PaperCity Magazine

PaperCity Houston May 2022

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Page 77 of 99

I f any restaurateur in Houston understands the art of the pivot, it's Benjy Levit. When the COVID pandemic hit, and Benjy's, along with every restaurant, temporarily shuttered, Levit swiftly pivoted, moving his wildly popular Local Foods Market next door into Benjy's space. Now tucked upstairs in the 1,000-square-foot aerie is Levit's latest endeavor: Lees Den, a wonderful little respite perched like a treehouse above it all, accessed through Local Foods WINEUP or via a cool speakeasy-like entrance around the corner. Brittany Vaughan of Garnish Designs clearly had fun transforming the former overflow warehouse space into a plush wine bar awash in green and bright chartreuse, with 60 seats inside and out. General manager and wine director Chrisanna Shewbart has curated a very approachable 400-bottle wine list (all of which can be sold retail to go). She estimates that 75 percent of the list could be considered natural wines, and many selections have an asterisk, indicating bottles that are biodynamic, organic, or native- yeast wines, not to mention wineries headed by a woman winemaker. The ever-changing list features an array of small producers, many of which you'd be hard-pressed to find elsewhere, while wines by the glass change on a weekly basis. Four wine-based cocktails ($9 each), such as the refreshing Blood Orange Spritz and a spicy Port & Tonic, spark the offerings. And, because wine is infinitely better when paired with food, a 12-year veteran of Benjy's concepts, executive chef Maria Gonzalez, has created a succinct menu of bites that inspire sharing. Her bread and caviar dish features a Japanese milk bread that arrives tableside warm, sprinkled with herbs and coupled with a mound of whipped European-style butter topped with glowing orange beads of smoked trout roe ($15). On my visit, the Crudo of Moment featured slices of yellowtail sashimi and sweet potato bathed with a flavorful yuzu-shiro dashi and almond-chili oil ($13). Cheese boards include a trio of selections with accouterments ($14; add meat, mustard, and pickles for $6). More substantial is wood-fired-oven-roasted steak and potato ($25) or Midnight Pasta, a gluten-free noodle tossed with pomodoro tomatoes, Calabrian chiles, basil, and grilled olives ($19). Dessert is a singular selection: sweet white chocolate pot de creme paired with sugar cookies, topped with a dollop of matcha-strawberry jam ($8). Open Thursday through Saturday, 4 to 10 pm. Reservations suggested via Resy, but walk-ins are welcome. Lees Den, 2424 Dunstan Road in Rice Village, 713.522.7602, By Laurann Claridge. Photography Jenn Duncan. BENJY LEVIT'S NEW WINE BAR, LEES DEN, CHARMS WITH AN INDO-CHINA SPEAK-EASY VIBE. Arancini with black rice, mozzarella, and duck-fat pesto Wine-infused cocktails and house-made chips Lees Den with a speakeasy vibe Bread & Caviar: Japanese bread, European buer, and smoked trout roe 76

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