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Line & Lariat Goes from Surf to Turf

Line & Lariat offers an exceptional menu showcasing some of the best foods in this state's culinary history. Now it just needs some customers.

Check out Line & Lariat's gorgeous, sunny dining room for yourself in this week's slideshow.

Sometimes you visit a restaurant so good and so criminally unappreciated that you want to plant your flag and set up camp, waving down people in the streets as they walk by and encouraging them inside with a wild gleam in your eye. Line & Lariat is that restaurant for me, and I'm bivouacking there as long as it takes for people to come and try chef David Luna's fun, progressive Texan fare in one of the most beautiful dining rooms Houston has to offer.

Luna does everything right at Line & Lariat, mixing German and Mexican influences with cowboy and Cajun to run the gamut of Texas's culinary history in one smartly composed menu, but the patrons have yet to show up. And they're missing out.

Nothing like a wild boar chop paired with a Manhattan.
Troy Fields
Nothing like a wild boar chop paired with a Manhattan.

Location Info

Map

Line & Lariat

220 Main St., In Hotel Icon
Houston, TX 77002

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Downtown/ Midtown

Reef

2600 Travis St., 100
Houston, TX 77006

Category: Restaurant > New American

Region: Montrose

La Carafe

813 Congress
Houston, TX 77002

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Downtown/ Midtown

The Charity Saloon

924 Congress St.
Houston, TX 77002

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Downtown/ Midtown

Details

Hours: 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5:30 to 10 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5:30 to 10 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
Beer-cheese soup: $5
Filé gumbo: $7
Wild boar meatballs: $11
Akaushi burger: $15
Shrimp and grits: $25
Gulf red snapper: $25
Wild boar chop: $32

READ MORE
SLIDESHOW: Line & Lariat: Modern Texas Fare in Downtown's Most Dazzling Dining Room
BLOG POST: The Third Time's a Charm for Line & Lariat

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They're missing out on his springy wild boar meatballs on a bed of skin-on mashed potatoes, a sour cream sauce providing a tangy punch against the buttery mash and the sweetly gamy meat. They're missing out on the tart zing of his homemade red cabbage — better, by far, than anything I've tried from King's Biergarten to Underbelly — that buffets the Königsberger Klopse (a reference to the Prussian meatballs that serve as Luna's inspiration for the dish) in a plush pile.

They're missing out on Gulf-caught red snapper whose white flesh parts with a tender touch, the barely crispy skin covered with a sweet tomato confit that's all the more striking against the snapper's bed of smoky field peas and bright, peppery snaps of pea shoots. They're missing shrimp and grits flecked with cheddar and bacon, the panko-breaded Gulf shrimp so fat and fresh that they remind me of uni in their ocean-bound sweetness.

They're even missing out on a bowl of gumbo so filled with okra, tender chicken, plump shrimp and smoky sausage in its mahogany roux that it rocketed to the top of my gumbo list in Houston (which is, admittedly, fairly short).

I'd be happy to keep these things to myself — these, and the impressive cocktails served at Line & Lariat's bar that's ringed with seats upholstered in cheeky cowhide — but it hardly seems fair, either to people seeking out the best food in the city or to Luna. A chef this talented deserves a larger audience, no matter how appreciative his small audience may be.
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I can't quite put my finger on why Line & Lariat is so quiet, but I have a few guesses. One is the fairly slow service, which could be why I don't often see theater-goers or business folks huddled into the oversized chairs and booths. But chief among the reasons is the stink of failure: The space has already hosted two big-name restaurants that flamed out in quick succession.

Bank, which anchored the newly refurbished Hotel Icon when it opened in 2004, had the pedigree to match the stunning, gold-hued, two-story dining room that seemed even taller thanks to elegant Doric columns and yards of heavy silk draperies that flowed down from the ceilings. Its executive chef was superstar Jean-Georges Vongerichten, who left most of the day-to-day work to chef de cuisine Bryan Caswell. ­Vongerichten and Caswell departed Bank in 2007 — Caswell to open Reef, now his flagship restaurant — and the restaurant underwent a makeover, emerging as Voice.

As with Bank, Voice had a noteworthy chef — the talented Michael Kramer — and a menu that pushed boundaries in the best of ways. Bank had dishes such as chile tapioca pudding; Voice had a play on fish and chips that were actually "sushi nachos," as former Houston Press food critic Robb Walsh memorably noted in his review of Voice in 2008. But both Bank and Voice failed to draw large enough crowds to last. Walsh indicated that the prices at both restaurants were a problem, while others have consistently balked at downtown parking issues. I always believed that more straightforward food would play better to both downtown office workers and visitors occupying the hotel — travelers seeking more Texan food during their visit to the Lone Star State, as it were.

With Line & Lariat — which made its debut last summer following a brief redecorating of the stately dining room (the draperies are gone, but the columns and warm, rich gold tones remain throughout) — neither the pricing nor the excellent, highly accessible food is an issue anymore. Entrées and appetizers are all very reasonable, from a $15 Akaushi burger at dinner that's topped with sautéed poblano peppers and Green's Creek Gruyère to that $11 plate of Königsberger Klopse meatballs that's meant as an appetizer but is large enough for an entrée.

I like to think that parking wouldn't factor into things, either: There are at least 100 parking spaces within a one-block radius of Line & Lariat, all of which are free after 6 p.m. and all day on Sundays. Yet day after day, the dining room is quiet. The friendly waitstaff often seem so startled to see patrons that they're like wild hares, skittish and shy. They sidle up to your table with curious eyes and tentative smiles, and while the service can be shaky at times, it's much more refined and personable than the "What's up, guys, my name is Kevin; mind if I squat down here while I tell you about our jalapeño popper special?" model that's so frustratingly prevalent these days. I want to tame the waitstaff, to acclimate them to the presence of people. And so I keep coming.
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12 comments
deorbeck
deorbeck

We got a cab and went downtown for this joint on your recomendation HOUSTON PRESS.  It is a glorified sports bar.  Nothing else.   It is a hotel lobby with NO ambiance.  RUN away.  Why  would you exclaim that anybody should go here HOUSTON PRESS?    This is nothing more than a glorified sportsbar.  Banners on the walls of sportstars,  I mean BIG BANNERS,  Its a basketball joint; FRONT LOBBY  diner.  As far away from fine dining as the TeleWink is from Tonys.  Total diservice to your readers houston press.

mikew.danner
mikew.danner

Thanks for the encouraging review. The hotels restaurant has seen its share of challenges in the time I have been there. I do believe we have a staff that does its best to develop despite an inconsistent flow of guests. We are always happy to have you, and please, let us know how we can continue to keep you camped out at L&L.

By the way,Houston Farris ( our bar chef)deserves a shout out for our Iconic Manhattan series as well as promoting great Texas spirits.

houston.farris
houston.farris

Thanks for your endorsement of our manhattans, K.  A little correction, we don't use Cocchi Americano in any of our manhattans.  That's really more of a tonic wine along the lines of Lillet.  It has more of the quinine 'bite' like the extinct Kina Lillet had, so we keep a bottle of Cocchi Americano around for more authentic Corpse Reviver #2's and Vespers.

We do use Cocchi Vermouth di Torino which is similar to Carpano Antica Formula vermouth.

Thanks for the article. Chef Luna has been long overdue this praise.

dcc624
dcc624

searching for Good food is a passion of mine. Over the years I have discovered one thing Texans seem to have in common, give them large portions and they always come back.

Joes in Alvin, Damians on smith, chez nous in Humble, Mannies on the gulf freeway, Sno's in Lexington all wirh a different atmosphere, large portions and great taste.

mgovshteyn
mgovshteyn

This makes it a 5th restaurant iteration in this space that doesn't quite pull the numbers the owners expect and each iteration takes another step towards simplifying the menu and giving the food more broad appeal to a supposedly blue collar Houston palate. None of it seems to be working, even though each chef has been talented and the food has been mostly good. Just not good enough. 

The review calls the food progressive, but it's doesn't sound or appear to be. It's the same playbook  of Texas cooking practiced in Shade, Ouisie's Table, Daily Review Cafe and another dozen restaurants in Houston. Take Texas in aggregate and there are more than a hundred restaurants cooking in the same vein. It's often good, but a good reason to drive downtown and deal with downtown nonsense? No. You probably wouldn't have gone unless it was your job and are unlikely to return until another iteration takes over in this dining room. Maybe a burger bar. Everyone loves burgers. Especially in Houston. 

I am not a restaurant operator and have no investment at stake, but maybe the analysis is all wrong? A grand space in a building that requires allocating 20-30 minutes just to park needs a destination restaurant, where dinner becomes your entertainment for the night. Chefs cooking out of these restaurants have been talented enough to deliver such an experience, but never the luxury of focus to do it right. The tasting menu at Voice was terrific, but order off the menu and you could hardly tell it was the same restaurant. And so it never worked. 

For reasons I cannot fully comprehend, restaurateurs in Houston don't attempt to deliver this type of an experience and it's only recently been available in chef-owned places, where the kitchen crew calls all the shots (they happen to be the best restaurants in the city currently). For reasons even more puzzling, hotels in Houston do not anchor ambitious restaurants that turn into regional or national destinations. Having a truly progressive kitchen that delivers an out of this world experience where food comes first (and yes, maybe even a bit fussy) would be a good reason enough to go downtown, and the hassle of parking would be a minor nuisance. At least it would for me, but I suspect I am not the only one. 

I can't say I know why restaurants at Icon tend to fail, but I do know the homey Texas playbook of encrusted Red Snappers and boar chops placed on top of mashed potatoes isn't quite working. Time to try something else?


Peggy
Peggy

There may be 100 spaces near there but they are often full, as my own circling for spots downtown can attest!  If the hotel offered to reduce the fee or comp their attached valet parking for diners (as plenty of other hotels do) they'd eliminate that problem.

eudemonist
eudemonist

I'd like to try the regular menu there sometime. Went for Christmas and was...underwhelmed, let's say.

kshilcutt
kshilcutt moderator editor

@mgovshteyn I like a lot of the points you raised here, but will say one thing: I can't get wild boar chop or antelope steaks (which didn't make it into the review; my fault) or Prussian-Texan meatballs or house-made venison sausage at many other places in Houston, and certainly none which have as charming a dining room or good proximity to the Theater District (along with other downtown attractions). These are the things, to me, which make Line & Lariat special. That and, seriously, the Manhattans. My God.

kshilcutt
kshilcutt moderator editor

@eudemonist I often find myself underwhelmed by "special" or "holiday" menus, too. They don't really give me a good feel for what the restaurant does on a day-to-day basis either. I say give it another shot on a regular day; I hope you'll find it more to your liking!

eudemonist
eudemonist

@kshilcutt Oh, I know it.  I hope to.  Christmas just moved them down the queue a notch or two.

 
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