Everything is indeed bigger in Texas! Last week at a preview event, On-The-Go, better known at OTG partnered with United Airlines to present five restaurants inside Bush Intercontinental Airport's newest addition, Terminal C - North Concourse. The new eateries were set up in decorated kiosks in the walkway area of the terminal as its permanent homes were not yet complete, with exception for Ember, the Houston-centric tavern that James Beard award-winning Chris Shepherd (of Underbelly and One-Fifth) had a heavy hand in developing.
The early renderings of Ember were spot on, from the sea of golden stars blanketing the restaurant from above to the stylish bar with a beautifully designed back wall that is shared with the interior dining space. Ember's menu features items like pot roast style short ribs, ham-brined pork chop, a 24-ounce Tomahawk ribeye and whole grilled snapper. We also like the sound of tater tot casserole and a pastrami pork belly Reuben. The menu offers lighter fare as well, with a variety of appetizers, soups and salads for all types of travelers coming and going through IAH's new terminal.
When asked about how much involvement he will personally have with Ember after it officially opens, he said, "quite a bit, we'll be here, in and out quite a bit. We wrote the recipes, the menus-I've got one of my guys that they've hired on to run it."
Shepherd, along with four other consulting chefs, attended the unveiling event to represent each chef's respective restaurant. Across the aisle from Ember is Olio, the upscale-casual panini restaurant that Monica Pope (of the former Sparrow Bar + Cookshop) helped to develop. A year and a half, almost two years ago, OTG approached Pope about creating 30-35 possible items for this concept. She says that OTG explained to her that "these restaurants will be unique to this terminal and to this airport because their [OTG] goal was to tap into local chefs and local cuisines that represented a specific area."
A panini with short rib, burrata and port wine demi-glace and a perfectly grilled chicken breast with onion confit and golden raisins were among the sample items available at the Olio stand. The menu will also include salads featuring arugula, vanilla bean oil, roasted red pepper and ricotta and butter lettuce with pine nuts and lemon-truffle vinaigrette.
Next to Olio is Bam-Bam, a beer garden featuring authentic Vietnamese recipes developed by Cajun Kitchen's chef/owner John Nguyen. Nguyen tells the Press that this is the first of its kind in any airport terminal in the United States. Nguyen was asked to create 45 items that would be adjusted to better fit the consumer's needs. "Depending on the season or availability, items may be rotated out." In keeping with OTG's goals of providing an honest representation of local cuisine, Bam-Bam will infuse Cajun flare into the menu as well. Nguyen's current restaurant in Bellaire Chinatown does a fantastic job of mingling Cajun spice and Vietnamese flavor. The popular Vietnamese-style crawfish, loaded with minced garlic, tons of lemon and spices for that special citrus oomph will also be available at the terminal outpost. "Our signature item is the boiled crawfish and it will be exciting for visitors to actually have a taste of Houston-to buy a pound of crawfish and take it home with them," said Nguyen.
Because it is a beer garden, there will be small plates and dishes that are traditional Vietnamese fare that diners can enjoy with a beer waiting on their flights. Items like bun thit nuong (vermicelli with grilled pork), banh xeo (turmeric rice-flour crepe with pork, shrimp and fresh herbs) and banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich dressed pickled carrots, daikon, cilantro and jalapeno) are sure to be a hit.
Further down the terminal is Pala, the pizza restaurant developed with the help of Ryan Pera (of Coltivare). Pala will offer several specialty pizzas including a traditional margherita and a white-sauced shaved fennel with Italian sausage, stracchino and fennel pollen, as well as antipasti and desserts. Although construction has not been completed, the ginormous and artistic structure bearing the PALA name can be seen from one end of the terminal to the other.
Walking across to the other side of Ember, diners will be enticed by the Mexican-inspired magnificence of Dominic Laurenzo's Vida. Along with chef de cuisine Juan Arellano, Laurenzo created 46 items that carry the El Tiempo badge of Tex-Mex honor. As our guests are arriving into or departing Houston, we want give them a lasting impression of the city," said Arellano.
Items like the calabaza bisque and a portobello burrito were created as new vegetarian elements on the menu which also features a citrusy seafood ceviche with calamari and shrimp and a crab meat cocktail that's delicious and satisfying, along with traditional Tex-Mex favorites like tacos, elote and queso.
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Now travelers will have a reason to arrive extra early for flights with United at IAH. Terminal C North is pretty cool, with 8,000 personal iPads installed at tables, booths and lounge chairs all over the area for travelers to simply order and pay from their seats and have a server deliver the food.
All of the new restaurants in Terminal C North should be open for business by mid-March of this year, so go ahead and start booking those flights.