Restaurant News

Exclusive: New Restaurant Opening Today in Time for NCAA Weekend

Been wondering about the construction going on at 363 Travis near Market Square in downtown? Wonder no longer.

The Houston Press has received an exclusive press release from Scottish celebrity chef Martin Hamish about the new gastro-tavern that he's opening today, April 1, just in time for the big NCAA weekend: The Dark Horse. Hamish has done everything in his power to keep the restaurant's opening -- and even its very construction -- under wraps, although hints and rumors have been swirling ever since permits were pulled for the address back in October 2010.

The Dark Horse seems a fitting name for the gastro-tavern, not only due to its location in a still-growing part of downtown but also because of the visiting Virginia Commonwealth University basketball team, underdogs who beat the top-seeded Kansas Jayhawks to advance to the Final Four.

But a clever name isn't all that Hamish has up his sleeve.

Hamish and his team -- which includes a full brigade sourced entirely from the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France -- are prepared to shake Houston up with a modern twist on classic French cooking that Hamish claims "will forever change the face of Houston dining and elevate it to a truly world-class dining city."

Easy access to seafood (poissonnier Jacques Gagnaire is particularly excited about this) and cheap dishwashing labor are two of the main reasons Michelin-starred Hamish named as his reasons for choosing Houston. "The freeways were particularly attractive to me," he wrote in the press release, "as were the billboards and their many opportunities for advertisement. Having my face on as many large surfaces as possible will be crucial to making The Dark Horse a success."

Hamish prefers the term "gastro-tavern" to the more common "gastro-pub," because -- he says -- "it has a more darkly and exotically European bent to it, and 'tavern' implies a sort of murky and elusive thing. I don't want people coming in and expecting the same old fried mushroom caps they see at every other gastro-pub." Murky seems to be key here, as the press release indicates that the building has achieved LEED-certification in part by having its dining room lit solely by imported Danish candles made with fragrant bayberry wax.

As for the menu, Hamish says to expect extravagance on all ends.

Tasting menus only will be offered: a 10-course chef's tasting menu for $250; a 15-course tasting menu for $450 and a 20-course tasting menu that requires reservations six months in advance and a credit check. Guests are also advised that the 20-course menu involves dishes which might be considered controversial. Hamish didn't explicitly state in the press release what those dishes might be, but hinted that he was in the process of obtaining ortolans from France through his boucher.

He did state, however, that there would be a few happy hour items available to go with the extensive craft beer and cocktail selection (which includes nothing you've heard of except for absinthe). Braised veal tongues in a Château Pétrus reduction with Szechuan peppercorns will be available for $40 in the bar, as will a confit of white truffles and matsutake mushrooms with Bangladeshi spices for $50.

"Bangladeshi cuisine is truly overlooked on a global dining scale and my intent is to interpret their sweetmeats and other specialties with a modern French edge, as no one ever has before," said Hamish. "But not in every dish. It is a third-world country, after all."

The rest of the menu is straightforward, as far as world-class dining goes: Menu descriptions are short and sweet, written entirely in français méridional on individually numbered menus that are letterpressed every night before service.

Foie gras will be used in place of butter in all recipes, even the pastries. Microgreens will be foraged from Houston's vast network of overgrown, vacant lots, while vegetables will be grown in an enclosed, organic rooftop garden using manure sourced from local orphanages. No dish will weigh more than 1.4 ounces, weighed before being plated on the handcrafted bamboo dishes Hamish has made in China through a cost-efficient child labor system whose brutality is offset by the plates' environmental appeal.

Even turquoise sea salt from a Bhutanese monastery will be available by request for an additional $15 a head (a bargain when you consider the fact that Hamish is notorious for kicking out any diners who request additional seasoning or any alterations to his menu, then following those diners out to the parking lot for an inebriated brawl).

Anyone requesting a vegetarian or vegan menu will be taken out back and quickly killed with a captive-bolt gun to the temple, their bodies exsanguinated and their adipose tissue used to make cured lardo by charcutier Alain Bocuse. Perhaps that's one of the other "controversial items" Hamish hinted at...

The secret's out now!

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Katharine Shilcutt