The Houston food scene is not just exploding, it’s also expanding. In the past, high-profile restaurants wouldn’t dream of opening anywhere except within central Houston (the area Houstonians refer to as “inside the loop”); but that’s changed recently as restaurateurs are looking further afield. The new Gateway Memorial City complex on Houston’s west side is a prime example. Located in the flourishing Memorial City area in close proximity to Houston’s thriving Energy Corridor district, it has become home to three of the city’s most exciting new eateries, profiled here.
Adison Lee is no stranger to creating works of art with fish. As a young sushi chef, he worked as a protégé to world-renowned Nobu Matsuhisa, where he honed his knife skills and his ability to craft modern Japanese plates. It should come as no surprise that he is the talent behind one of Houston’s most anticipated restaurants this year: KUU, which opened on February 9. The restaurant’s name, which translates in Japanese to “the art of eating,” is the framework around which Lee constructs a meal. In addition to traditional sushi preparations, KUU’s menu will include modern interpretations of traditional Japanese fare, with dishes such as rock shrimp tempura with kale chips and shishito peppers or seared sea scallop with kabocha squash, roasted fennel and yuzu yogurt. The restaurant’s chic design, by local architect Si Dang, complements the food with stylish elements such as a digital fireplace within a 14-foot-tall copper housing.
There’s a swanky luxuriousness that permeates the space at Vallone’s, the newest venture by Tony Vallone, one of Houston’s most iconic and enduring restaurateurs (he’s the man behind Tony’s). The beautifully designed restaurant (designed by Shafik Rifaat) is simply stunning, its palette of deep chocolate hues underscored by dramatic elements such as a wall sculpture made of fire, golden-orbed chandeliers and a two-story, glass-walled wine cellar. On the menu, classic dishes get a new spin, such as an unforgettably tasty four day-aged French onion soup, or a homey, so-good-it’ll-punch-you-in-the-guts Texas beef chili made of ground prime steak. Naturally, it wouldn’t be a steakhouse without an excellent selection of meat, and on that front, Vallone’s satisfies with a Strube Ranch Kobe filet and a 55-day dry-aged New York strip, among others. A selection of shellfish, salads, handmade pastas and non-steak entrées, as well as a full range of gourmet side dishes, round out the menu.
The great thing about the Cordúa family of restaurants, whether it’s their flagship Américas, the fast-casual Amazón Grill, an artsy Artista or the traditional Churrascos, is that each eatery exhibits its own unique personality, expressed outwardly through its interior design. Churrascos Memorial City is no different. The fourth and newest Churrascos location, which debuted in December 2013, is meant to be evocative of the gaúcho lifestyle, bringing to mind what Michael Cordúa, founder and CEO of Cordúa Restaurants, calls the image of the “Latin Marlboro man.” Large red, illuminated horn sculptures greet you in the entryway, which opens to a 22-seat horseshoe-shaped bar accented with small, illuminated horns. An open-kitchen design is staged against deep red and leathery brown hues, and earthy, reclaimed wood furnishings that are sultry yet rustic. The menu, which still features the award-winning churrasco steak (a marinated, butterflied cut of tenderloin), has been updated with a slew of new items by executive chef David Cordúa. These new criollo (or creole) comfort food offerings, inspired by his Nicaraguan roots, make up approximately 30 percent of the new menu with dishes such as gallo pinto (red beans and rice), queso frito (fried cheese) and a delectable whole fried fish covered in a cornmeal, cacao and cinnamon crust.
Photos Courtesy of Julie Soefer and Terry Halsey