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New Digs, Old Tricks

The Riviera Grill has moved downtown, but it doesn't know how to make an urban statement

In the milieu of exit ramps and access roads out by the Beltway, the Riviera Grill was a hidden gem. "Sheely soars above his surroundings," observed Gourmet. "It's unusual to find a restaurant of this caliber in the faintly plastic-looking confines of a suburban Radisson hotel."

The owners of his new hotel home no doubt encouraged Sheely to do exactly the same food here. But the Sam Houston doesn't seem to know how to make an urban statement. It's attempting to appeal to the business market on the basis of its "contemporary design" and "ultimate luxury." This is the kind of marketing you'd expect from a chain hotel in the Galleria area, but it doesn't make any sense in this seedy, Runyonesque downtown neighborhood. The uptight Riviera Grill is half a block from one of the city's classic dives, the Union Station Tavern, and right across the street from the marvelously run-down Londale Hotel. Like Times Square in New York, or San Francisco's Tenderloin District, this is a wild urban atmosphere with its own peculiar cast of characters -- such as the duo that's looming large in the window right now. A grizzled Hispanic guy in an NYPD T-shirt is walking with a mountainous blond in a feather necklace and a shirt that can't seem to stay buttoned. She rears back and laughs so I can see all her teeth.

Street scene with squid: John Sheely just won't give up on an appetizer that's long past trendy.
Troy Fields
Street scene with squid: John Sheely just won't give up on an appetizer that's long past trendy.

Details

832-200-8800. Hours: Monday through Friday, 6 a.m. to 10 a.m., 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Calamari: $10
Eggs Riviera: $16
Scallops: $26
Pork chop and slaw: $27
Dry-aged Angus porterhouse: $36

1117 Prairie (in the Sam Houston Hotel)

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In some ways, the owners of the Sam Houston Hotel have bravely ventured out beyond the pale. The area they're trying to help revive still looks as rough as New York's Tribeca did 20 years ago, when only artists braved the Warehouse District and they kept their wits about them when they did. What a great place this could have been for a bar full of people in black leather jackets and an edgy restaurant with dishes that Houston had never seen before. But ultimately, neither the would-be boutique hotel nor its restaurant is exuding enough cool to pull off the urban pioneer thing.

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