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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.

Not that this is a hard task to accomplish. I feel lucky to live downtown and watch as the city struggles and thrashes in the throes of its ever-present growing pains to reform an urban nucleus that's been glued together and torn apart over centuries.

This most current incarnation, at least, features a light rail with a stop right outside Line & Lariat's front door and a plethora of options nearby to make a night of it: Walk off dinner with a stroll through the adjacent Market Square Park (or catch a movie on the lawn), and then grab a glass of wine at La Carafe or a beer at the newly opened Charity Saloon across Congress.

Truth be told, though, I'd rather stick around Line & Lariat for my cocktails. Although its wine program is a bit boring considering its well-equipped wine cellar (a private, subterranean room with a view into the kitchen that's perfect for entertaining clients or hosting special events), the bar has consistently made some of the most perfect Manhattans — no pun intended — in town since it opened last year. Its "Iconic Manhattan" series pairs whiskeys and ryes with unusual ingredients such as a vanilla-infused bourbon sporting dashes of peach bitters and Cocchi Americano.

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 Original OKRA 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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The bar and restaurant also carry a nice selection of local craft beers which Luna incorporates quite successfully into his dishes, such as the Karbach beer-braised pulled pork that he heaps on a tostada along with queso fresco, crema and Cholula hot sauce. And a recent bowl of velvety, intensely Cheddary beer-cheese soup was the best example of the genre (which can too often be gritty, watery or bitter) I've had since the late, great Shanghai Red's.

It's no surprise, of course, to find the chef weaving so much of the Lone Star State into his food so effortlessly. Luna has my own pedigree beat — he's an eighth-generation Texan to my measly seven generations — and counts among his influences people like his fishing buddy, Caswell, and his grandmother, a farm girl from the Valley who sold tamales and made caldos in the winter before passing away in 2009. Luna is well known for his work as head chef at popular Inner Loop staples Shade and Canopy and for opening the successful Flora & Muse in CityCentre before taking over the top chef toque here at Line & ­Lariat.

And it's here that Luna is at his most Texan, showcasing our state's bountiful surf and turf admirably — whether it be a Gulf-caught cobia with a clever radish salsa or four-footed beasts from South Texas: mighty, thick wild boar chops encrusted with a resonant flare of mustard studded with spicy seeds and Nilgai antelope with more of that lush red cabbage.

This is what strikes me as particularly interesting about the dearth of customers at Line & Lariat: Not only is Luna doing everything "right" as far as offering local products with housemade accoutrements — his pimento cheese made with Redneck Cheddar is better, even, than the Words & Food spread that's sustained me for years, and the housemade pickles, ruddy venison sausage and liver-laced boudin in a casing rendered crisp in a smoker that accompany the pimento cheese make for a truly Texan charcuterie plate — he's doing it out of a clear passion for the products themselves. This is not a restaurant that's hopped on the local farm-to-table bandwagon purely for profit. Line & Lariat showcases the best that Texas has to offer with Luna's smartly updated dishes, and it does so with sincerity.

If we lived in a perfect world, this would be enough for Line & Lariat to overshadow the two restaurants that have preceded it at the Hotel Icon and claim its rightful place as one of the best and most consistent restaurants operating in downtown or elsewhere in Houston. I really do believe that the third time's a charm for Line & Lariat. We'll see if Houston believes it, too.

katharine.shilcutt@houstonpress.com

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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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