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Liberty Kitchen & Oysterette Is a Disappointing Sister Act

The chefs need to keep it simple.

Initially, there seemed to be some sort of failure to communicate. When we arrived for our 7:30 p.m. reservation (made a mere four hours before), the women at the hostess stand seemed perplexed and annoyed after we said that perhaps they might want to try a different spelling. The restaurant's website doesn't recommend reservations outright, but if you don't have one and you show up on a Friday evening, you'll be laughed at by the hostess, because the wait will be two hours. Fortunately, this was a Sunday, and the hostess was able to seat us. Forty minutes into our meal, we began to wonder why the wait is ever so long.

It was sort of comical, actually, what we went through to finally get our food. First, the waiter ambled about for a good ten minutes after we had been seated. It wasn't immediately clear what he was doing — possibly splitting checks at the server stand right next to our table, possibly fighting with the computer there — but he never once asked if we'd like drinks or appetizers, or even acknowledged our existence. When he finally came to our table, he apologized that the food was taking so long and asked for a reminder of what we had ordered so he could check on it in the kitchen.

"It's taking so long because we haven't ordered yet," we told him, amused but also very hungry. He seemed baffled and proceeded to take our drink and appetizer orders. But then, before we could order the main course, which by now we had firmly decided upon after 25 minutes of perusing the menu, he rushed off, eager to finally bring us some campechana and oysters.

Liberty Kitchen & Oysterette's gumbo and campechana are worth a visit.
Troy Fields
Liberty Kitchen & Oysterette's gumbo and campechana are worth a visit.

Location Info

Map

Liberty Kitchen & Oysterette

4224 San Felipe St.
Houston, TX 77027

Category: Restaurant > Bar Food

Region: Greenway Plaza

Details

Hours: Monday through Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday,11 a.m. to midnight; Saturday, 8 a.m. to midnight; Sunday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m

Oyster from the robata grill: (1)
$2.75–$3.75
Deviled eggs and fried oysters: $9
Caviar: $17.50
Campechana: $13
Gumbo: $10
Liberty burger: $13.99
Bacon-basted rainbow trout: $27
Sea scallop and pork belly kebabs: $30
Texas filet mignon: $40



To view photos from this week's cafe review, check out our slideshow "A Closer Look at Liberty Kitchen & Oysterette."


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It's not that the food at Liberty Kitchen & Oysterette was bad once it actually appeared at our table. The campechana is alluring in a not-too-much, not-too-little, just-right kind of way. A lovely balance of citrus and tomato brings out the sweetness in the crab and gulf shrimp without imparting too much sweetness of its own. Too often, restaurants assume that ketchup makes a decent campechana, when in fact the sugary tomato paste takes away from the subtle seafood flavors. At Liberty Kitchen, the glass goblet overflowing with seafood and spices is punctuated by creamy avocado, crisp fried oysters and ­vinegary green olives — an addition that I'm afraid I'll now miss whenever it's not present in my crab cocktail.

The oysters from the robata grill are also tantalizingly unique, one version swimming in warm tequila with a bite of spice from jalapeño juice, the other rich and meaty with pork belly and bacon. Of course, the entire time I was enjoying the oysters — and they were very enjoyable — my mind kept jumping back to the chargrilled oysters topped with tasso ham at Danton's and the enormous campechana at Goode Co. Seafood, both superior to Liberty Kitchen's efforts.

Why is it, then, that this new spot is packed most nights, I wondered. What am I missing?
_____________________

To view photos from this week's cafe review, check out our slideshow "A Closer Look at Liberty Kitchen & Oysterette."

The design of Liberty Kitchen & Oysterette is hip and inviting, I'll give it that. The sister restaurant to the Heights's Liberty Kitchen opened in late October 2013 as a more sophisticated, high-end version of the friendly family eatery. The guys behind Petite Sweets and BRC Gastropub — Travis Lenig, Lee Ellis and Lance Fegen — wanted to create a seafood haven with Southern flair and all the amenities needed to produce sushi, tacos, burgers and everything in between.

The result is alternately confusing and intriguing. There are two spaces within the restaurant: the oysterette and the kitchen. The area referred to as the "kitchen" is what you see when you first walk in. It's a sea of kelly green, teal, navy and white, almost wholly nautical in nature except for the dozens of ceramic owls filling every square inch of shelf space, as if the designer had raided Anthropologie's home-goods section in search of decor inspiration. Overabundance of owl sculptures aside, the "kitchen" is what I'd want my own kitchen to resemble if I had the resources. The retro subway tile and faux leather bar seats and booths are reminiscent of a 1950s soda fountain, and the hand-spun milkshakes on the dessert menu add to this sense of dining in a bygone era.

Then there's the oysterette, the more upscale half of the restaurant, an area with hardwood floors; dimmed, golden-hued lighting emanating from a central chandelier; and a mix of high and low tables with plush leather chairs arranged around the oyster bar, which anchors the space. This, too, is an incredibly inviting area, and one in which I would gladly spend several hours sipping wine and slurping oysters — if, that is, I could find the oysters I wanted on the somewhat rambling menu of nearly 100 items all on one large, unruly sheet of paper.

Most menus are divided into obvious, logical sections, such as appetizers, salads, meats, seafoods and desserts. The Liberty Kitchen & Oysterette menu (much like the menu at the original Liberty Kitchen) boasts a whopping 25 sections, not including the separate beverage menu. Oysters can be found under "Iced Raw Oysters" as well as "Iced Platters," "Robata Grill & Smoked," "Salads" and "Sharing." Then there are the headings like "Jewels of the Seabar," not to be confused with "Seabar Tastes and Cures" or "Swimmers." My favorite heading, though, is "What?" which contains only one item: Lil K's Big Bad Breakfast. (Note: This does not fall under the breakfast section of the menu.)

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10 comments
rhs74
rhs74

Don't pay any attention to this sophmoric hit piece.  I've had dinner at both Liberties several times and thoroughly enjoyed the food, the people, and the ambiance.  Houston Press heaps praise on awful restaurants and pans many of the good ones.  I've been following the Houston Press for the last four years and have come to the conclusion that it is crap.

linhhunt
linhhunt

I have nothing but respects for Ms. Steinberg and Cook. You are the reasons I worked hard for. Whether the reviews good or bad, It something I uses to guide my efforts. Thank You

Sandra Williams
Sandra Williams

We go there for brunch and love it. Love the decor. The decor is far from Anthropologie.

TopNotch Wafer
TopNotch Wafer

Ummmm you guys are whack. You wanna complain about a legitimately good place yet you recommend that people go eat at Dimassi's and Indian buffets for VDay. Just becausethe buffet isn't Golden Corral doesn't mean it isn't quite the ethnic equivalent of it. Wtf! Buffets are fucking gross in Houston, hands down. You guys suck at recommending spots.

katjen
katjen

First, I think anyone would agree that a restaurant which is consistently slammed 7 days a week would not be deemed as a “disappointing sister act.” Am I missing something here? Maybe all of those people just have really bad taste? Doubt it.


Second, I just finished reading the article and there is essentially zero correlation between the title of the article and the content. 80% of what the author wrote is extremely in favor of the restaurant. Why such negativity in the title? Seems to be a major disconnect there.


Moving on, this article is a hodgepodge of compliments to the food, décor, chefs, and owners mixed with trivial (almost whiny-sounding…?) complaints throughout. First, if this person defines having an oysterette and kitchen in the same physical space as "confusing", your credibility regarding other matters is somewhat compromised. It is two different areas in one physical space…kind of like an open-floor concept which is prevalent in almost every new home now. Can’t remember the last time I walked into a living room / dining room combo and got lost.


I felt like I was reading an article that was having passive-aggressive mood swings: “It's not that the food at Liberty Kitchen & Oysterette was bad once it actually appeared at our table. The campechana is alluring in a not-too-much, not-too-little, just-right kind of way. A lovely balance of citrus and tomato brings out the sweetness in the crab and gulf shrimp without imparting too much sweetness of its own.


So, you start with the food not being “bad,” but the rest of your description implies it was just right… This is a food article, not a George Orwell novel. I shouldn't have to read in between the lines to understand that you actually really enjoyed the food. Also, could have done without the rant about owls. 


Liberty Kitchen & Oysterette is a one-of-a-kind, high quality, fun dining experience with superior wait and kitchen staff. I have never had anything but an impeccable experience there and I am sure its hundreds of repeat customers would agree with me. 

LaurenK
LaurenK

I have not tried the new location yet, though I was attracted by some of the menu items not repeated from the Heights location. We go to the Heights one occasionally and, while the food is good, I'm always a little curious why that one is so crowded as well. I'm surprised more people aren't put off by the price point (some items really are criminally overpriced) and the headache to get a table--but clearly they aren't!

jimbo1126
jimbo1126

I actually liked the "Early Gorilla" burger served on an English muffin last Sunday at brunch (even tweeted about it). It was unique, almost like a burger/Eggs Benedict combo, and I did eat part of it with a fork. Their margaritas are stout, and their Bloody Marys wonderfully spicy.


I do think they could be more hospitable at the front door, and much of the "Kitchen" decor seems inspired by Local Foods. 

ledoo1
ledoo1

@katjen totally agree. Thank you for a well thought out post, could not have said it better.

TimP
TimP

@katjen I guess the author should get ready for the "No Kaitlin Steinberg" stickers as they have (or had, maybe they've taken them down) at the original Liberty Kitchen for Alison Cook. For what it's worth, BRC, the subject of her scathing review was inconsistent the first few times I tried it but more recently has been very good on a couple of visits. The one time I ate at the LK on 11th, I was pretty impressed and would be more likely to go back but have been slightly deterred by the prices compared to other options in the area.

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@jimbo1126  All of the mixed drinks I tried there were pretty great!

 
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