12 home run hot spots near Minute Maid Park to pregame before the Astros

CultureMap, by Jayme Lamm
View full article: http://houston.culturemap.com/news/restaurants-bars/08-07-18-where-to-grab-a-drink-before-astros-game-truck-yard-rodeo-goat-four-seasons-potente-8th-wonder-the-grove/#slide=0

There’s no better time to catch your World Series champs than right now in Houston. The hot bats, the All-Star pitching rotation, Orbit’s hilarious antics — it all adds up to an amazing fan experience in one of only six covered, air-conditioned ballparks in the league.

To add to that fan experience, we’ve rounded up some of the best Astros pregame destinations. These bars and restaurants’ happy hours, free shuttles, and nearby free parking make them go-to, pregame favorites. So, don your favorite orange and blue gear, grab your tickets, and hit up these 12 Houston hot spots before the game.

An upscale Italian restaurant may not seem like the most ideal setting for grabbing drinks before a baseball game, but Potente definitely makes this list, not to mention it’s owned by Astros owner, Jim Crane, so baseball is part of the drill at this spot. Boasting one of the best happy hours in downtown Houston, you can grab drinks starting at $4 and light bites for $3, seven days a week from 5-7 pm. Pro tip: Potente offers an even better atmosphere post-game. 1515 Texas Ave.

Distance from Minute Maid Park: Across the street

Parking: Valet parking $8

Osso & Kristalla
Also owned by Jim Crane, this concept is more casual than Potente, making it another convenient option (it’s just across the street from Minute Maid) for drinks before catching a game. The modern and relaxed spot serves up great food and delicious cocktails and if the weather cooperates, the outdoor patio makes the perfect start before an Astros game (or hopefully to cap off a W at the end of the night). Daily happy hour is from 3-7 pm with wine, bubbles, cocktails, and beer — all for just $2.50. 1525 Texas Ave.

Distance from Minute Maid Park: Across the street

Parking: Valet parking $8

Houston chefs share memories of legendary New Orleans restaurateur Ella Brennan

CultureMap, By Eric Sandler 6.1.18 | 10:35 am
Full Article: http://houston.culturemap.com/news/restaurants-bars/06-01-18-ella-brennan-memories-brennans-houston-commanders-palace-chris-shepherd-mark-holley-carl-walker-lance-fegen/?utm_source=sf_twitter

The culinary world is mourning the loss of Ella Brennan. The legendary restaurateur behind iconic New Orleans restaurant Commander’s Palace passed away May 31 at the age of 92, the New Orleans Times Picayunereports.

Brennan leaves behind a towering legacy. As noted in the documentary about her lifeElla Brennan: Commanding the Table, she played a key role in helping evolve American food culture to where it is today. She championed chefs like Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse, emphasized the use of local ingredients, and always made sure diners’ needs were met. The film also explains all of the obstacles Brennan overcame on her path to success, including being fired. In 2016, Brennan’s daughter Ti Martin, the current proprietor of Commander’s, told CultureMap that her mother’s attitude towards work may be her greatest legacy.

“You can work extremely hard and not miss a minute of fun,” Martin said. “If you make it part of your life, you can really do that.”

Brennan’s family founded legendary Houston restaurant Brennan’s of Houston where her son Alex Brennan-Martin remains the proprietor. In tribute to her, the restaurant’s sign went dark on the night of May 31.

Brennan’s has served as an important training ground for dozens of Houston chefs. CultureMap contacted several of them for any anecdotes or memories they cared to share about Miss Ella. These are their stories.

Carl Walker is the general manager of Brennan’s of Houston. He worked previously as a chef at Commander’s Palace and as the executive chef at Brennan’s of Houston.

I remember one time I made this fantastic peach ice cream. She tried it and she goes, doesn’t taste enough like peaches. I went back to the drawing board. When you take Miss Ella something to try and tell her it tastes like something, it better taste like that thing. It’s gotta have pow, as she used to say.

Even this week I used her for an example. [She used to say that] it’s not about how well the dish sold that night; it’s whether people are coming back to order it again. What I learned from her is, are you going to come back and have this dish again? Then you have a dish. That’s something she did that pushed us to give it our best.

She was a person who was focused on customers and what they enjoyed and whether they’re coming back. That’s the thing. That’s who she was.

Danny Trace, the executive chef of downtown restaurants Potente and Osso & Kristalla, worked at Commander’s Palace prior to spending almost 10 years as the executive chef at Brennan’s of Houston.

Many of my days were spent at the Commander’s chef table and/or her living room, which is in her house a short walk through the courtyard located next to Commander’s. In her presence the world seemed to stop and our conversations were the type that there could be a Mardi Gras parade running right behind us, but all I could hear was her voice. Thank you, Ella Brennan, for ‘creolizing’ so many of us.


Mark Holley is the former chef-owner of Holley’s restaurant. He worked as a chef at both Commander’s Palace and Brennan’s of Houston.

Ella always took time out to spend with me during my tenure at Commander’s Palace. She encouraged me to be a good leader, to stay current and creative, and to become a role model to others working in the kitchen with me. Ella had a lot of cookbooks and she taught me to use cookbooks as a tool to further my culinary education. She believed if I could take away one great idea from a cookbook then it was worth the purchase.

To date, I own over 500 cookbooks, and it has become a hobby and a lifestyle for me. I credit that to my success as a self-taught chef. She was a great force in the industry, and I will miss her.


Lance Fegen, culinary director and executive chef of the F.E.E.D. TX restaurant group, worked at Brennan’s from 1991 to 1993.

When I was a grill cook at Brennan’s, the atmosphere in the kitchen was often tense and volatile—as you would expect when you’re cooking for a thousand people. On one busy day, Ella Brennan peeked her head into the kitchen and said to me, ‘just make sure you take care of our customers.’ She taught me exactly that—that hospitality is about the customers. It’s not about the cooks or the food.

She brought a clear, distinct passion to Brennan’s. The energy in the room changed when she walked in and she passed that on to Alex. Through them, I learned the importance of being caring and loving as a restaurant owner.


Chris Shepherd is the chef-owner of Underbelly Hospitality. He worked as a chef and sommelier at Brennan’s of Houston.

I spent nine years with the family. I see why people are there 40 years, 50 years. Hell, Marcelino has been a captain there since 1967. That’s a long fucking time, because there’s a belief. Jose Arevalo, 30-something years. Carl [Walker], the same. It’s a family.

That’s something I always take with me. At the end of the day, we’re family. I get a lot of my philosophies from that. It’s amazing when someone can reach out and touch an industry. It’s not just who she was but what she did. That’s special . . . She’s what you want to be when you grow up.

Graham Laborde is the director of operations for Killen’s Restaurants. He worked briefly as a cook at Commander’s Palace.


She was the utmost proponent of etiquette and manners. She used to say we were ladies and gentlemen feeding ladies and gentlemen.

Local celebs surprise Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell with big birthday bash

CultureMap, By Gregg Harrison
Full Article: http://houston.culturemap.com/news/society/05-25-18-local-celebs-surprise-slugger-jeff-bagwell-with-big-birthday-bash/#slide=0

What: Jeff Bagwell’s 50th birthday

Where: Potente

The scoop: Jeff Bagwell has achieved many a milestone as a member of the Houston Astros. But the Hall of Fame power hitter was completley caught by surprise when he recently reached a particular milestone: his 50th birthday. The mighty slugger celebrated his big 5-0 at Potente, Astros owner Jim Crane’s restaurant. Bagwell’s wife, Rachel, surprised the baseball legend with a “Man in Black”-themed party. The boisterous brunch was packed with friends, family, Houston sports legends — and even included a cameo by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner.

The Bagwells pulled out all the stops to toast the beloved athlete including a special brunch menu, premiere wines and champagne, and gorgeous décor provided by Darlene’s Flowers. The scene included a spectacular arrangement of red carnations shaped in the number “50” to mark the special day.

Guests packed the Potente bar area with an array of appetizers while enjoying the sounds of DJ Senega and jumping in the custom-designed photo-booth. Friends made their special toasts and were joined by retired newscaster Dave Ward. Many in the group were moved to tears when Bagwell’s daughter, Bryce, read a special tribute from Robert Bagwell, Jeff’s father, who was unable to attend.

The day ended with a spectacular cake presentation. The birthday masterpiece was created by Three Brothers Bakery and was a replica of the Hall of Fame plaque awarded to Bagwell. It read, “Hall of Fame Father, Husband and Friend.” Mayor Turner then presented Bagwell with City of Houston proclamation announcing “Jeff Bagwell Day.”

Who: The many friends and family in attendance included Mary and Tony GracelyCraig and Patti BiggioAustria and Moises AlouLarry DierkerGary PetersenMelissa and Michael Mithoff with daughterMiaDebbie and Rudy Festari with sons Elton and ValentinoLaura and Dave WardTyson and Tena Faust, Brenda and Patrick HicksTena andTyson FaustStephanie and Danny Mushin and the Bagwell childrenLaurenBryceBlakeRaquel, and Maxwell  and many more.

The 14 best new restaurants of 2017 are the Riel deal

The 14 best new restaurants of 2017 are the Riel deal

The 14 best new restaurants of 2017 are the Riel deal

FullArticle: http://houston.culturemap.com/news/restaurants-bars/12-19-17-best-new-restaurants-of-2017-riel-aqui-xochi-star-fish-yauatcha/#slide=4

What a year it’s been for Houston restaurants. The wave of post-Harvey closings has been sad, but, by any measure, it’s been an incredible time to be an eater in Houston.

Just consider the sheer amount of culinary talent that launched new concepts this year. The roster includes four James Beard Best Chef Southwest award winners — Hugo Ortega (Xochi), Paul Qui (Aqui), Chris Shepherd (One Fifth), and Justin Yu (Better Luck Tomorrow and Theodore Rex) — along with a Food & Wine Best New Chef winner in Bryan Caswell (Oxbow 7) and an Eater Young Gun in Ryan Lachaine (Riel).

I recognize that the assault charges pending against Qui make choosing to include Aqui controversial, especially in light of the current climate of sexual harassment allegations against many public figures. The allegations are disturbing, and, if convicted, the chef deserves to suffer what consequences the law dictates.

However, I consider it my job to inform CultureMap readers about new restaurants and offer an opinion about them as places to dine. I have friends who will never set foot in Aqui, and I respect their decision.

That aside, from the perspective of the culinary talent involved in this year’s group of openings, 2017 has been Houston’s best year for new restaurants since 2012, which is when Underbelly, Oxheart, The Pass & Provisions, Uchi, Roost, and Triniti all made a splash (I know Roost and Triniti debuted in December 2011, don’t @ me).

What makes this year even more intriguing than 2012 is that the trend of out of town restaurant groups seeking opportunity has only become more pronounced. Yauatcha, Roka Akor, Chengdu Taste, 85°C Bakery Cafe, Doris Metropolitan, Ramen Tatsu-ya, and Tacodeli have all made positive contributions to Houston’s dining scene.

While all of these developments would have been enough to cement this year’s status as a very good for one dining, it still doesn’t include chefs like Travis Lenig (Field & Tides), Manuel Pucha (Maison Pucha Bistro), and Jason Vaughan (Nancy’s Hustle) who are finally getting the chance to step out on their own. This year also featured well-executed new concepts from established restaurant groups like Cherry Pie Hospitality (Star Fish), Pappas Restaurants (Delta Blues Smokehouse), and Goode Company (Kitchen & Cantina). In addition, places like The Branch, Better Luck Tomorrow, Presidio, and Heights Bier Garten are redefining the boundary between bars and restaurants.

With so many choices to consider, ranking the year’s best new restaurants comes down to a mix of a professional assessment of a restaurant’s overall quality — has it raised the game for other restaurants? Is it innovative? Is it consistent? — with some personal opinions about desirability — i.e., how quickly do I want to eat there again? What feedback am I hearing from friends about their experiences?

Keeping this list to 14 made for some difficult choices. While I’ve really enjoyed burgers and tots at FM Kitchen & Bar, it doesn’t seem quite special enough to make this list. Newly-opened establishments like Emmaline and Doris Metropolitan might have earned a spot if I’d had more time to evaluate them. Restaurants like Kiran’s and Kitchen 713 that moved to new spaces and elevated what they do probably deserve consideration, but I chose to select places that opened their doors for the first time in 2017.

Although I recognize that poke is this year’s hottest trend, most of the restaurants seem too similar to elevate one over the others. My apologies to those who have strong feelings about the merits of SeaSide Poke versus Pokeology versus Pokeworks.

With that in mind, here’s my list of this year’s best new restaurants. Feel free to head to the comments, Facebook, or reddit to call me an idiot.

As he demonstrated with the hiring of Jeff Luhnow and A.J. Hinch, Jim Crane knows how to identify talented people to fill important leadership roles. When it came time to staff his two Italian restaurants, casual Osso & Kristalla and fine dining Potente, Crane found similar talent in veteran restaurateur Bill Floyd and executive chef Danny Trace.

Trace brought the same respect for local ingredients he demonstrated at Brennan’s to Potente, and he also showed a flair for Italian cooking that he never got to demonstrate at the Midtown institution. From tuna crudo with shaved foie gras to housemade spaghetti with black truffle, Potente’s cuisine consistently exceeds expectations. The talented front of house staff lends a sense of occasion to any meal, which is so important at Potente’s fine dining price point. Besides, you never know when Crane will drop by to show off the World Series trophy.
1515 Texas Ave.

Culinary throwdown heats up March of Dimes Signature Chefs Gala

Culinary throwdown heats up March of Dimes Signature Chefs Gala

Culinary throwdown heats up March of Dimes Signature Chefs Gala

Houston, March of Dimes Signature Chefs, November 2017, chef Dimitri Voutsinas

Chef Dimitri Voutsinas, second from left, of Emmaline restaurant and admirers. Photo by Priscilla Dickson Photography
Houston, March of Dimes Signature Chefs, November 2017, Stephen McNair, Stacy McNair, Susan Plank, Michael Plank

Stephen McNair, Stacy McNair, Susan Plank, Michael Plank. Photo by Priscilla Dickson Photography
Houston, March of Dimes Signature Chefs, November 2017, executive chef Joe Cervantez of Brennan's

Executive chef Joe Cervantez of Brennan’s and his team win Best Signature Dish. Photo by Priscilla Dickson Photography
Houston, March of Dimes Signature Chefs, November 2017, Christie Sullivan, Mark Sullivan

Mark Sullivan, Christie Sullivan. Photo by Priscilla Dickson Photography
Houston, March of Dimes Signature Chefs, November 2017, Tehquin Tanner and Dr. Lisette Tanner

Tehquin Tanner, Lisette Tanner. Photo by Priscilla Dickson Photography
Houston, March of Dimes Signature Chefs, November 2017, Devinder Bhatia, Gina Bhatia

Devinder Bhatia, Gina Bhatia. Photo by Priscilla Dickson Photography
Houston, March of Dimes Signature Chefs, November 2017, Hilda Ysusi

People’s Choice winner, Hilda Ysusi. Photo by Priscilla Dickson Photography
Houston, March of Dimes Signature Chefs, November 2017, Darcie Wells, Robert Del Grande, Mimi Del Grande

Darcie Wells, Robert Del Grande, Mimi Del Grande. Photo by Priscilla Dickson Photography
Houston, March of Dimes Signature Chefs, November 2017, Ishwaria Subbiah, Vivek Subbiah

Ishwaria Subbiah, Vivek Subbiah. Photo by Priscilla Dickson Photography
Houston, March of Dimes Signature Chefs, November 2017, Milette Sherman, Haag Sherman

Milette Sherman, Haag Sherman.   Photo by Priscilla Dickson Photography
Houston, March of Dimes Signature Chefs, November 2017, Samica Knight

Samica Knight. Photo by Priscilla Dickson Photography
Houston, March of Dimes Signature Chefs, November 2017, flappers

A 1920s theme set the scene for swingin’ good time. Photo by Priscilla Dickson Photography
Houston, March of Dimes Signature Chefs, November 2017, Kathy Mann, Paul Mann

Kathy Mann, Paul Mann. Photo by Priscilla Dickson Photography
Houston, March of Dimes Signature Chefs, November 2017, Kevin Maples, Alissa Maples

Kevin Maples, Alissa Maples. Photo by Priscilla Dickson Photography
Houston, March of Dimes Signature Chefs, November 2017, Charlie Chaplin impersonator

Guests mingled with a Charlie Chaplin impersonator. Photo by Priscilla Dickson Photography

What: March of Dimes Signature Chefs Gala.

Where: The Corinthian.

The scoop: A 1920s theme set the scene for a swingin’ good time at the gala hosted by Christie and Mark Sullivan and Kathy and Paul Mann.

The cocktail-attire soiree and culinary throwdown, which honored Cora Sueand Harry Mach for their service to the community, attracted more than 450 attendees for an evening of foodie and wine connoisseur fun.

Guests mingled among flappers and a Charlie Chaplin impersonator, sipped on $100 bottomless glasses of champagne for a chance to win sparkling baubles in the Tenenbaum Jewelers “gem pull,” and sampled decadent creations from several celebrated Houston chefs including chef Joe Cervantez (Brennan’s of Houston), who won Best Signature Dish for his shrimp Creole tamale.

Chef Dimitri Voutsinas (Emmaline) was awarded Best Presentation for his salmon Wellington and chef Hilda Ysusi (Broken Barrel) won People’s Choice for her dish of confit potatoes, apricot pork belly, and jicama slaw.

Other participating chefs were James Cole (Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse), Martha DeLeon (Pax Americana), Eduardo Garcia (Nothing Bundt Cakes), Adison Lee (Kuu), Arnoldo Richards (Pico’s), Danny Trace(Potente), Bram Tripp (The Pit Room), and Antoine Ware (Harold’s Restaurant).

Including auction items, from a safari hunting experience at the Madikwe Game Reserve in South Africa to a cooking class for 16 led by chef Robert Del Grande, the event raised more than $400,000, for research and programs that support the March of Dimes‘ mission to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth, and infant mortality.

Who: Gina and Dr. Devinder Bhatia, event emcee and ABC13 reporter and anchor Samica Knight, Milette and Haag Sherman, Susan and Mike Plank, Alissa and Kevin Maples, Marla and Matt Hurley, Matt Harris, Darcie Wells, Ishwaria and Vivek Subbiah, and Stacy and Stephen McNair.

Chef in the middle of World Series action, new restaurants are hot podcast topics

Chef in the middle of World Series action, new restaurants are hot podcast topics

Chef in the middle of World Series action, new restaurants are hot podcast topics

Danny Trace Potente chef

Danny Trace is this week’s guest on “What’s Eric Eating.” Courtesy photo
Tyson Cole and Aaron Franklin have teamed up to open Loro in Austin. Photo by Logan Crable

On this week’s episode of “What’s Eric Eating,” chef Danny Trace joins CultureMap food editor Eric Sandler to discuss his new role overseeing both Potente and Osso & Kristalla, the fine dining and casual Italian restaurants from Astros owner Jim Crane and Reef partner Bill Floyd. After opening quietly shortly before the Super Bowl, the two establishments have garnered more attention thanks to both their proximity to Minute Maid Park and the food Trace is serving.


Trace discusses the food he’s serving at Potente as an Italian-style evolution of the Creole food he became known for during his long stint as the executive chef at Brennan’s of Houston.

“To me, I’m continuing to do the same things I’ve done and put my stamp on and am known for,” Trace says. “I’m using seasonal products. I’m using all the same purveyors and farmers and fishermen. It’s just more Italian-influened, which, Creole and Italian go hand-in-hand. It’s kind of easy for me.”

Trace also discusses what its been like to be in the middle of the World Series crowds, how he feels about working for Jim Crane, and what he’s done to make Osso & Kristalla appealing to diners.

Prior to the interview, local restaurant consultant Nathan Ketcham joins Sandler to discuss the news of the week. The two discuss Cafe Annie’s new, steak-oriented direction, the official announcement that Feges BBQ is coming to Greenway Plaza in 2018, and note news out of Austin that James Beard Award winners Tyson Cole (Uchi) and Aaron Franklin (Franklin Barbecue) have teamed up on Loro, a new barbecue concept that will blend both chefs’ skills.

In the restaurant of the week segment, Ketcham and Sandler discuss their visit to Pokeworks, the rapidly expanding New York City-based chain that opened its first Houston location near the Heights. Sandler also shares his experience trying the omakase at Kukuri; the new sushi restaurant on Washington Avenue is lead by chef Shimao Ishikawa, who comes to Houston from New York City’s Michelin-starred Jewel Bako.

From BBQ to caviar: Houston’s top food events from now through Thanksgiving

From BBQ to caviar: Houston’s top food events from now through Thanksgiving


From BBQ to caviar: Houston’s top food events from now through Thanksgiving

Hurricane Harvey may have pushed back some of this fall’s food events, but the next two months offer tempting experiences almost every weekend through Thanksgiving. Whether a person wants to hobnob with James Beard Award-winning celebrity chefs or sip carefully selected fine wines, this roster should suit almost any taste.

Best of all, every event listed has some sort of charitable component. After all, what is the point of eating well if one is not also doing some good?


La Nuit du Caviar – November 7
Indulge in an evening of luxury at this event, which features a menu of 10 caviar-laden dishes created by chef Danny Trace, along with truffles, champagne, and vodka. Proceeds will benefit The Astros Foundation and The Astros Harvey Relief Fund.

Location: Potente. Tickets: $200.

Iron Sommelier – November 9
Oenophiles won’t want to miss this event that features 14 of Houston’s top sommeliers competing to display their expertise. This year’s competitors include Samantha Porter (Oporto Fooding House), Adele Corrigan (13 Celsius), Matt Crawford (State of Grace), Sam Governale (Emmaline). Proceeds benefit the Periwinkle Foundation, which develops and provides programs that positively change the lives of children, young adults and families who are challenged by cancer and other life threatening illnesses.

Location: Houstonian Hotel. Tickets: $200, $225 day-of.

Risotto Festival – November 12
Sample creative and classic takes on risotto at this popular event. Now in its 12th year, competitors include Bryan Caswell (Oxbow 7), Jose Hernandez (Lucienne), and Manuel Pucha (Maison Pucha Bistro). Proceeds will benefit Casa de Esperanza de los Niños, which offers a safe place for children in crisis due to abuse, neglect, or the effects of HIV

Location: Houston Design Center. Tickets: General Admission, $75; VIP, $175.

The Butcher’s Ball – October 15
This meaty event is stepping things up in its second year. In addition to a culinary competition featuring 18 chefs — participants include Monica Pope (Sparrow Bar + Cookshop), Ryan Hildebrand (FM Kitchen & Bar), and Bobby Matos (State of Grace) — the Butcher’s Ball will feature butchery demonstrations by Bryan Butler (Austin’s Salt & Time) and Richard Knight (Hunky Dory), panel discussions on culinary topics, and live music headlined by Dale Watson and His Lone Stars. Proceeds from a silent auction will benefit Foodways Texas and Urban Harvest, while proceeds from ticket sales will benefit area farmers and ranchers affected by Harvey.

New this year, the Le Boucherie vs. La Matanza will feature two teams of chefs competing to break down and utilize as much of a whole pig as possible. Attendees to this portion of the event will have the option to assist the chefs in their work.

Location: Rockin’ Star Ranch, Brenham. Tickets: $100. Boucherie vs Matanza: $50 supplement. Round-trip transportation: $30 supplement.

Southern Smoke – October 22
For the third year in a row, Chris Shepherd has gathered two of the nation’s top pitmasters (Aaron Franklin and Rodney Scott), a few of his fellow James Beard Award winners (Ashley Christensen, John Besh, etc.) and some of Houston’s best chefs (Ryan Pera, Justin Yu, etc.) for a barbecue-themed bash. New this year are VIP areas at Hay Merchant and Blacksmith with premium wines and spirits. An affiliated silent auction has already gone live with a wide range of memorabilia, fine wine, trips, and culinary experiences.

For this year’s edition, Southern Smoke has partnered with Legacy Health to help hospitality industry workers who were affected by Hurricane Harvey. Those who wish to apply for grants can do so here.

Location: 1100 Westheimer. Tickets: General Admission, $200; VIP, $350.

Chefs Unmasked – October 28
Speaking of all-star chefs raising money for hospitality industry workers, a very special event is coming to downtown’s Four Seasons Hotel. Local James Beard winners Chris Shepherd and Hugo Ortega will be joined by celebrity chefs Richard Sandoval and Michael Mina as well as acclaimed local chefs Alejandro Di Bello (Four Seasons Hotel) and Danny Trace (Potente) for a one-night-only event that will benefit the Greater Houston Restaurant Association’s Houston Hospitality Employee Relief Fund.

In keeping with the theme, diners are encouraged to bring their own masks. ABC13’s Katherine Whaley will serve as emcee and will help facilitate a silent auction.

Location: Four Seasons Hotel. Tickets: $250.

Depressed Cake Shop – October 29
Over two dozen of Houston’s top chefs and bakers are participating in this event that’s designed to raise awareness for depression and mental health issues. In addition to a bake sale featuring cookies, macarons, bars, cakes, and cupcakes, attendees will be able to bid on special grey cakes prepared by these top talents. Participants include Jillian Bartolome (Aqui), Adam Dorris (Presidio), Martha de Leon (Pax Americana), and organizers Jody Stevens (Jodycakes).

Location: Underbelly. Tickets: Free to attend, bake sale items vary.

Urban Harvest Sunday Supper – November 5
Weights + Measures chef Richard Kaplan will host this dinner that benefits the Urban Harvest Farmers Market. Attendees will feast on a dinner created by market regulars Ara Malekian (Harlem Road Texas Barbecue), Martha de Leon (Pax Americana), Ryan Hildebrand (FM Kitchen & Bar), Kevin Naderi (Roost), Peter Garcia (El Meson), and Dylan Murray (Local Foods). Those chefs will use vegetables and proteins from local farms including Loam Agronomics, Plant It Forward Farms, Blue Heron Farms, and more.

Location: Weights + Measures. Tickets: $150.

Houston chef rises from humble beginnings to join pantheon of legendary Southern food icons

Houston chef rises from humble beginnings to join pantheon of legendary Southern food icons

Mina will return the favor when he comes to Houston on October 28 to participate in the Chefs Unmasked fundraiser for the Greater Houston Restaurant Association’s Houston Hospitality Employee Relief Fund. Other participating chefs include Chris Shepherd (Underbelly/One Fifth), Richard Sandoval (Bayou & Bottle), Ortega, and Danny Trace (Potente). Tickets are on sale now.
Enjoy Houston Restaurant Weeks 2017 at these 11 can’t-miss newcomers

Enjoy Houston Restaurant Weeks 2017 at these 11 can’t-miss newcomers

CultureMap – Enjoy Houston Restaurant Weeks 2017 at these 11 can’t-miss newcomers

or food lovers in Houston, July 15 is one of the most eagerly-anticipated days of the year, because that’s the day the Houston Restaurant Weekswebsite goes live with menus.

Organized by TV and radio host Cleverley Stone, the month-long dining event, which runs from August 1 until Labor Day (September 4), features over 250 participating restaurants that run special two and three-course menus at set price points of $20 (lunch), $22 (brunch), and either $35 or $45 (dinner). Each meal contributes a set donation of between $3 and $7 to the Houston Food Bank.

All those meals add up. Last year’s event raised just over $2 million to feed hungry people in the Houston area, and the event has raised over $9.6 million since 2003. The event is a win for restaurants that have turned one of year’s slowest months into one of their busiest, a win for diners who get to try some of the city’s most popular establishments at a discount, and a win for the Food Bank.

While diners may choose to patronize restaurants like B&B Butchers, Masraff’s, and Peli Peli that ranked in last year’s top 10, many others will use it to try places that are either newly opened or new to the event. As an opening salvo in CultureMap’s HRW coverage (more restaurants will be added through July 31), here are 11 newcomers to consider, including the best new restaurant to open in Houston this year (so far) and the Heights spot that took the top prize at this year’s CultureMap Tastemaker Awards.

The Italian-inspired restaurant that took home both Restaurant of the Year and Chef of the Year in the CultureMap Tastemaker Awards makes it HRW debut with a compelling, three-course, $35 menu. To start, choose from either two small snack/salumi plates (arancini, eggplant dip, pork terrine, etc) or a more substantial appetizer or salad (chicken wings, fried cauliflower, grilled figs with prosciutto, etc).

Entree options include six different pizzas, five pastas — including the signature black pepper spaghetti — and three dishes (mussels, eggplant parmesan, or roast chicken). Finish with one of three desserts. Since Coltivare doesn’t take reservations, diners should plan to arrive either early or late to minimize their wait times. 3320 White Oak

Hugo Ortega’s Oaxacan restaurant in downtown’s Marriot Marquis hotel may not be the concept that won him a James Beard Award in May, but it has emerged as this year’s consensus best new restaurant. Xochi is serving both a $20 three-course lunch menu, three different $45 dinner menus (four courses each, wine or spirit pairings available for an additional $28), and a four course $35 vegetarian dinner menu (plus $27 optional wine pairing).

While all of the dinner menus look compelling, the menu de mezcal, which celebrates Oaxaca’s signature spirit with dishes that include both a peach tamal and dry-rubbed pork shank (along with a $27 spirit pairing) seems particularly must try. 1777 Walker

The recent addition of former Brennan’s chef Danny Trace has made Astros owner Jim Crane’s fine dining Italian restaurant a must visit destination. For HRW, Trace is serving a four-course, $45 dinner menu that blends Italian preparations with Texas ingredients. Start with a classic dish like burrata caprese salad or Italian wedding soup. Entree options include a spicy pasta fra diavolo with Texas shrimp, Hill Country quail saltimbocca, and an eight-ounce beef filet with garlic-whipped potatoes.

Save room for dessert. Executive pastry chef David Berg offers three options, but those who pass on his signature caramel apple galette are missing one of Houston’s most underrated treats. 1515 Texas

Osso & Kristalla
Potente’s more casual sister restaurant is serving all three HRW meals. Choices on the two-course $20 lunch menu include fried calamari, tomato soup, pulled pork pizzetta, and a cheeseburger made with a pork and beef patty. Brunch starts with a prosecco cocktail, continues with a small starter, and finishes with entrees like a blueberry bacon malted waffle, eggs pomodoro, and smoked salmon rillette toast.

Dinner starts with an amuse bouche of artichoke hummus. The three-course $35 menu starts with classic dishes like fried calamari, prosciutto and melon, or burrata caprese salad. Entree options include a mozzarella-stuffed meatball with rigatoni, Sicilian barbecue shrimp, and four cheese tortellini. Keep dessert classic with Italian cake, tiramisu, ricotta cheesecake, or berries with mascarpone cream. 1515 Texas

The casual half of The Pass & Provisions will serve both a two-course lunch and a three-course $35 dinner during HRW. Both menus features the same three starters (red oak salad, watermelon and tomato gazpacho, and spicy tuna sourdough toast) and overlapping main dishes like green pea cavatappi and smoked pork sausage, but the dinner menu includes an eggplant parmesan pizza and three dessert options that aren’t being served during lunch. 807 Taft

Le Colonial
This Vietnamese restaurant in River Oaks District has earned a reputation as a pleasant place to dine thanks to its beautiful decor and lively bar scene. The three-course $45 dinner menu offers diners the opportunity to sample Le Colonial’s lighter, fresher take on traditional Vietnamese dishes.

Start with steamed dumplings filled with chicken and mushrooms, summer rolls filled with shrimp and rice noodles, or crispy spring rolls packed with shrimp and pork. Entree options consist of a classic Bo Luc Lac cuisine as well as grilled salmon and asparagus or shrimp in green curry sauce. While both strawberry panna cotta and a chocolate mousse dome sound pretty good for dessert, a mango sundae should prove to be a tempting choice. 4444 Westheimer

Relish Restaurant & Bar
This River Oaks restaurant serves the sort of well-executed comfort food that someone could eat once a week or more. The three course $35 menu features some of chef Dustin Teague’s best dishes, including starters such as duck liver mousse and a daily crudo. Entree options consist of fried chicken, New Orleans-style BBQ shrimp, and an eight-ounce filet. Dessert choices keep things classic; the seasonal fruit crostata looks like the most appealing option. 2810 Westheimer

Brasserie du Parc
Already known for his acclaimed Galleria-area restaurant Etoile, chef Philippe Verpiand opened this restaurant that looks out onto Discovery Green in January. The three-course $35 dinner menu serves up classic French fare.

Of the five appetizer options, beef tartare, chicken liver pate, and chilled tomato soup are the most intriguing. While it would be hard to pass on steak frites as an entree, seafood risotto and beef bourguignon are compelling alternatives. Just leave room for one of the three dessert options; skipping sweets at a French restaurant is folly. 1440 Lamar

Cafe Azur
While Brasserie du Parc serves mostly traditional French cuisine, Cafe Azur offers a lighter, more seafood-oriented take on Gallic dishes. The two-course $20 lunch menu includes dishes such as fish soup, chickpea fries, veggie fettuccine, and mussels Marinere.

While at dinner, the three-course $35 steps things up a bit a taleggio cheese-topped butternut squash, squid ink risotto, and an eight-ounce flat iron steak. Dessert options consist of a strawberry cake, apple and jalapeno crumble, and a classic floating island. 4315 Montrose

Bayou & Bottle
Instead of traditional courses, this comfortable lobby bar in downtown’s Four Seasons Hotel offers a $35 menu that gives diners the opportunity to choose two dishes from a list of 13 possibilities. Some, like Korean BBQ wings, beef fat fries, and chips and queso are all clearly intended to be appetizers. Others, like steak frites, a cheeseburger, and pan-seared scallops, are more entree oriented.

Regardless of one’s choices, the friendly, accommodating staff won’t judge anyone for doubling down on either style of dish. Just leave room for one of the three dessert choices: chocolate brownie, PB&J sundae, or strawberry shortcake. 1300 Lamar

Eloise Nichols Grill & Liquors
Keep things Southern with this more upscale concept from Adair Kitchen owners Nicholas Adair and Katie Barnhart. The three-course $35 dinner menu starts with choices that include caramelized Brussels sprouts, spicy fried chicken nuggets, and venison sausage. Vegetarians will choose to dine on the “super foods” bowl, but omnivores will likely skip it in favor of choices that consist of shrimp and grits, a sweet tea-brined pork chop, and grilled half chicken.

Finish the meal with chocolate hazelnut cake, peach crisp or key lime pie. 2400 Mid Ln

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Where to Eat Now: Houston restaurant scene heats up with 10 sizzling new dining options

Where to Eat Now: Houston restaurant scene heats up with 10 sizzling new dining options

After the usual summer slowdown, Houston’s restaurant scene has begun to heat up again. This month’s list of new restaurants to try features three of the year’s highest-profile openings in Aqui, A’Bouzy, and One Fifth Romance Languages.

Typically, I set the order in which I think diners should try the listed establishments, but all three are all equally compelling for different reasons. As for the rest of this month’s crop, it includes two new options in The Woodlands, downtown’s latest fine dining destination, and an upscale sushi restaurant that needs some tweaks.

At a time when most of the city’s most intriguing new restaurants open in the Heights, this Southeast Asian restaurant from Paul Qui, the Austin-based Top Chef and James Beard Award winner, serves as a reminder that Montrose remains the city’s premier dining neighborhood. With its double gable design, sleek, modern interior, and massive open kitchen, Aqui is one of the most attractive restaurants to open in recent memory.

Of course, those good looks wouldn’t mean much if the food doesn’t wow, but chef de cuisine Gabriel Medina (Kata Robata, Soma, Bosta Kitchen, etc) and his crew deliver a menu of flavorful dishes inspired by Thailand and the Philippines. Highlights include a rich hamachi crudo, the decadent uni toast from the “perfect bites” section (a dozen or so nigiri-sized dishes), and the lechon, a juicy piece of roasted pork belly topped with crispy skin. Medina’s been tweaking the menu regularly; as the restaurant rounds into form, I expect its cuisine will become even more compelling. 520 Westheimer

One Fifth Romance Languages
After a seven month run as a steakhouse, Chris Shepherd has moved on to the cuisines of France, Italy, and Spain at One Fifth, his Montrose restaurant that will change concepts annually. As Shepherd noted on my podcast, steakhouses are about product — essentially, buy great meat (or seafood) and don’t mess it up — but Romance Languages gives the James Beard Award winner and chef de cuisine Nick Fine the opportunity to demonstrate their technique.

A foie gras torchon delivers with its incredibly creamy texture and rich flavor that has just a hint of mineral tang. Spaghetti carbonara, a dish Shepherd obsessed over after spending two weeks in Italy, might be the best in the city thanks to its properly al dente pasta, house made guanciale, and locally sourced eggs. A mushroom appetizer came up short — too much sweet eggplant capponata, not enough earthy mushrooms — but I’ll chalk that up to opening weekend jitters.

For our entree, a friend and I split the massive cast iron paella that seems destined to be a Romance Languages signature. At $70, it seemed like a steal — enough food for three or four people for the price of two entrees — which is probably why the price has already been raised to $100. Instead of rice, One Fifth uses fideo noodles, a regional variation from Valencia, but the absence of saffron or a proper socarrat meant the dish didn’t match my friend’s expectations for what paella should be.
While it may not be traditional, the noodles are flavorful, and the dish is packed with expertly prepared shellfish (lobster, mussels, clams, and shrimp) and chorizo. I would happily order it again, even at the increased price, assuming my party was four or six instead of two. 1658 Westheimer

I keep reading descriptions of Shawn Virene’s newly opened River Oaks hotspot that describe it as a “wine bar,” but that’s not really fair. First, no wine bar in Houston sells bottles as cheaply as A’Bouzy, and that’s doubly true for champagne where really good grower vintages can be found priced starting in the $60 range and the $45 bottles of Delamotte brut are a true value.

More importantly, I’ve found the quality of the food over three visits to be of sufficiently high quality to make A’Bouzy a legitimate dining destination. Most tables will stick to light bites like the signature tuna and watermelon sashimi, salmon tartare, duck fat-fried pommes frites, or tomato and burrata salad, but diners who indulge in a full meal will find a lot to like. Both the roasted pork chop and pan-seared sole offer well-executed takes on classic preparations at affordable prices. Even the desserts are good — not that most of the social set who’ve packed the restaurant since day one will allow themselves to be seen in public indulging in anything so decadent.

The fun atmosphere (the servers shout “A’Bouzy!” every time they open a bottle of bubbles) and friendly, knowledgable service combine to have A’Bouzy poised to be River Oaks’ next great restaurant. 2300 Westheimer

After almost two decades working for the Brennan family in Houston and New Orleans, chef Danny Trace has traded Creole cuisine for Italian fare at this downtown fine dining restaurant from Astros owner Jim Crane and operating partner Bill Floyd (Reef). Whatever stumbles the restaurant had when it first opened, the elegant room and Trace’s cooking, which features locally-sourced ingredients and precise plating that would be Instagram worthy if the room weren’t so dim, make it an establishment that fans of places like Da Marco should visit.

Trace swaps foie gras for veal in his tonno crudo, which gives the classic dish a richness it usually lacks. Cacio e pepe features properly al dente housemade spaghetti and an extravagant amount of black truffle. Lamb chops arrived spot on medium rare with a vibrant mix of vegetables. Just save room for dessert — pastry chef David Berg (Tony’s) sweets are not to be missed. 1515 Texas

Goode Co Kitchen & Cantina
For its first new concept since Armadillo Palace, Goode Co has evolved its taqueria into Kitchen & Cantina — a modern Tex-Mex restaurant in the mold of places like Ninfa’s on Navigation and El Tiempo. Given the company’s legacy as a pioneer in modern Texas cuisine and its family history in South Texas, it comes as no surprise that Kitchen & Cantina offers a lot to like.

Mesquite wood touches a lot of the dishes — everything from the fajitas platter to red fish on the halfshell and Laguna shrimp, which are wrapped in bacon and stuffed with cheese and jalapeno. Green chile and pork empanadas have a flaky shell and just the right level of heat, while enchiladas verdes start with a jolt of tart acidity and finish with a lingering spiciness.

Gin Designs Group has created a space that evokes the spirit of Mexico and South Texas without being too theme-y. After a couple of the well-crafted tequila cocktails, diners might even think they’ve traveled south of the border.

Although the restaurant is only in The Woodlands for now, Kitchen & Cantina will come to the Memorial area in a couple months. Expect it to be a hit. 8865 Six Pines Drive (Shenandoah)

Snappy Salads
This Dallas-based chain opened quietly in the same Briargrove shopping center that’s home to the new Michael’s Cookie Jar and Houston classic Fountain View Cafe. My colleagues at CultureMap Dallas promised that Snappy Salads’ diverse range of ingredients, grilled-to-order proteins, generous portions, and reasonable prices help set it apart from similar restaurants. I set aside my initial skepticism and stopped by for lunch.

The format is fairly simply: build-your-own or choose from one of the preset combinations on the menu. I opted for a yellowfin tuna salad that utilized a sesame-ginger vinaigrette and wasabi peas to give a pleasant balance between sweet and spicy. Its proximity to the CultureMap office ensures I’ll be back soon. 1920 Fountain View

South Bank Seafood Bar
Burgers are out and lobster rolls are in at this new concept from Eighty Six’d Hospitality Group (Bovine & Barley, The Fish in Midtown). Formerly the Refinery, the restaurant’s space has been transformed with a new covered patio that gives its all-weather utility. The dishes sampled keep things fairly simply, but that suits the casual environment and affordable prices. While I prefer my lobster rolls classic, South Bank’s version that comes with housemade pickles on a roll that’s been toasted with garlic butter is a fun variation. 702 W Dallas

Fielding’s Rooster
For their third Woodlands concept, Fieldings Group restaurateur Cary Attar and culinary director Edel Goncalves have turned their attention to all things chicken: everything from roasted to fried to Indian-style butter chicken. Goncalves’ French training comes through in a reference standard version of chicken liver mousse with tarragon mustard and bacon jam.

Quarter, half, and whole birds are available roasted, fried, and grilled. Of these, friends and I most enjoyed the spicy fried Tennessee Red and the fiery grilled chicken with a piri piri glaze. Sides like biscuit hush puppies, Brussels sprouts, and cornbread round out the experience. Like all Fielding’s restaurants, craft beer, cocktails, and a well-priced wine list round out the experience. 4223 Research Forest

Retrospect Coffee Bar
Admittedly, it’s taken me too long to visit the new coffee shop that’s joined Axelrad and Luigi’s Pizzeria in the “Almeda Yards” section of Midtown, but Retrospect has a lot to offer. That starts with the space itself, which has transformed a former gas station into a place with both a covered patio out front and an expansive outdoor seating area out back. The lack of interior seating could be an issue for laptop-wielding types during the summer heat, but the imminent arrival of fall’s milder temps will make it a pleasant place to spend a couple hours.

Of course, patrons can count on expertly made brewed and espresso drinks, but Retrospect’s selection of sweet and savory crepes help set it apart from other coffee shops. A crispy exterior and a filling that included blueberries and granola made the Ladybird crepe (they’re all named for famous Texans) particularly enjoyable. Grab-and-go customers will appreciate the selection of baked goods, all of which are made in house. 3709 La Branch

“Zen Japanese Izakaya and Kata Robata have some new competition,” Houstonia dining editor Alice Levitt wrote about this new sushi restaurant on Washington Avenue that’s home to chef Shimao Ishikawa, who came to Houston after a stint at New York City’s Michelin-starred Jewel Bako. Given Levitt’s praise and Ishikawa’s lofty reputation, I had hopes for my first visit to Kukuri, but the experience came up short.

Kukuri touts its omakase (tasting menu), which starts at a fairly lofty $150. The word’s translation includes the word “trust,” but that has to be earned. Three of us split a $120 sushi and sashimi platter as a way to gauge whether we’d be willing to come back for another visit. For the amount of money, we expected more than 10 pieces of nigiri and two pieces each of six different kinds of sashimi. A dish of raw beef served on a hot plate with curry and so-so tempura did little to improve that first impression.

Hopefully, Ishikawa hits his stride, and Kukuri starts serving food that matches its prices. Until then, I’ll be sticking to places like Kata Robata, MF Sushi, and Kuu for high-end sushi. 1902 Washington Avenue