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Degust and Diversion Debut, Velvet Taco Heights Opens

Caviar service is a pricey pintxo.EXPAND
Caviar service is a pricey pintxo.
Photo by Kat Ambrose Photography
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Diversion Cocktails, 7202 Long Point, opened January 14. The intimate and upscale cocktail bar will be operated like a world class chef's kitchen according to Steven Salazar, who is listed as the Executive Bar Chef, taking very seriously the ingredients and composition of the "immersive cocktails" that will have guests shelling out anywhere from $25 to $35 per immersion.

The Day at the Beach is a vacation by cocktail.EXPAND
The Day at the Beach is a vacation by cocktail.
Photo by Kat Ambrose Photography

One might expect that it's the cost of the spirits involved that merit the price but for Diversion, it's the housemade cordials, infusions, tinctures, preserves, ferments and vinegars that play a leading role in the concoctions. With two urban farms, in the Heights and Spring Branch, owned by The Kirby Group, where Salazar serves as CEO and beverage director,  Diversion is using seasonal and homegrown produce to create the components of its special cocktails plus vegetables and fruits from local producers and farmers markets.

Immerse yourself in Diversion.EXPAND
Immerse yourself in Diversion.
Photo by Kat Ambrose Photography

The Immersive Cocktails will change seasonally but for now there are options like the Day at the Beach ($30) made with dark rum, Texas calamansi (a citrus from the Philippines) and Heights creme de tarragon served in an edible dark chocolate shell with Texas Meyer lemon ocean foam and edible sand. Another intensely created cocktail is the Espumante and Caviar ($35) made with Espumante Brut Rose, cognac, Atkinson Farm Texas strawberry vinegar and Lightsey Farms Texas blackberry cordial served with Hackleback caviar and preserved strawberry.

There's also a Farm to Cocktail list with less immersive and less expensive drinks such as the Gin and Ginger and a tequila cocktail served hot toddy-style. Though the cocktails are the main draw here, there is a tight wine list, a few beer choices and sake. There's also Brazilian drip coffee and Harney and Sons teas for non-drinkers.

Salazar's new venture is a reflection of his world travels, his love of Japanese culture, his Spanish heritage and his Texas home. There is a small pintxos menu of Barcelona and Texas-inspired snacks that includes Texas Venison Croquettes, Texas Duck Confit Slider, Gulf of Texas Mackerel and two types of caviar service, Hackleback and Kaluga Black.

The 30-seat bar is first come, first served with a maximum of six persons in a party. The eight-seat Bar Chef Counter seats are available by email reservation only. Diversion is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 5 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Degust, 7202 Longpoint, opened January 14, joining its sister cocktail bar, Diversion Cocktails, in Spring Branch. It comes from Brandon Silva, a former sous chef at Uchi who left in 2016 to join The Kirby Group. As with Salazar, Silva's new concept is a blend of Mexican and Spanish heritage with a Japanese approach reflected in the restaurant's tasting menu. It also relies on seasonal produce from the farms to create dishes that reflect what's growing on a daily basis.

While Silva still serves as The Kirby Group's culinary director, the new restaurant is his own, allowing him to create an eight-course tasting menu that relies heavily on local ingredients and the harvest from the on-site farm. A look at its Facebook page shows that kohlrabi is currently being harvested. The restaurant also has a mission of being self-sustaining and no-waste.

Reservations can be made through Resy for the 20 seat restaurant. The eight-course tasting menu is $75 with an optional beverage pairing for $55. Additional supplements include foie gras ($14), blue fin tuna ($18), Ossestra caviar ($65) and winter black truffles ($150).

Guests are asked to arrive 15 minutes before seating, wear masks while not seated and temperature checks will be given. The restaurant has installed HEPA electrostatic filters and the air conditioning system has ultraviolet filters.

Velvet Taco offers patio seating.
Velvet Taco offers patio seating.
Photo by Charlie Walker Creative

Velvet Taco, 2001 N. Shepherd, opened January 11. This is the third Houston location for the Dallas-based taco chain which specializes in creative and globally inspired tacos. Founded in 2011, Velvet Taco has grown to 18 locations in the United States with two more Houston locations to open this year. The Galleria restaurant is expected to open January 25 followed by a Rice Village store this summer.

The Heights location will feature a convenient drive-thru, a first for the brand. The drive-thru is meant for pick up for phone orders, delivery apps and online orders only. For dine-in, there is space for 80 guests inside and 50 on the covered patio, though the restaurant is currently abiding by COVID regulations and limiting the occupancy rate to 50 percent. Bravo to them!

"Let them eat red velvet cake!"
"Let them eat red velvet cake!"
Photo by Charlie Walker Creative

Besides tacos like Spicy Tikka Chicken, Nashville Hot Tofu, Korean Pork, Kobe Bacon Burger and its rotating limited time only specials, Velvet Taco offers a variety of beverages such as craft sodas, fruit-infused iced teas, local and Mexican beer plus its signature Kick Ass Margaritas.

CEO Clay Dover (and chief taco maker) said in a press release about the new Heights restaurant, " We see this location on Shepherd Avenue as a great opportunity to continuing providing (sic) our Houston guests with our globally-inspired scratch-made tacos and kick-ass margaritas in a unique space."  He also cited the neighborhood's walkability and convenient location within the city as a major plus.

Salvatore Martone, Jonathan Benno and Alain Verzeroli are coming to Houston.EXPAND
Salvatore Martone, Jonathan Benno and Alain Verzeroli are coming to Houston.
Photo by Shannon O'Hara

The Museum of Fine Arts Houston, 1001 Bissonnet,  has announced two new restaurants from Bastion Restaurants will open this spring at the recently opened Nancy and Rich Kinder Building. The new concepts will be led by three Michelin-starred chefs.

Cafe Leonelli is expected to open in mid-March. Chef Jonathan Benno will offer a traditional Italian menu of housemade foccacia, pasta, polenta entrees and more with buffet-style service. Chef Benno has worked with other acclaimed chefs such as Thomas Keller, Michael Mina, Tom Calicchio, Christian Delouvrier and Daniel Boulud.  Benno is also responsible for opening Leonelli Restaurant and Bar, Leonelli Bakery and Benno in New York City.

The casual cafe will also debut an outpost of Chef Salvatore Martone's ice cream shop, Frohzen. Martone is a Michelin-starred pastry chef who was born in Naples, Italy. He oversees the dessert programs for all twelve Bastion properties and has won numerous awards for his creative approach to pastry and desserts.

The cafe, in keeping with its artistic setting, will feature Stephen Finch's installation Moon Dust (Apollo 17) with its 150 light fixtures suspended from the ceiling.

Trenton Doyle Hancock's Color Flash for Chat and Chew, Paris Texas in Seventy Two.EXPAND
Trenton Doyle Hancock's Color Flash for Chat and Chew, Paris Texas in Seventy Two.
Photo by Thomas Dubrock/Courtesy of MFAH

Le Jardinier is a more fine dining concept, slated to open in April. Michelin-starred chef Alain Verzeroli will offer a menu that elevates seasonal vegetables and sustainable seafood. Verzeroli was born in Vietnam and raised in Paris where he received much of his culinary training. He has done stints with chefs Alain Passard and Joel Robuchon and is currently culinary director for L'Atlier de Joel Robuchon, Shun and Le Jardinier brands.

The entrance to Le Jardinier will showcase Trenton Doyle Hancock's installation Color Flash for Chat and Chew, Paris Texas in Seventy-Two and an array of Akari lanterns, originally designed by Isamu Noguchi will provide overhead lighting. There will also be al fresco dining in the Cullen Sculpture Garden also designed by Noguchi.

Bye, Bye Beardie.
Bye, Bye Beardie.
Screenshot

Thirteen,1911 Bagby, is still on track to open later this month.  A look at its website shows a countdown clock that gives an opening date much sooner but we suspect that is not the case. We have reached out for some more information and details but have none to give at this time.

Tobias Dorzon was recruited as executive chef for the upscale steakhouse, according to the Houston Chronicle. Thirteen comes from James Harden, former Houston Rockets star player who was traded to the Brooklyn Nets this week, as reported by the Houston Press. Dorzon is a former pro athlete himself having played in the NFL and the Canadian Football League. He began a catering business in 2014 and has cooked for athletes such as DeSean Jackson, Trent Williams and Lebron James plus celebrities such as Kevin Hart and Snoop Dogg.

Dorzon was given free rein over the menu and has taken into account the tastes and appetites of the Houston community. The menu offers a fine dining approach to soul and comfort food with dishes like lump crab-stuffed prawns, crab and crawfish fried rice and deep fried snapper with 'brown stew' broth. A dry-aged tomahawk steak with shallot and pineapple compound butter should please the palates of steakhouse connoisseurs while the Sun Devil, a dish of oysters topped with creamed collard greens and candy bacon pays tribute to Harden's time at Arizona State.

Dorzon's menu definitely hits the mark for Houstonians but it remains to be seen if the Rockets fans in our city take their displeasure with Harden out on the restaurant itself with social media snipes as they unfortunately did when Aisha Curry, wife of Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors, opened International Smoke in Houston with acclaimed chef Michael Mina in 2018. It closed a year and a half later.

A continental United States-shaped steak (without Florida).EXPAND
A continental United States-shaped steak (without Florida).
Photo by Kirsten Gilliam

The Nash, 1111 Rusk, opened January 11. The restaurant was shooting for a mid-January opening, as we reported here in the Press and it seems to have met its target. Located in the historic Star, formerly the Texaco building, it offers happy hour, late afternoon cocktails and dinner from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. daily. It also has take-out and delivery options for nearby downtown residences and businesses.

Some cocktails are meant to stay classic like a Manhattan.EXPAND
Some cocktails are meant to stay classic like a Manhattan.
Photo by Kirsten Gilliam

The interior boasts a floor to ceiling bar and an open kitchen with a large pizza oven while there is a dog-friendly outdoor patio. The menu offers a selection of hot and cold small plates such as Tater Tots which are topped with roasted corn, jalapenos, herbed crema fresca and aged smoked cheddar. There's also Forbidden Eggs with tamarind sweet chili sauce, Thai basil and crispy shallots plus Mussels with Spanish chorizo. Pizza and pasta dishes round out the menu along with seafood and steak entrees.

Perry & Sons Market & Grille, 12830 Scarsdale, has closed permanently. In an email, a spokesperson told the Houston Press that the company decided not to renew the lease at the Scarsdale location and expressed gratitude for its customers.

" We are grateful to our loyal patrons and will cherish the memories made here over the past four decades and the foundation created for our company."

Perry's Butcher Shop and Deli was founded by Bob Perry in 1979. In 1986, the meat market added tables and dine-in service as a suggestion from Perry's son Chris, who later opened Perry's Steakhouse and Grille in 1993. Perry's has expanded over the years and has become a main player among the steakhouse set in Texas and across six other states.

Meanwhile, the second Perry & Sons location at 614 S. Friendswood remains open and will see an extensive remodel in 2021. The Friendswood location is twice the size of the original Scarsdale store, allowing for more guests. The Wednesday pork chop lunch special is available at the Friendswood store and is a killer deal at $12.99.

There's Korean hometown cooking at Bonchon.EXPAND
There's Korean hometown cooking at Bonchon.
Photo by Rachel Youlis

Bonchon Midtown, 2100 Travis, is currently in soft opening with a grand opening planned January 21. The Midtown location will offer 12 boneless wings with any combo order purchase on that day to celebrate. The grand opening special is available with dine-in, take-out and delivery through third party apps.

This is the fourth Houston location for the Korean fried chicken chain which originated in South Korea in 2002. It established itself in the United States in 2006 and now has over 100 U.S. locations. Worldwide, the system has 356 stores in countries such as Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and the Philippines.

Backstreet Cafe loses its reigning beauty.EXPAND
Backstreet Cafe loses its reigning beauty.
Photo by Paula Murphy

Backstreet Cafe, 1103 S. Shepherd, is saying goodbye to its beautiful camphor tree. Owners Tracy Vaught and chef Hugo Ortega made the difficult decision to remove the tree on the advice of an arborist who said that the huge tree was dying. Th arborist also said that it was the largest camphor tree they had ever seen.

The tree suffered a little damage in 1983 due to a freeze but it has remained a regal presence at Backstreet for nearly four decades, shading the lovely patio as guests celebrated birthdays, anniversaries and beautiful Houston afternoons underneath its canopy.

The tree will end her reign at Backstreet Cafe January 18. Loyal patrons and local tree huggers have one last weekend to enjoy a meal or cocktail with the queen.

Childhood friends and culinary cohorts unite.EXPAND
Childhood friends and culinary cohorts unite.
Photo by Kimberly Park

Pier 6 Seafood and Oyster House, 113 6th, has officially pegged Chris Loftis as its new chef de cuisine. Loftis originally was recruited to help open the waterside restaurant in San Leon by childhood friend and executive chef at Pier 6, Joe Cervantez. The duo have been pals since third grade, growing up together in Pearland and eventually graduating from the Art Institute of Houston. Their culinary paths have intertwined on and off as well from early days at Olive Garden and Skyline Bar and Grill to later reuniting in the kitchen at Killen's Steakhouse.

Cervantez would go on to be executive chef at Brennan's of Houston before taking over the helm at Pier 6. meanwhile, Loftis has done executive chef stints at seafood-centric restaurants such as Number 13 in Galveston, the now-shuttered Peska and most recently Perry's Steakhouse and Grill in Baybrook.

Broccoli and Smoked Gouda Soup debuts on the new winter menu.EXPAND
Broccoli and Smoked Gouda Soup debuts on the new winter menu.
Photo by Evan Godwin

Bellagreen has introduced its winter menu along with two specials for the season at its five Houston and two Dallas area locations. New items include Broccoli and Smoked Gouda Soup, Sticky Chicken Wings, Pear and Cranberry Salad and Paleo Salmon Tacos served in almond flour tortillas.

Culinary director Silvestre Reyes is introducing two limited time, dinner only "From the Chef " entrees: Paleo Prime Ribeye, served with Bellagreen's avocado chimichurri and Seared Almond-Crusted Snapper, served with lemon cilantro mashed potatoes and French garlic green beans.

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