Wed, Jan 30, 2013
Houston's Hot Food Scene
The Texas city makes merry with some surprising restaurants twists.
Houston’s edgiest neighborhoods have sprouted a coterie of gutsy eateries run by plucky chefs, propelling Space City to the top tier of America’s culinary map. Larger-than-life characters, such as Chris Shepherd of the already epic Underbelly, lead the culinary charge with youthful verve, bodacious creativity and a respect for the indigenous. All hail the revolution.
Impassioned by Houston’s cultural culinary abundance, Chris Shepherd celebrates and redefines Creole cuisine with Texas roots. As an ode to his favorite mom-and-pop ethnic spots around town, Shepherd borrows from his Korean, Vietnamese, Nicaraguan and Mexican friends, among others, to take family-owned restaurant recipes to culinary heights. The evolving menu features dishes such as sweet, tender, crunchy Korean-braised goat and dumplings or anxiety-reducing butter biscuits and chicken gravy—and a sexy version of grandma’s vinegar pie. Affable and generous, Shepherd lavishes attention on local food culture, supplying every customer with a list of his influences and urging them to partake.
Neighborhood: River Oaks
Anita Jaisinghani’s stylish Pondicheri dazzles with artful renditions of Indian street food. The all-day dining establishment’s sleek interiors, myriad windows and billowing, blood-orange sheers ensure glitzy evening energy. But by day, counter service clinches a more casual ambiance—one where lingering over chai and a famous Jaisinghani pastry is de riguer. Order a Pondicheri thali, a traditional Indian platter that allows a sampling of multiple dishes at once: think butter chicken, sayel lamb and beef keema. Try a Frankie, a Mumbai-inspired stuffed roti, or a black garbanzo Buddha burger.
The Pass and Provisions
Neighborhood: Fourth Ward
A haven for the food curious, this dual-concept restaurant occupies an industrial-inspired edifice with a hipster vibe. Evoking a place the cool kids go, Provisions (the more casual side) serves food meant to elicit both moans of pleasure and dropping jaws of wonder. Dishes aren’t always what they seem—as in the smoked salmon/everything potato chips, which arrives deliciously deconstructed and layered in a mason jar with pickled and chopped tomatoes, salmon bits, potato creme fraiche and chive cream cheese foam. Chef business partners Terrence Gallivan and Seth Siegel-Gardner also turn out indulgent bread and cheese platters. Favorites: rosemary bread, ossau iraty cheese and vanilla tapenade. Visit adjoined Pass for a set menu and more high-end vibe.
Sparrow Bar + Cookshop
Houston’s version of a celebrity chef, Monica Pope, is actually an earthy creative whose restaurants wrap their arms around you like a warm embrace. The queen of locavore, Pope has been nominated for a James Beard Award, landed on Food & Wine’s Top 10 Chefs list and performed her kitchen magic on Bravo’s “Top Chef Masters.” With all that, she continues to cook her new American food with sincerity and integrity. Her latest endeavor, Sparrow, manages to project chic with a cozy intimacy. Chorizo-stuffed dates titillate, but revive the soul with wholesome redos of favorites such as Brussels sprouts, mac ’n’ cheese and corn dogs.
Revival Market (revivalmarket.com)
Neighborhood: The Heights
Farmer plus chef equals canny gourmet market that ain’t your grandpa’s convenience store. In a neighborhood bereft of fine dining—albeit bounteous with Victorian mansions and snazzy residents—chef Ryan Pera and local farmer Morgan Weber first conceived of Revival as an old-fashioned neighborhood butcher shop to showcase Weber’s naturally raised meats. But as the idea gestated, the concept became prodigious old-time market with a gourmet flair. Here, enjoy a coffee shop, bushels of local produce and house-made deli items (duck confit slaw with ginger-lime dressing or andouille banh mi). A local throng lines up for Saturday breakfast, an ever-changing set menu that might be house-smoked salmon and homemade bagels or farmyard eggs and house-created gourmet spam.
Drink and Do Good
Thanks to charity-minded chefs and bar owners, Houston now has a guilt-free place to swill: Charity Bar. Ensconced in one of downtown’s oldest buildings, the joint donates its profits to Houston charities. Located near light rail stops, Charity Bar wants to be that place where everyone knows your name. A well-chosen spirit selection and collaborative food service (snacks from yummy places such as Revival Market) make it the town’s best new hangout.
“Picasso Black and White,” Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (mfah.org), Feb. 24–May 27, explores Pablo Picasso’s lifelong passion for black-and-white palettes. See painting, sculpture and works on paper.
“The Mountaintop,” Alley Theatre (alleytheatre.org), Jan. 16–Feb. 3, reimagines events the night before Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination. Winner, Laurence Olivier Award for Best Play.
Daily nonstop flights from Washington Dulles International Airport and Ronald Reagan National on United Airlines.