Just Dinner Is So Much More Than That

This intimate boîte in Montrose is a small jewel.

The short rib on the menu is similarly balanced with a port wine and cherry demi-glace that adds a tartness to the buttery rib and makes it shine even more. I've never met a braised short rib I didn't like, but this one I positively love. Served on a bed of roasted-garlic mashed potatoes, it's got a bit of every element I crave in a solid meat dish: juicy beef that falls apart with a touch of my fork, a bit of sweet and sour fruit, and earthy garlic. It's also a huge portion — triple what I was expecting to get for $30, and worth every penny.

So, too, is a smoked duck entrée with variations on butternut squash and greens grown in the restaurant's backyard garden. The duck has a divine smoky flavor, and when paired with various iterations on squash — puréed, roasted, chutney-ed — it's the ideal cool-weather dinner. My dining companion ordered it with a maple-glazed pork belly appetizer, all of which could sound like too much meat, but together (and with several other dishes on the table), we finished everything handily. Something about the combination of sweet and savory in both those dishes and the short rib and foie gras makes them nearly irresistable.

Still, there were some dishes (aside from the desserts) that caused a bit of confusion. A jumbo lump crab cake had nothing jumbo or lumpy about it. The cake itself was of a decent size, but the crabmeat was so fine it was nearly imperceptible. It seems to be the old style of crab cake, the kind my grandparents remember from trips to the Maryland coast back in the day, all bread crumbs and briny flavor.

The massive braised short rib with a cherry demi-glace is appealing to both the eyes and the tastebuds.
Troy Fields
The massive braised short rib with a cherry demi-glace is appealing to both the eyes and the tastebuds.

Location Info


Just Dinner

1915 Dunlavy
Houston, TX 77006

Category: Restaurant >

Region: Montrose


Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Foie gras crème caramel: $20
Maple-glazed pork belly: $13
Jumbo lump crab cake: $16
Mixed salad: $8
Spaghetti alla puttanesca: $19
Braised boneless short ribs: $30
Smoked duck breast: $28
Sides: $5-$7
Desserts: $8

Go behind the scenes of this week's Cafe review in our slideshow, "A Closer Look at Just Dinner."

A Moroccan-spiced lamb shank special was similarly confusing, though not because it wasn't delicious. The lamb fell off the bone with nary a touch of my knife, but nothing about the spices tasted Moroccan to me. There seemed to be a bit of bland chermoula on top and a bed of saffron risotto beneath the shank, but neither hit me with the dose of flavor I was seeking.

I don't think either of these dishes was bad; they just weren't what I was expecting. And after that inimitable foie gras crème caramel and cherry-glazed short rib, I was expecting a lot.

Dining at Just Dinner is like stepping into someone's home for a dinner party. In each of the dining rooms, the music playing in the kitchen is audible, and the smell of entrées being fired wafts through the house. If you try, you can pick up bits and pieces of the conversations around you and hear the light clanking of pots and pans from the kitchen; the place is that small.

It's an incredibly intimate dining experience. Few other places in Houston are so cozy and compact and also offer a frequently changing menu with produce that was gathered earlier in the day from a backyard garden or picked up at the market that morning before being worked into a new dish. It's BYOB, so you can bring in your favorite wines, and the kitchen is happy to work with you on dietary restrictions or preferences. And that's the beauty of such a small place that keeps the overhead down and the customer count up. The menu is diverse enough to appeal to a wide audience, but the careful thought that goes into each dish is evident when it comes to the table.

Sure, they aren't all masterpieces. The desserts clearly require some help, and there are a few dishes that need some tweaking. By and large, though, the food demonstrates a vision and an understanding of flavor nuances too often missing in larger dining operations. So while the name might imply, as it did to me, that dessert can be skipped, Just Dinner also sells itself a little short. From the atmosphere to the impeccable foie gras crème caramel, this place is so much more than just dinner.

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Sara Brown
Sara Brown

Moses Martinez, has Lila seen this?? Awesomesauce!!