex, and the restaurant describes itself as “Modern Korean.”  (We understand there is a private dining area that includes the table grill.)

We didn’t really come for the sushi.  We were going for the Korean offerings.  We tried an appetizer that we understand is inspired by a dish at Momofuku in NYC — flat buns (bao), like little tacos, available with various fillings.  We tried the Spicy Pork Bulgogi (shredded pork collar, with cilantro and cucumber), which we enjoyed although it didn’t knock our socks off.  We asked the waiter to bring us some sauces for the dish and, while we can’t recall what they were, they added some needed zing.  More impressive was the pork belly bipimbap, a traditional Korean rice dish, served in a very hot stone bowl that cooks the raw egg that you stir into the dish, as well as the rice (creating a crispy lining).  The dish was quite tasty, although it was also enhanced by the sauces we’d received.  Probably our favorite dish was the Korean-style Shin Ramen, with squid and claims (could have been more seafood) in a lush red chili based broth.  (Our waiter described the dish as bold and didn’t seem too excited about it, but we thought it was great.)  We finished nicely with the Crunchy Yellow Tail Roll.

We haven’t had a chance to make it back, but we’ll return for the Shin Ramen as well as to try some of the other dishes.  (Anyone for Bulgogi Pot Pie or whole Spicy Squid Quinoa?)

2800 Kirby Drive (in West Ave)
281/249-5944
http://www.narahouston.com/