Restaurant News

Openings and Closings: Albi Opens, Dante's Will Replace Concura

The Lemon Halva Tart is a sweet masterpiece.
The Lemon Halva Tart is a sweet masterpiece. Photo by Michael Anthony

Albi, 1947 W. Gray, opened May 4 in River Oaks. The new Mediterranean restaurant comes from siblings Nano and Jimy Fakoury and their friend and business partner, Aladdin Nimri. The Fakoury brothers also own and operate their family-owned Mary'z Mediterranean restaurants.
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The Wagyu Tartare is made with Texas beef.
Photo by Michael Anthony
For the opening of the upscale concept, the trio have brought in Chef/Consultant Mark Cox, a former powerhouse Houston chef known for his restaurant, Mark's American Cuisine, which shuttered in 2016 as Cox changed directions. He started his own restaurant consulting business seven years ago and is currently working with Albi's executive chef, Christian Hernandez, to create an Eastern Mediterranean menu that uses fresh ingredients and local products. Hernandez previously served as chef de cuisine at the critically acclaimed restaurant March.

While many of the ingredients will be sourced locally including Texas wagyu and lamb and seasonal Gulf seafood, the flavors will be influenced by the traditional cuisines of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea such as Turkey, Lebanon and Greece, an area described as the Levant.
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Chef/Consultant Mark Cox (middle) poses with the culinary team at Albi.
Photo by Michael Anthony
This bridge of different Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cultures has inspired a menu of dishes such as Shrimp Falafel with tarator, a tahini-based sauce, and  Bluefin Tuna Tartare with Aleppo pepper and apricot coulis. There's also a King Trumpet Mushroom Shawarma and Jidori Chicken Roulade, served with a rice bowl inspired by Lebanese biryani. Desserts include a Basque Cheesecake, Pistachio Tiramisu and the Lemon Halvah Tart.

The cocktail program at Albi is also seasonally-focused with a program curated by Laval Hospitality beverage consultant Souvik Dasgupta. Signature cocktails like Shah of Sunset and Waters of Petra use flavors such as hibiscus, mint, cardamom and elderflower while the Turkish Espresso Martini puts a Middle Eastern twist on the trendy beverage by using cinnamon-infused vodka and Turkish coffee.
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The interior at Albi bespeaks modern glam with traditional influences.
Photo by Michael Anthony
The restaurant itself is tucked away on the second floor of the building, giving guests a view of the busy West Gray corridor. The space has been transformed by architect Adel Bukary, who is also responsible for the design of the recently opened CIEL. The interior is lush, with green velvet chairs and dramatic red and black banquette seating. The sophisticated glamor shows in the gold accents and chandeliers shimmering under red silk lampshades.

In addition to the inviting and romantic interior dining space, there is an indoor/outdoor terrace with expandable steel windows. The sumptuous furnishings and decor will provide the background scenery for belly dancers, violinists and vocalists in the future.
Concura will close May 6.
Photo by Claudia Casbarian
Concura Italian Bites, 4340 Westheimer, will have its last day of service May 6. Owners Jessi Biondi and Alessio Ricci have made the decision to move back to their native Italy, according to the restaurant's Facebook page. The space will quickly be transformed into Dante's River Oaks.

Biondi, an Italian fashion and design consultant, first opened the restaurant in August 2021, as reported here in the Houston Press. She recruited Chef Angelo Cuppone as executive chef. Both Biondi and Cuppone are natives of Fano, Marche in Italy, on the Adriatic Coast, which heavily influenced the restaurant's seafood offerings. Prior to helping Biondi open Concura, Cuppone had been the executive chef at Shanon Scott's Roma Ristorante in Rice Village. He had also served in the role for a while when the restaurant was previously Sud Italia.
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Pasta without wine is like a day without sunshine.
Photo by Bear Media Co.

Dante's River Oaks, 4340 Westheimer will open May 16. It's a quick turnaround for the former Concura space and restaurateur Brian Doke is wasting no time creating his idea of a modern Italian restaurant that celebrates "la dolce vita".

Doke is a local hospitality veteran who has worked as director of operations at his brother's Tiny Boxwoods and as general manager at Tiny's No. 5.  In 2018, he co-founded Savoir, a restaurant in the Heights. He followed that with its speakeasy sister steakhouse, Patton's, in March 2022. In May 2022, Doke opened Heights & Co. He is no longer associated with Savoir or Patton's, however, having departed late last year to focus on his new ventures, according to CultureMap Houston.

The young restaurateur loved Concura and the tucked away space off Mid Lane. He said in a press release, " The combination of a charming and quaint interior coupled with an airy patio for dining al fresco makes for a wonderful dining experience."
Brian Doke is going Italian.
Photo by Alex Montoya
Doke has been working on the project for the past several months with executive chef Ilias Gugole.  The duo have been testing the menu items at guest chef series held at Doke's patio bar, Heights & Co.

The Italian-born Gugole attended culinary school in Verona and spent ten years sharpening his culinary skills in Italy before coming to the U.S. He came to Houston just a few months ago and has been fine- tuning his recipes for Dante's since his arrival.

The menu at Dante's begins with shareables such as charcuterie and cheese boards, tartares, olives Ascolana (fried stuffed olives) and Mediterranean-style octopus. The salads at Dante's are inspired by various regions in Italy and there are six pasta variations available including Rigatoni Cacio e Pepe, Tagliatelle Truffle & Mushrooms and Pappardelle Bolognese. Main courses include ribeye, duck breast and roasted salmon, along with a rotating catch of the day.
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Summer spritzes are perfect antidotes to Houston's heat.
Photo by Bear Media Co.
The bar program at Dante's allows Doke, a longtime collector of Italian wines, to curate a niche selection of varietals. The cocktail list will feature Italian standards such as Aperol Spritz along with modern takes on classics such as the Italian Paloma and Bergamot Margarita.

The tilework and open kitchen from Concura will remain but the transformation to Dante's will be airier and brighter with white walls, dark accents and lush greenery. There will be a seated lounge area with space for 20 guests along with a private dining space that accommodates 20 to 25. The redesigned patio will offer seating for 30 more.
Ouzo Bay's bounty of seafood will be missed.
Photo by Joe Sweeny
Ouzo Bay, 4444 Westheimer, had its last day of service April 30. However, the restaurant  is being transformed by owner Atlas Restaurant Group into an undisclosed concept which will debut later this winter.

The Baltimore-based Atlas Restaurant Group first expanded its concept Ouzo Bay to Houston in June 2019. It also opened the sister and adjacent concept, Loch Bar, at the same time. Houston seemed a good fit for the company as it opened its Italian-style chophouse Marmo at the Montrose Collective in April 2022.

Founder and President Alex Smith said in a press release, " We are constantly reevaluating our restaurants to ensure they are resonating with guests in their respective markets. Ouzo Bay had a great run, but we felt the time was right to bring something fresh and new to the River Oaks District..."

Sonoma at Garden Oaks, 1227 W. 34th, had a grand opening ceremony May 2. The wine bar at Stomping Grounds is done in the same style of the Katy location which opened in June 2021. Its original Richmond location opened in 2007 and is still in operation. The Heights spot shuttered in June 22 when negotiations with the landlord did not pan out. Owner Farrah Cauley began making plans then to reopen another Sonoma Wine Bar in the nearby area. The new Sonoma in Garden Oaks is about five miles from the closed Heights location.
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The Smokehouse Brisket is tailor-made for Texans.
Photo by Becca Wright

Twisted Grilled Cheese
, 303 Memorial City Way, softly opened April 24 at Memorial City Mall. Located in the mall's food court, it's the third brick and mortar for the gourmet sandwich bar which was founded in Houston in 2019 as a food truck in the Galleria area. It still operates two food trucks in addition to the permanent spots.

The gooey and cheesy menu items include the 5 Cheese Classic, Halal Philly Cheesesteak and a Smokehouse Brisket. For an even more decadent sandwich, there's the Tarragon Lobster and Avocado BLT +E. It also offers brioche bun sandwiches like its Twisted Smashburger and TGC Spicy Chicken Sandwich plus chicken tenders and wings. There are some halal options and salads as well.

Appetizers include Mac and Cheese Balls, Spicy Corn Nuggets and Twisted Halal Steak Nachos. Sides can be added like Parmesan Waffle Fries and Truffle Onion Rings. There are soft drinks, handspun milkshakes along with a selection of frozen cocktails and boozy shakes.
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JINYA's Tonkatsu Black and Flying Vegan Harvest are options sure to please.
Photo by JINYA Ramen Bar
JINYA Ramen Bar, 8139 Long Point, opens May 10 in Spring Branch. Festivities begin at 11 a.m. at which time the first 50 guests in line will receive a free ramen bowl. The same deal will be given to the first 50 guests for dinner at 5 p.m.

The Japanese restaurant must be making noodle fans in Houston happy because this is the 9th Location in the Greater Houston area to open. Part of its appeal is its base broth which is slow-simmered for 20 hours. We're not sure why 20 hours is the sweet spot but the proof is in the pudding, er, broth.

Founder and CEO Tomo Takahashi said in a press release, "Houston has already shown so much love for JINYA, so it seemed right to open a new location in one of the city's largest suburban neighborhoods with a community that is so diverse."

In addition to its very popular ramen bowls like JINYA Tonkatsu Black and Flying Vegan Harvest, there are tasty mini tacos, gyoza, buns and rice bowls. There are soft drinks and adult beverages like craft beer, wine, sake and cocktails.
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Jeff Potts is getting ready to open Pastore's kitchen.
Photo by Public Content
Pastore, 1203 Dunlavy, is slated to open this June and the restaurant group behind it, Underbelly Hospitality, has announced that Jeff Potts will be the executive chef. Potts is no stranger to Underbelly Hospitality having served as sous chef at its steakhouse Georgia James plus other positions at UH restaurants including the now-closed One Fifth and UB Preserv when James Beard Award-winning chef Chris Shepherd was still involved with the group.

Potts was born in Houston and spent part of his upbringing in Southeastern Florida. He returned to the city to study at the University of Houston but pivoted his career goals to the culinary arts. His resume includes stellar Houston dining establishments like Helen Greek Food & Wine, Shun Japanese Kitchen and 93'Til.

The coastal Italian menu is still being tweaked for Pastore but Potts says that guests can expect items like crudos and whole roasted fish. " Seafood has been a recurring theme throughout my life and career and I'm thrilled for the opportunity to unite my love of seafood and seasonal cooking at Pastore." 
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Healthy and delicious go hand in hand at Flower Child.
Photo by Flower Child
Flower Child will open at Town and Country Village in late 2023. It will be the fourth Houston location for the healthy cafe from Fox Restaurants Concepts which has multiple locations across ten states. FRC also operates Houston locations of North Italia and Blanco Cocina + Cantina nearby.

The customizable menu at Flower child means there's a dish fit for all dietary needs be they vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free or dairy-free. Omnivores are in luck because there are a number of different proteins and vegetables to choose from and even a few sweet indulgences for treating oneself.

Items like the Mother Earth Bowl will fill up hungry, health-conscious diners with ancient grains, sweet potato, portobello mushrooms, avocado, cucumber, broccoli pesto, charred onion, leafy greens, hemp seed and red miso vinaigrette. There are more bowls like the Chicken Enchiladas and wraps including the Flying Avocado with smoked turkey. Starters like Avocado Hummus and "Kinda" Spicy Green Chile Queso are healthy snack options while the entree section offers chicken, steak, salmon, shrimp or tofu choices with two sides. Options include Gluten-Free Mac & Cheese, Cauliflower "Risotto" and the tasty Sweet Corn & Quinoa.

This writer misses the Spicy Japanese Eggplant.
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Indianola is one of the AAPI businesses participating this year.
Photo by Mikah Danae
OCA-Greater Houston announced its fourth annual Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Restaurant Weeks May 1 through June 15. The city-wide event will showcase the culinary heritage of AAPI communities, offering diners the opportunity to enjoy special deals while supporting local businesses.

There are more than 50 AAPI food establishments participating in this year's AAPI Restaurant Weeks including Aka Sushi, Atcha Aqua S, Crawfish and Noodles, Himalaya, Kau Ba, Tiger Den, Indianola and many more favorites. For the complete list, checkout

Patrons who donate $25 or more will receive a digital passport with a QR code to access special deals and discounts at participating businesses. The funds raised will be used to purchase bags of rice for low-income AAPI seniors in Houston. Last year's event raised enough money to buy 250 bags and the goal this year is to reach 400.

AAPI Restaurant Weeks is not affiliated with the Asian Chamber of Commerce Asian Restaurant Month which runs May 1 through May 31.

Urban Bird Hot Chicken, 14303 E. Sam Houston Parkway N., opened this week, making location number 7 for the fast-casual hot chicken restaurant. The new restaurant will also offer its Chronic Fries as well.

The veteran-owned and operated business offers crispy tenders, tender sandos and chicken tenders and waffles along with creamy milkshakes. Guests can choose their spice level. For some advice on what to order at Urban Bird, check out this recent review here in the Press.
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Many of the volunteers for IHWSH are industry professionals in Houston's restaurant and bar scene.
Photo by Jack Opatrny
Last Concert Cafe, 1403 Nance, is hosting the second annual Rock & Roll Picnic May 7 from noon to 4 p.m. The event from  the local non-profit organization I'll Have What She's Having is a family-friendly event with live music, local art and delicious picnic bites from some of Houston's top chefs including Dawn Burrell, Layne Cruz, Jacob Pate, Nick Wong and more. VIP tables include picnic tiffins from chefs such as Anita Jaisinghani, Evelyn Garcia, Justin Yu and Ryan Pera.

There will be a silent auction and a live auction as well. The funds raised will help IHWSH in its mission to provide financial support for medical and mental healthcare for restaurant and bar workers who often don't have the insurance or finances for routine medical screenings, reproductive healthcare and counseling.

Ticket information can be found at
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The culinary team at work at Money Cat.
Photo by Jenn Duncan
Money Cat, 2925 Richmond, launched its lunch service May 1 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. with the full sushi bar menu available along with a pared-down selection of hot and cold dishes. Its recently launched social hour runs daily from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. with $3 Japanese beers, $6 house wines by the glass and specials on sake, house cocktails and some food items.

Restaurants Reported Open April 2023:

Andiron, 3201 Allen Parkway, opened April 19
Big Chicken, 9660 Westheimer, opened April 11
Cafe Juju, 411 Smith, opened late April
Chuck E. Cheese, 5075 Fairmont Parkway, reopened April 27
Dinette bakery, 1018 N. Shepherd, opened early April
The Dolly Llama, 3569 Business Center Drive, opened April 29
Echoes Cafe, 900 Richmond, opened May 4
El Segundo Swim Club, 5180 Avenue L, reopened April 29
Four Region Thai Cuisine, 8220 Louetta, opened early April
The Ginger Mule, 449 W. 19th, opened late March
Guanatos Grub, 15655 John F. Kennedy Boulevard, opened early April
Himari, 1223 W. 34th, opened late March
Hongdae 33, 9889 Bellaire Boulevard, opened early April
Hungry Howie's, 6940 Katy Gaston Road, opened March 29
K Tea Boba, 10978 Grant, opened early April
Luce Ave Coffee, 25675 Nelson Way, opened late March
Mama's Texas Smokehouse, 411 Smith, opened early April
Mandito's Tex-Mex, 5101 Bellaire Boulevard, opened April 13
M Express Thai Kitchen, 5832 Fairdale Lane, opened April 18
Padre's Wine Shop + Bar, 3522 White Oak, opened April 12
Pastelitos El Zuliano, 11718 Grant, opened early March
Picnik, 888 Westheimer, opened April 24
Postino, 2025 Hughes Landing Boulevard, opened April 24
Simon Cacheton, 10130 Grant, opened March 5
Sushi Ichii, 20900, Katy Freeway, opened April 1
Sweetgreen, 1141 Uptown Park Boulevard, opened April 4
Verde Garden, 1011 La Rue, opened April 25

Restaurants Reported Closed April 2023:

Izakaya, 318 Gray, closed April 30
Louie's Italian American, 3401 Harrisburg, closed temporarily for rebranding
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Lorretta Ruggiero is a Houston Press freelance writer based in Cypress, Texas. She loves entertaining her family and friends with her food and sparkling wit. She is married to Classic Rock Bob and they have two exceptionally smart-aleck children.