It's been a week of changes for Houston restaurants -- menu changes, chef changes, location changes -- and some of those changes include at least one shocking closure.
That closure was Caffe Bello, which quietly closed its doors on Monday. The Montrose outpost of the Tony Vallone empire had only been open less than a year, but the upscale-casual Italian concept never quite caught on with the neighborhood. In a statement on his website, Vallone said simply, "After accepting an offer too good to turn down, from an outside investor, we regret to announce that we will no longer be serving the beloved pizzette and lasagnette that so many of you have enjoyed over the last year. Caffè Bello was a project close to our hearts and we thank each and every one of you for your support." Chef Bobby Matos, who took over after original chef Michael Dei Maggi left, will now be manning the kitchen at Ciao Bello, Caffe Bello's sister restaurant near the Galleria.
In brighter news, there were plenty of openings to report this week, including a few notable new places. Ray's Real Pit BBQ (4529 Old Spanish Trail, 713-748-4227) is one of those, tucked next to a gas station on OST and serving slow-smoked ribs, brisket, chicken and more from owners Maxine and Ray Busch. They also make homemade desserts every day -- cobblers and cakes both -- as well as fried shrimp and fish for those poor fools who aren't content to eat barbecue every day of their lives.
Heights Ashbury Coffeehouse (242 West 19th, 713-862-7018) is now officially open, too, contrary to former reports that it opened last month. Incredibly vibrant walls and poster art from Houston's own Uncle Charlie decorate the bright space, which serves vegan food from Radical Eats, fresh juices and organic coffee.
Houston has a new pizza joint, too, which should be an interesting contrast to Piola in Midtown: Friends Pizzeria (7952 Westheimer, 281-888-9564) also serves both Brazilian and Italian pizzas. And popular Mediterranean spot Turquoise Grill (16019 City Walk, 281-937-7447) will shortly be opening its second location in Sugar Land in the suburb's bustling town square. Considering it's taking the place of an old Johnny Rocket's, I'd say that's a huge improvement to the area.
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In chef shuffles, Feast lost its talented sous chef Lyle Bento, but to a good cause: He'll be working with Brandi Key as the sous at the upcoming Coppa Ristorante Italiano. And if you've been looking for Frank Butera since he left Frank's Chop House, you can find him over at Mancuso's Italian Table. Butera is a talented man, and I hope he improves upon the simplistic, sub-par Italian being served at the Table.
Last but not least, Samba Grille wins this week's "Smart Move" prize: The downtown steakhouse is dropping the rodizio service from its menu in favor of composed dishes. Although I've ordered and enjoyed the rodizio in the past, the kitchen is really far too talented to be splitting its time handling skewers of (admittedly very delicious) meat alongside the composed dishes like the outstanding grilled salmon in a tamarind reduction. We have plenty of rodizios in town; we don't have plenty of Chef Cesar Rodriguez to go around. I can't wait to see how brightly he shines with the restaurant's new direction.