Perhaps all those groups that rail against the influence of the modern cinema on the pulpy, gray tissues of the skull are onto something. After viewing one of the current IMAX films at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, we swung the personal transporter device right at Montrose Boulevard and made our desultory way north toward home through the late-afternoon fulgor. Almost immediately on the right we noticed a low building that had in recent memory housed a family-run deli, the scene of many pleasant lunches. To the left loomed the long-empty hulk of the Plaza Hotel, a place that had its own amusing associations, especially the cool, dark bar that operated below street level. Just north of there on the left was another one-story building that had been... yet another jolly bar, named after a bird, we think, that is now Sierra Grill [4704 Montrose, (713)942-7757]. A cloudlet of near Proustian nostalgia passed over us. Was Montrose really the Boulevard of Broken Dreams? Then, happily, our instinctive revulsion for bathos kicked in. The images from the Wortham IMAX Theater appeared as a vision out of spiritus mundi. Montrose Boulevard was a reef! The cars and pedestrians constituted a sort of nutritious pelagic tide that would sweep twice a day over the buildings housing the bars and restaurants. In the nooks and crannies of the structures dwelt other creatures that, operating from a fixed location, would attempt to survive and prosper.
Intoxicated with this new metaphor, we drove. To the left was a tiny take-out place, Bambolino's [4310 Montrose, (713)524-3305], the brainchild of no less a master of the restaurateur's arts and sciences than "Mama" Ninfa Laurenzo, who has since sold the pizza-by-the-slice outlet. To the right, an elegant gourmet quick-food emporium, 43 Brasserie [4315 Montrose (713)874-0043], which had opened only a few months before to much fanfare and had seemed fairly mobbed by the colorful creatures of the Montrose ecosystem, was already shuttered! Mooring our explorer's craft, we entered an adjacent coral cave, Boulevard Bistrot [4319 Montrose, (713)524-6922], nearly colliding with the chef and co-owner of the recently failed enterprise up the street. In response to a question about the fate of the business, Monica Pope, wearing an expression suggestive of a moray eel that had just missed snagging its dinner, could only utter, "I don't think I have a comment for you."
Perhaps not so much a toothy eel as a startled octopus discharging a cloud of black ink, we reflected sympathetically upon re-entering our craft.
Continuing on, we approached a little strip center on the right. Until very recently, a crevice in this commercial formation had housed a spot called Pizza Go Home [3407 Montrose Boulevard, (713)874-0025], where one could buy a pizza shell, top it to one's satisfaction and then take it home for baking. A novel concept that proved too novel. After the closing, a rather bitter statement of farewell had clung to the glass door like a bit of seaweed. Now, days later, the statement was gone, the door was open, and two men could be seen working inside. Perhaps more information could be gathered here.
A smiling man who introduced himself as Dino Rezaoui greeted us. Directing our attention to a patch of fresh paint over the counter, he pointed out the new name of the spot, Pizza Venise. He and his cousin, Samir Rezaoui, hoped to be open for business no later than August 1. A pizza chef had already been hired. What had happened to the previous business?
"He went to Russia for the Peace Corps," Dino explained. "His wife is a lawyer who was hired by the Peace Corps, so they are going together." There are a million stories on the naked reef, it struck us. "We are going to make it the best pizza in the area," Dino promised enthusiastically, "Better than Domino's, Pizza Hut, Papa John's. We'll deliver. And we're going to try to keep the old telephone number, so the old customers can call us."
Hope, and appetite, restored, we wished the Rezaoui cousins good luck in their enterprise and headed for the surface. Is this a great ecosystem or what?
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Dish, the Restaurant
Suffused with the sort of pompous self-satisfaction usually reserved for the senior editors at Texas Monthly, we at the Houston Press are pleased to see that a restaurant cleverly named after this very column has finally opened for business at 2300 Westheimer, (713)528-2050. The spot where Armando Palacios once served his elegant variations on Mexican cuisine has been taken over by Benjy Levit and Martin Berson, who operate the popular benjy's [2424 Dunstan, (713)522-7602] in the Rice Village.
Like the Dish column's prose, the interior of the Dish restaurant is elegant, urbane, cool and contemporary. The menu writing also reflects the aesthetic tenets of this column, being both witty and forthright. The section of the menu other restaurants often misguidedly call "appetizers" is phrased a much more accurate "first dishes." One of the first dishes, macaroni and cheese, is described as being made "with caramelized onions and expensive mushrooms." An obiter dictum like this can't help but make us mindful of the fact that Houston is not Manhattan, and vice versa, and that we don't mind it a bit.
The executive chef is Aaron Guest, who has made friends with local taste buds at Sabine, Tony Ruppe's [3939 Montrose, (713)852-0852], and, of course, benjy's. Clay Wilson is handling sous chef responsibilities, and Douglas Asofsky is the general manager.