PaperCity Magazine

May 2019- Houston

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H ouston hotel dining is the best it's ever been, inspiring locals and out- o f - t o w n e r s alike to reserve a table. One of the best is Tribute at The Houstonian — a rebranded and reimagined take on regional cuisine from the south, north, and east of our city dubbed Tex-Lex cuisine. Executive chef Neal Cox, an eight-year- veteran of the property, and his team have crafted well-edited menus for breakfast, lunch, and dinner that pay homage to crave-worthy dishes created in Louisiana, Texas, and Mexico. But this is far from fusion: Cox stays true to the flavors and ingredients of those areas. On a recent Saturday evening, I ventured through the double glass doors into a posh dining room designed by architecture firm Gensler. The crisp, white-cloth-covered tables glowed beneath chandeliers dripping with Brazilian natural- crystal points. I began with the wood-grilled Gulf oysters brushed with chorizo butter ($17), a spicy start complemented by sommelier Vanessa Treviño Boyd's recommendation of a sparkling California wine. Boyd, named sommelier of the year by Food & HOUSTONIAN TRIBUTE AT THE I t's an ambitious concept: one restaurant with a five-year lease that completely reinvents itself every year. For chef- owner Chris Shepherd and his investors, One Fifth is an opportunity to play out different dining concepts in the historic spot — a former Lutheran Church where Mark's Restaurant once reigned. When One Fifth debuted, Shepherd reimagined the sacred space as a steak restaurant. (Last fall, the steakhouse concept was resurrected in the former locale of Underbelly, named Georgia James.) When July 31 rolled around last year, Shepherd closed down for a month and switched up the menu to speak in the romance languages (Spanish, Italian, and French). For the third iteration, Shepherd enlisted new chef Matt Staph to serve as chef de cuisine for One Fifth 3.0 version, which is inspired by the flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean/Middle East/North Africa (through July 31, 2019). Shepherd, Staph, and chef Nick Fine immersed themselves in the company of Lebanese restaurant owners in town, haunted the aisles of Phoenicia Market, and arranged a stage in the kitchen of James Beard Award-winning chef Michael THREE-FIFTHS IN Solomonov's Israeli restaurant Zahav in Philadelphia. "The Zahav staff taught us about flavors and spices that I'd read about but never actually used," Staph says. Coming back home, they renamed the hearth in their kitchen a "taboon" (or tabun) to bake the requisite flatbreads of the region and acquired a blixer (a blender/ mixer combo) to create silky smooth hummus and dips. The trio guides the diner through dips, salatim (cold Israeli salads), mezze (small apps), al ha'esh (dishes made over the fire), grains, and larger family-style dishes on the menu. While you can tiptoe through the foreign (to many) selections and order à la carte, try taking the sightseeing tour on your first visit. For $60 per person — the entire table must partake — you can enjoy bites from more than a dozen small plates, which change daily. My own tour started with the daily hummus ($14) and warm, freshly baked pita. Then each of the five salatim dishes ($28 for all five) rolled in, from coffee-roasted beets (divine) to torshi (pickled vegetables) to labneh — the cucumber, dill, and strained-yogurt salad that Greeks will recognize as well. The mezze course brought a raw lamb dish that was much like tartar with mint, garlic cream, and spring onion to layer over the accompanying malawach, a Jewish fried bread ($15). Then the crisp pickled cauliflower ($12) arrived, followed by roasted cherry tomatoes with a creamy feta dip ($12). Desserts by Victoria Dearmond include a successful take on what is often cloyingly sweet: baklava. Here it's not drenched in honey but layered with pecans in lieu of pistachios and topped with a scoop of labneh frozen custard, reminiscent of the flavor of cream cheese ice cream ($10). Reservations are recommended; dinner only seven days a week. One Fifth, 1658 Westheimer Road, 713.955.1024, Laurann Claridge Wine in 2012, has compiled a thoughtful list of more than 400 bottles. Don't move on to the main without trying the sope de cabrito. A collaboration between talented sous chef Juan Tuch and Cox, this is a rich, slow-braised goat, its shredded meat piled atop blue corn masa with pickled onion and cabbage and a drizzle of ancho crema ($16). The wood- grilled redfish, served with a roasted corn and jicama salad, is inspired by the classic dish redfish on the half shell; here, it's basted with a piquant cascabel salsa and cooked over post oak embers ($34). The desserts by accomplished pastry chef Catherine Rodriguez are a complete delight. Tribute at The Houstonian, 111 N. Post Oak Lane, 713.685.6713, Laurann Claridge Hearth-roasted tomato and whipped feta Tribute at The Houstonian 126

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