HOUS July 2013 : Page 68

75 FOR FOODIES We tasted and tippled at the most talked-about hot spots, and called on the classics, to see just what’s cooking now in what has become the nation’s most dynamic and highly touted food town. After trying the trendy dishes—ramen or Brussels sprouts, anyone?—and checking in with our favorite veteran chefs, here’s our must-try menu of what’s new and what’s next from Houston’s coolest kitchens. Pull up a seat, grab a plate and dig in—and, by all means, save room for dessert! By tHE EDItORS | PHOtOgRaPHy By DEBORa SMaIL & JULIE SOEFER YU BETCHA! Chef Justin Yu at his nationally praised Downtown restaurant Oxheart

75 For Foodies

The Editors

We tasted and tippled at the most talked-about hot spots, and called on the classics, to see just what's cooking now in what has become the nation's most dynamic and highly touted food town. After trying the trendy dishes—ramen or Brussels sprouts, anyone?—and checking in with our favorite veteran chefs, here's our must-try menu of what's new and what's next from Houston's coolest kitchens. Pull up a seat, grab a plate and dig in—and, by all means, save room for dessert!<br /> <br /> 10 Hottest Restaurants Right Now<br /> <br /> 1.BRASSERIE 19 <br /> <br /> If anyone wondered whether a modernized brasserie— the decor is white-on-white, and the wine list comes on an iPad— would catch on, Brasserie 19 (1962 W. Gray St., 713.524.1919) has resoundingly answered the question: Oui! A River Oaks crowd piles in for classics like steak frites, and a selection of raw oysters from the nation's most fruitful waters.<br /> <br /> 2.CORNER TABLE <br /> <br /> Baroque-decorated yet casual Corner Table (2736 Virginia St., 713.568.9196) has bowed to the delight of the River Oaks set. Chef Bruce Molzan of Ruggles fame turns out dishes ranging from '80s kitsch—a pastry dome tops the butternut squash soup—to inspired "paleo," as in the paella made from cauliflower "rice." Bonus: There are also four bar concepts scattered about the premises.<br /> <br /> 3.ETOILE <br /> <br /> Etoile Cuisine et Bar (1101 Uptown Park Blvd., 832. 668.5808) has joined a crop of great new Frenchies. Chef Philippe Verpiand goes French country, offering his A-list regulars comfort foods such as cassoulet a la Toulouse and ecargots bourguignonne awash in neongreen chopped herbs, in a softhued dining room with wooden walls distressed to look antique. <br /> <br /> 4.B HUGO'S <br /> <br /> In a city floating in queso thanks to the sway of Tex-Mex, Hugo Ortega of Hugo's (1600 Westheimer Rd., 713.524.7744) offers a classy alternative: authentic Mexican. Although his restaurant opened in 2002—with a spinoff heading to the Galleria area—Ortega proves he can keep up with his buzzy neighbor chefs on Lower Westheimer, having just fielded his second James Beard nomination. The chef, who also has Backstreet Cafe, turns out a menu ranging from bright ceviches to a rich and complex beef tenderloin with mole.<br /> <br /> 5.L'OLIVIER <br /> <br /> Both the chef and the space at brasserie-esque hot spot L'Olivier (240 Westheimer Rd., 713. 360.6313) have interesting pasts. Olivier Ciesielski spent more than a decade as executive chef at Tony's, and the building—renovated to be a part-mod, part-baroque dining room separated from a chic bar by a glassed-in wine cupboard— was once an adult video store. There's still lust in the air, but now it's mostly for the menu of freshened-up staples such as steamed mussels with garlic, Italian sausage and tomatoes.<br /> <br /> 6.OXHEART <br /> <br /> No resto in the current roar has been more lauded than Oxheart (1302 Nance St., 832. 830.8592), and chef Justin Yu has become a celeb on his own terms. His restaurant is aggressively casual, with a lived-in decor and a website that insists you "come as you are." While guests may have sartorial options, they don't have such liberty when it comes to what they eat—tasting menus only.<br /> Luckily, giving up freedom tastes good: Veggie-heavy "progressive" dishes are apt to include a beet salad with lemon-blossom vinegar, quinoa and almonds.<br /> <br /> 7.THE PASS & PROVISIONS <br /> <br /> The Pass & Provisions (807 Taft St., 713.628.9020)—part casual noshing with pizzas and sophisticated cheese boards, and part tasting-menu-only fine dining with each course paired with either a fine wine or a clever cocktail— is the brainchild of chefs Seth Siegel-Gardner and Terrence Gallivan. Provisions, the more casual, with an accent wall paneled in wooden slats from an old highschool basketball court, touts an internationally sourced beer list. And The Pass in an adjoining room—with stark white walls and plush velvet dining chairs— offers complex, whimsical fare such as its nori bucatini, a pasta spiral of veggie-green with orange uni and clouds of tofu foam. <br /> <br /> 8.TRINITI <br /> <br /> Triniti (2815 Shepherd Dr., 713.527.9090) continues keeping pace with the Upper Kirby/Montrose restaurant boom it helped launch. The industrialesque spot—hardwood floors and an open kitchen stretch out under soaring ceilings and constellations of cool light fixtures—has added a Sunday brunch; imagine a pretty crowd swilling versions of Bloody Marys made with tequila and whiskey. But it's still chef Ryan Hildebrand's artful, locally driven lunch and dinner items—fresh asparagus comes with local mushrooms and a truffled egg yolk vinaigrette—that keep Triniti holy among foodies. <br /> <br /> 9.UCHI <br /> <br /> Business is so good for Austin sushi-star import Uchi (904 Westheimer Rd., 713. 522.4808) chef-owner Tyson Cole says that, as his ATX flagship turns 10, he'll expand to Dallas. Little wonder. Warmly comforting yet edgy-cool standouts include the hamachi nabe, with yellowtail and a raw farm egg meant to be stirred into hot flavorful rice at the table.<br /> <br /> * Listed alphabetically<br /> <br /> 10.UNDERBELLY <br /> <br /> James Beard nominee Chris W Shepherd's year-old, sleekly rustic Underbelly (1100 Westheimer Rd., 713.528.9800), is an edible homage to Houston, highlighting not only its love of hearty meat with an in-house butcher, and its earthly bounty with a savvy selection of heirloom produce— but also its ethnic diversity, as the city's Asian and Latin influences are evident. Consider such delicacies as house-cured sausages with tomatoes and pickled blackberries, and what may be the signature favorite, spicy Korean braised goat with doughy dumplings.<br /> <br /> 5 COOLEST TRENDS<br /> <br /> 1.GAMES PEOPLE PLAY <br /> <br /> Houston restaurants offer a spin on game night. At new Brooklyn Athletic Club (601 Richmond Ave., 713.527.4440), enjoy bocce, croquet and badminton between bites like mac-and-cheese with braised short ribs. And the upcoming Cowboy Surfers will feature a half-court basketball setup and pingpong tables. Nearby, Cottonwood (3422 N. Shepherd Dr., 713.802.0410) boasts cornhole and foosball on its 2,000-square-foot patio.<br /> <br /> 2.BRICK-AND-MORTAR MANIA <br /> <br /> On the heels of popular organic food truck Green Seed Vegan's (4320 Almeda Rd., 713. 487.8346) brick-and-mortar bow last spring, Fusion Taco (801 Congress St.) will open a storefront in the hot Market Square section of Downtown. And Eatsie Boys (4100 Montrose Blvd., 713.524.3737) opened a place in Montrose early this spring, serving food-truck favorites like the pork snuggies, plus new sandwiches like the Maestro, with roast beef, caramelized onions, horseradish aioli and cheddar, topped with crunchy potato chips on a challah bun.<br /> <br /> 3.THAT'S THE SPIRIT!<br /> <br /> Several spots are curating "wine-type" dinners based around other drinks. Latin Bites (5709 Woodway Dr., 713.229.8369) offers pisco-pairing dinners once a month—think tuna tiradito— while new Federal Grill (510 Shepherd Dr., 713.863.7777) shows off its 100-plus bourbons in a series of dinners that launch in the fall, starring fine steaks and wordly dishes like Indian-esque eggplant napoleon. Meanwhile, Artisans (3201 Louisiana St.,713. 529.9111) chef Jacques Fox will celebrate 40 years of his cooking career with a multicourse Champagne dinner Sept. 12.<br /> <br /> 4.PUNCH DRUNK <br /> <br /> Always chic Philippe Restaurant + Lounge (1800 Post Oak Blvd., 713. 439.1000) has introduced a daily rotating punch service, with versions like Pimms Punch— Pimms No. 1, lime juice, mint, orange and cucumber. The Pass & Provisions (807 Taft St., 713.628.9020) also offers a punch of the day, served from a retro punch bowl; the Lady Lynchburg version has bourbon, lemonade, Aperol and cherry bitters. And Midtown's popular craft-beer haven Mongoose Versus Cobra (1011 McGowen St., 713.650.6872) serves its fruity Cobra Koolaid from a crystal bowl at the end of the bar—and for just $5 a cup, it's a dangerously delicious happy hour option.<br /> <br /> 5.USE YOUR NOODLE <br /> <br /> Gourmet versions of Japanese ramen" .-aTe>rbein||s|liiS w # up at new Goro & Gun (306 Main St.), which proffers veggie, miso and pork varieties, garnished with toppings like tempura shrimp and soy egg. Soma Sushi (4820 Washington Ave., 713.861.2726) serves the Shio Duck ramen with duck confit and duck breast, and a black bean ramen with spare ribs and kimchi. Upper Kirby's Fat Bao (3419 Kirby Dr., 713.677.0341) hosts "Ramen Night" on Mondays and Tuesdays. Egg-topped Tonkotsu ramen, made with pork bone marrow, is served. Meanwhile, Underbelly (1100 Westheimer Rd., 713.528.9800) is known for incorporating Asian touches, like ramen noodles and pork belly, into rotating dishes.<br /> <br /> INDIAN SUMMER<br /> <br /> Pondicheri, Sunny Side Up<br /> <br /> Upper Kirby Indian restaurant Pondicheri (in West Ave, 713. 522.2022) is proving to be more than just a popular place to grab curry for lunch or dinner. Chef-owner Anita Jaisinghani's unexpected extras, like an extensive breakfast menu and a cool collection of wine-driven cocktails, has earned her eatery quite a following. The colorful, industrial-nodding cafe adds Eastern-inspired twists to classic breakfast fare, like masala eggs with potato curry, crepes made with rice and lentils, and French toast with fruit and jaggery raw-sugar syrup. Eggs can be scrambled and wrapped with green chutney in roti bread for mobile munching. Jaisinghani, who also owns Montrose's Indika, additionally serves up scones in varieties such as the ones with pumpkin, sesame and sunflower seeds-or blueberry, pistachio and lemon. Expect the same kind of fun with flavors from the cocktail menu. The Whist combines pinot grigio with ginger, honey and mint, for example, while the Whimsy has sparkling rose with lavender, hibiscus and basil.<br /> <br /> NEW AND NOTABLE<br /> <br /> Market Savvy <br /> <br /> Morgan Weber and Ryan Pera of market and cafe Revival Market (550 Heights Blvd., 713.880.8463), which now serves its Saturday breakfast menu on weekdays, have teamed up again for a similarly farmto- table, sure-to-be-trendy take on Italian dining. Opening in September, Coltivare (3320 White Oak Dr.) will feature the same locally sourced meats, vegetables and charcuterie available at Revival. A garden near the new eatery will supply both restaurants with fresh produce, and guests can take in the neighborhood as dinner is served on the patio. The resto will emphasize fun, shareable fare, as in wood-fired pizzas, and small plates like hand-rolled garganelli pasta with slow-braised beef ragu.<br /> <br /> JUST DESSERTS<br /> <br /> SWEET DISPOSITION<br /> <br /> The macaron, that little French sandwich cookie, has captured Houston's heart. >>> Macaron by Patisse (2033 W. Gray St., 713.965.7359) recently bowed in River Oaks serving flavors like fig and goat cheese. Owner Sukaina Rajani crafts the treats daily. >>> Petite Sweets (2700 W. Alabama St., 713.520.7007) has a variety of sweets like red-velvet cake balls, but it's the macarons—like the mocha ones—that have earned it major kudos. >>> Sweet (801 Town & Country Blvd., 713.647.9338), a caterer that went brick-andmortar in 2011, serves flavors like tiramisu and berry cheesecake. >>> Upper Kirby's Bite (5172 Buffalo Spwy.) Opens this month. The macaron destination will feature classic flavors like strawberry and chocolate. >>> And Araya (1141 Uptown Park Blvd., and other locations) isn't just for artisan chocolates anymore; macaron varieties include bourbon vanilla.<br /> <br /> 5 CLASSICS THAT STILL COOK<br /> <br /> 1. BRENNAN'S Brennan's (3300 Smith St., 713. 522.9711) has proven it can withstand everything from hurricanes to fires. Just as formidable as its building—an elegant place with a grand dining room and brick patio out back—is the menu of Creole gems both classic and innovative. Chef Danny Trace offers starters like barbecued shrimp shortcake, with shellfish in a tangy sauce over biscuits, and an entree of duck breast sauced with bourbon and a side of dirty rice.<br /> <br /> 2. DA MARCO The booming Lower Westheimer strip of foodie heaven has changed dramatically in recent years, but still going strong is chef-owner Marco Wiles' longstanding Da Marco (1520 Wetsheimer Rd., 713.807.8857), an upscale-Italian stalwart. And why wouldn't it be, with Chianti-braised short ribs and butter-soft veal chops, served up by old-school pro waiters in white jackets? Plus, Da Marco's extensive, Italian-focused wine list flaunts more than 200 selections.<br /> <br /> 3. ARTURO'S Uptown Park staple Arturo's Uptown Italiano (1180 Uptown Park Blvd., 713.621.1180) keeps the tasty, no-nonsense Italian classics coming, in an elegant dining space that wraps around a festive bar—and on the sprawling front patio. Hits include old-school starters of bruschetta and fried calamari with marinara, as well as peoplepleasing pastas. Grilled pork chops get a blackberry glaze and a side of polenta, and, for dessert, the flourless chocolate walnut cake comes a la mode. Grazie!<br /> <br /> 4. RDG + BAR ANNIE Chef Robert Del Grande, godfather of Southwestern cuisine, has been a star of Houston dining for decades, having in recent years traded his Cafe Annie for the modernized RDG + Bar Annie (1800 Post Oak Blvd., 713.840.1111). The gourmet takes on nachos and burgers are renowned. Branzino comes with "red chile crabmeat" and a salad of shaved fennel, while the coffee-roasted filet mignon boasts a side of bacon-and-chive cheesy mashed potatoes.<br /> <br /> 5. MARK'S Foodies have swarmed Mark's American Cuisine (1658 Westheimer Rd., 713. 523.3800) since chef Mark Cox, formerly of Tony's, went solo 16 years ago. The soaring space in which the chef serves richly conceived, seasonally inspired and, perhaps not coincidentally, divine dinner staples like veal tenderloin with cider-glazed veal short ribs was originally a church. Dessert highlights include bread pudding with white-chocolate-spiked Grand Marnier sauce.<br /> <br /> ONE TO WATCH<br /> <br /> RAISE THE ROOST <br /> <br /> Chef Kevin Naderi’s delightfully ramshackle Montrose favorite Roost (1972 Fairview St., 713.523.7667), mixes Persian style with fork-and-knife fare. At the small, bustling restaurant, lined with Edison light fixtures and old shutters, and fronted with old-school patio tables, the menu peddles crispy chickpea lettuce wraps with North African harissa and cooling lime wedges, and goes seaside as seared diver scallops are paired with curried lentils and raita yogurt. For dessert? Who wouldn’t try Roost’s now-famous doughnut holes served with coffee ice cream, salted caramel sauce and crushed pistachios?<br /> <br /> TUNING UP<br /> <br /> Live From Houston <br /> <br /> As Eddie V's (in West Ave, 713.874.1800; 12848 Queensbury Ln., 832.200.2380) continues to draw crowds with live jazz nightly, two newcomers also offer upscale settings to enjoy local acts. Seasons 52 (4410 Westheimer Rd.,713. 621.5452) near Highland Village—it opens a second location in CityCentre in the fall—showcases a unique setup in which a piano sits inside a rectangular bar.<br /> Musicians tickle the ivories nightly, and there's music on the patio, too. And chef Bruce Molzan's new see-and-be scene Corner Table (2736 Virginia St., 713.568.9196) has multiple venues within, including the 1919 Wine Bar, with live music from American standards and jazz to R&B six nights a week. And on weekends, hit the rowdier Djsavvy Oak Bar upstairs, formerly the Red Room, or listen to acoustic tunes in the courtyard.<br /> <br /> MIDTOWN MAN<br /> <br /> NUMBER'S UP!<br /> <br /> Dotting the blurry line that separates Midtown from Montrose is brand-new, coastal-cool, patio-perfect Eleven XI (607 W. Gray St., 713. 529.5881), offering Cajun-tinged seafood, rusticchic fowl and a top-shelf drinks menu. Patrons can peer into the industrial-like open kitchen as chef Kevin Bryant, formerly of the Capitol at St. Germain, sears Texas quail in a cast iron-to be paired with smoked- Gouda grits. Or they can lounge on the expansive front porch overlooking a bustling section of West Gray. Other standout entrees include fresh flounder, brought in every day, roasted whole, and coated in a delicious apricot glaze. For dessert, sweet tooths should order the country-apple crumble topped with a slice of sharp cheddar, or gather 'round the assorted cookie plate with cold glasses of milk. There's a festive happy hour, too, featuring a solid selection of wine by the glass.<br /> May we suggest the cherry limeade, a cherry-vodka version of a delightful fast-food drive-in roadie?<br /> <br /> 5 CHEFS WE LOVE<br /> <br /> 1.CHRIS WILLIAMS "This is all I've ever done," says Chris Williams, chef-owner of the Museum District's Lucille's (5512 La Branch St., 713.568.2505) and adjoining U.S. Smith's BBQ, Beer and Garden, which opened last year and are named after his great-grandmother and great-grandfather, respectively. "Server, dishwasher, bartender, cook. This is what I love to do." And it shows. Lucille's touts tasty takes on Southern staples like fried green tomatoes. And this summer, backyard-style U.S. Smith's expands its menu. "It's not just straight-up barbecue," says Williams, citing new items like collared-green-kimchi hot dogs.<br /> <br /> 2.KIRAN VERMA Chef-owner Kiran Verma has been dishing out her native Indian fare from the kitchen of her namesake Highland Village restaurant Kiran's (4100 Westheimer Rd., 713.960.8472) for nearly eight years. Her hearty authentic dishes include quail tandoori, rack of lamb with rosemary demi-glace, and crispy veggie samosas. And this summer, she's lightening things up with new seafood-savvy menu items like halibut with a watermelon-curry sauce.<br /> <br /> 3.CHRIS LEUNG Life is sweet for Chris Leung, the pastry wizard who honed his skills at Bootsie's in Tomball before joining Kata Robata (3600 Kirby Dr., 713.526.8858) last spring. Now, acting in more of a consulting role for the restaurant, Leung whips up whimsical desserts— think white chocolate scones with whipped lychee cream, strawberry sorbet and white pepper meringue. He also has Cloud 10 Creamery, a wholesale outfit which opens a brick-and-mortar location in August. Expect Leung's unexpected flavor combos to show up in his small-batch ice creams, too. Strawberry-and-tomato, anyone?<br /> <br /> 4.ARTURO BOADA Chef Arturo Boada has manned the kitchens of several successful restaurants around town over the years—Solero, Beso, Arturo's Uptown Italiano—and the menu at his 2-year-old inconspicuous strip-center restaurant Arturo Boada Cuisine (6510 Del Monte Dr., 713.782.3011) seems to call upon the French, Italian and Pan-Latin influences enjoyed at each. Right now, try the artichoke-andmascarpone ravioli, topped with a lobster tail.<br /> <br /> 5.GRANT GORDON Grant Gordon, executive chef of five-star stalwart Tony's (3755 Richmond Ave., 713.622.6778), is a busy guy. Besides whipping up classic and seasonal dishes at the fine-dining destination where he's been for three years, soon the 20-something will also be top chef at the west side's forthcoming new-style Vallone's steakhouse (947 Gessner Rd.). He's been meeting with architect Shafik Rifaat, and crafting the menu. "There's going to be an influence of housemade pasta because that's worked so well for us at Tony's, as well as seafood," he says. "We're basically going to put a... chef-driven approach on classic steakhouse items."<br /> <br /> TWO ON TREND<br /> <br /> TACOS AND TIPPLING Heights taco-and-tequila hot spot El Gran Malo (2307 Ella Blvd., 832.767.3405) has been serving loyal patrons infused organic tequilas made with ingredients like Texas pecans, sea salt and green apples since 2011— setting off a bit of trend. With a handcrafted gastro-cantina menu from chef Greg Lowry highlighting a variety of savory tacos, including versions with pork a carnitas, snapper, shrimp and chicken tinga, it's no wonder why the neighborhood favorite is expanding. In September, Malo will open a second location near Downtown's Market Square. An expanded food menu will include Tex-Mex standbys such as fajitas. Meanwhile, Montrose nightlife purveyor Shawn Bermudez recently entered the gourmet-taco-and-infused-tequila scene with his Mexican-folk-artfilled bar Pistolero's (1517 Westheimer Rd., 281.974.3860) on the Westheimer Curve.<br /> <br /> Guests can wash down barbacoa or roasted-pork tacos with spirits flavored with wild berries, pineapple, jalapeno, cilantro, peppercorns and more, every day till 1AM.<br /> <br /> DOUGH BOY<br /> <br /> Posting bond <br /> <br /> Globe-trotting chef Roy Shvartzapel, a UH alum who has worked at such highly praised restaurants as Beverly Hills’ Bouchon, and under the tutelage of Pierre Herme in Paris and Ignio Massari in Brescia, Italy, has claimed a corner of the bustling intersection of Westheimer and Dunlavy where long-popular coff ee shop and cafe Brasil still draws hipster crowds. Shvartzapel’s bakery and cafe, to be called Common Bond (1700 Westheimer Rd.), will feature a menu inspired by the chef’s international training. “What drew me to Montrose was it felt like all the places in Europe I’ve worked at,” says the chef. “It’s very authentic, diverse and eclectic, and is the food capital here in Houston.” Aside from bakery favorites, like croissants, pastries and macarons, the neighborhood café will serve sandwiches at lunchtime— or any time, as it’ll stay open into the late-night hours.<br /> <br /> GREEN ENERGY<br /> <br /> Chic Side <br /> <br /> The veggie that tormented many a child at clean-your-plate-or-else time is now the trendiest ingredient at many top restos: Brussels sprouts. Uchi's (904 Westheimer Rd., 713.522.4808) addictive version has the little orbs caramelized and roasted with a lemon chile. Or gourmands may try them in a salad at West Ave's new Del Frisco's Grille (832.623.6168), where they're tossed with roasted almonds, dried cranberries and orange segments in a Creole mustard vinaigrette. Meanwhile, at Haven (2502 Algerian Way, 713.581.6101), roast chicken is served with bacon spaetzle on a bed of Brussels sprouts. And the new Federal Grill (510 Shepherd Dr., 713.863.7777), formerly Branch Water Tavern, offers a side of fried sprouts sprinkled with seasoned salt; find similar crispy-and-salted versions at socialite-savvy Up (3995 Westheimer Rd., 713.640.5416) and sceney Benjy's (5922 Washington Ave., 713.868.1131).<br /> <br /> 5 STELLAR SPINOFFS & EXPANSIONS<br /> <br /> 1.C0PPA Medit-savvy Ibiza (2450 Louisiana St., 713.524.0004) was long the only star in the Charles Clark/Grant Cooper galaxy. Blame the Big Bang theory if you want, but in just two years the pair has expanded with Brasserie 19 and Coppa Ristorante Italiano (5555 Washington Ave.,713. 426.4260). And now the duo, along with Exec Chef Brandi Key, have two newbies set to open in Rice Village. Coppa Osteria will be a relaxed twist on the original, and Punk's Simple Southern Food will offer the likes of po'boys and mint juleps.<br /> <br /> 2.MOCKINGBIRD BISTRO Beloved Mockingbird Bistro's (1985 Welch St., 713.533.0200) John Sheely is opening a newbie near the Galleria. The menu at Osteria Mazzantini (2200 Post Oak Blvd., Ste. 140), named after his mother's family, will reflect his Italian heritage. Think veal osso bucco, and authentic desserts like pear and pine nut crostada.<br /> <br /> 3.MAXS WINE DIVE Houston original Max's Wine Dive (4720 Washington Ave., 713.880.8737), which now has outposts across Texas, will open a second Houston location on Fairview at Taft. The menu and industrial-smart decor will be similar to that of the first Max's. Expect eats to the tune of its "Champagne and fried chicken. Why the hell not?" Mantra.<br /> <br /> 4.EL TIEMPO For a big local chain like El Tiempo (2814 Navigation Blvd., 713.222.6800, and other locations) to have added one more restaurant to its roster a few months back may not seem like a big deal. But a block from the original Ninfa's on Navigation (2704 Navigation Blvd., 713.228.1175), it pits two of the city's biggest names in Tex-Mex, both with ties to genre foremother Mama Ninfa, in a battle for tequila-soaked supremacy. The new Tiempo, with a large bar and sprawling patio, serves up the brand's famous fajitas. Ninfa's has enlarged its patio and added an outdoor bar.<br /> <br /> 5.LIBERTY KITCHEN Following his hit cheddarbiscuits- and-bacon-jam-pushing B R C (519 Shepherd Dr.,713. 861.2233), restaurateur L e e Ellis offered the Liberty Kitchen & Oyster Bar (1050 Studewood St., 713. 802.0533), which distinguishes itself by putting fried oysters on almost everything but the red velvet cheesecake. Now, as Liberty expands to River Oaks and Austin, comes Heights-area Cowboy Surfers— the menu spans fried chicken and tacos—and Lee's Fried Chicken fried chicken and, er, you get it .<br /> <br /> HIP HOTEL DINING<br /> <br /> Checking In <br /> <br /> With new chefs at the helm, Houston hotels are dishing out fresh takes on classic plates. ... At Valentino Vin Bar (2525 W. Loop S., 713. 850.9200) chef Shannen Tune, who arrived from Austin's Driskill Hotel this April, updated the Hotel Derek resto's menu with his own funminded signature sandwiches, including inverted grilled cheese panini wrapped in bacon and served with tomato bisque, and the hearty Hangover burger, a 10-ounce burger topped with crispy hash browns, a fried egg and chile-rubbed bacon. . Hotel ZaZa's Monarch (5701 Main St., 713. 527.1800), under the direction of new chef Jonathan Jones, formerly of kickedup Montrose icehouse Beaver's, has menu updates showcasing Texas and Gulf Coast classics. Fish 'n' Grits with panroasted market catches, and Texas Kobe Pot Roast with Akaushi short ribs and Marsala jus make dinner haute and hearty. ... Montrose mansionturned- boutiquehotel La Colombe D'Or welcomes guests at its artfilled and warmly contemporized Restaurant Cinq (3410 Montrose Blvd., 713.524.7999) for new chef German Mosquera's inventive dishes of braised octopus with avocado aioli and chorizo, and cast-iron-seared scallops with grapes and pomegranate vinaigrette.<br /> <br /> THE NEXT FOODIE ’HOOD<br /> <br /> HITTING THE HEIGHTS<br /> <br /> The eat is on in the Heights! >>> The long-awaited (and oft-waylaid) CK Steakhouse (1127 W. 19th St.) by Ronnie Killen—his Pearland steakhouse Killen's is still a must-hit for his dry-aged steaks, and intricate desserts from Pastry Chef Johnny Wesley—arrives next year. The third outpost of Torchy's Tacos (350 W. 19th St.) is opening in the iconic Harold's building. >>> Mexican cantina El Camino (602 Studewood St.), by Pink's Pizza purveyor Ken Bridge, will take up residence in the old Conoco station by Fitzgerald's; also from Bridge, still-new Witchcraft Tavern & Provisions (1221 W 11th St., 832.649.3601) has gourmet burgers and a vast selection of craft beer. >>> Incoming from Cali chef and James Beard winner Bradley Ogden: Funky Chicken and the more seasonally focused Bradley's Fine Diner (810 Heights Blvd., 910 Heights Blvd.). Both will skew organic and local. >>> Ruggle's Green (748 E. 11th St., 713. 714.8460) recently bowed in the building of the former 11th Street Cafe, with a modernized interior. >>> After Feast's closing last month, chef Richard Knight plans to open a new Heights-area concept with Benjy Mason and Chris Cusack of Down House early next year.

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