Gone are the days when Houston’s restaurants were considered more honky tonk than chic. Over the last few years, the city’s dining scene has exploded with growth, putting it on the map as one of the country’s must-visit destinations. If you’re looking for ambiance as well as delicious food, some of the newest restaurants also happen to be the most beautiful.
We talk frequently about a woman’s inner glow, but what about a restaurant’s? At Triniti Restaurant, you feel its inner luminescence the minute you step in the doors and see the striking Tom Dixon chandelier — a cluster of glowing golden orbs — peeping out from behind the sexy bar area. The chandelier serves as the focal point for the entire restaurant. But all of the other design elements — floor-to-ceiling windows shaded during the day by a metallic curtain, hand-blown glass pendant lighting above each table, the matte, natural wood finish of the floors and armchairs, the framed Annie Leibovitz photo of the White Stripes band, and the commissioned Todd Murphy wall painting of three dresses symbolizing the restaurant’s name — work together in harmony to create a stunning end result. Triniti is simply gorgeous, a reason why it was recognized by the Houston chapter of the American Institute of Architects with a Design Award for Renovation and Restoration in 2012, and is currently a national semi-finalist for the James Beard Foundation 2013 award for Outstanding Restaurant Design (Over 75 Seats). Try the porterhouse for two with braised greens and a potato purée while taking in the scene.
Perhaps more than any other restaurant in Houston, the re-christened RDG + Bar Annie, which opened in 2009 to replace James Beard award-winning chef Robert Del Grande’s successful Cafe Annie, embodies architectural chic. Designed by Candice Schiller, the warm redwood of the polished square arches, which form an awning over and around the Bar Annie space, define the transition between the entrance to the bar and dining area without the need for walls. A soothing palette of pale greens and yellows, combined with brushed nickel handrails and dramatic floor-to-ceiling windows, effectuate the modern timelessness of a Mies van der Rohe aesthetic. What makes RDG + Bar Annie most beautiful, however, is its clever application of lighting. The spectacularly lit stairwell, which won an American Society of Interior Designers Award for its ascending bands of floating horizontal lights, also allows diners in the wine room beneath to get glimpses of legs as they traverse upward. Upstairs, an Ingo Maurer-inspired installation of hanging filament bulbs stretches the entire expanse of the windows to create a curtain of light, while the bar’s enclosing slab of green onyx produces a gorgeous, golden glow across the entire space. Snack on some of the Bar Annie nachos with red chile beef, guacamole and crème fraiche for an appetizing bite in the magnificent space.
You get a bit of an Alice in Wonderland feeling when you step out of the elevator, which acts as the main entrance to award-winning chef Michael Cordúa’s flagship restaurant, Américas. Designed by Jordan Mozer, whose résumé includes Nectar at the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Bellagio in Las Vegas and Vivere in Chicago, the first thing you might notice is the paucity of flat planes — everything is arched instead of angular, as if to capture the inherent sensuality of Cordúa’s South American heritage. Then, there are the jutting 3-D popcorn-shaped wall structures, the intricate ribbon-like red weave that forms an accent wall, handmade wooden chairs shaped like animal forms, and the looming crescents of smooth wood spliced together like large flower petals to form each booth. But the restaurant’s most striking aspect is the light: The handmade deep red wool lighting fixtures, shaped like upside down exotic flowers, are meant to represent a rainforest canopy. The overall effect is otherworldly and exotic, a place out of time and the perfect showcase for Cordúa’s modern South American cuisine such as the empanadas filled with beef, chicken, spinach or shrimp and pork, or the grilled swordfish churrasco with grilled shrimp.
Classic brasserie or 21st century French bistro? Thanks to the 28-seat counter surrounding the open kitchen, offering diners a full view of all the action going on in the kitchen, French eatery Artisans in Houston’s Midtown is a little bit of both. Patrons who want to partake of the kitchen action, and see chef Jacques Fox and his team demonstrate culinary wizardry, can reserve either bar seats or the mezzanine seating at the high tables in the back. Those in large groups or wanting a bit of romance can opt for the olive-colored velveteen banquettes, secluded by a beautiful fleur-de-lys glass awning. Throughout the restaurant, tastefully situated Gallic rooster motifs and bright red Le Creuset mini courgettes pop with bright spots of color, reinforcing an overall aesthetic that’s not just très français, but also très très belle. And le poisson du pacifique (or Chilean sea bass), served with mussels velouté creamy risotto and sugar snap peas, is très magnifique.
When Los Angeles-born restaurant Katsuya by Starck set its sights on Houston, everyone knew that it would become one of the city’s most posh and sexiest restaurants. Occupying the corner of the upscale Upper Kirby complex of West Avenue, Katsuya is every bit as sexy and striking as promised. On the walls, fantastically huge, backlit wall murals depict everything from larger-than-life-sized red geisha lips to kohl-rimmed geisha eyes and dragons. Whether you’re in the lounge, bar, dining room or private dining area, to enter Katsuya is to take a step into the dramatic world of Philippe Starck’s amazing design genius — irrefutably gorgeous, unabashedly bold and unfailingly memorable. Order some of the refreshing ceviche, a blend of sashimi and citrus ponzu, to start and try the miso-marinated (for 36 hours) cod — from the hot seafood kitchen part of the menu — for your entrée.
Photos courtesy of Karl Heim, Mai Pham, Katsuya, Julie Soefer, Deborah Smail