Creative Cooking

Openings and Closings: Poitin is Coming, Charivari is Going

Get elated for Poitin's Elote.
Get elated for Poitin's Elote. Photo by Trevor Gerland

Poitin, 2313 Edwards, is opening May 14 at Sawyer Yards. The highly anticipated restaurant and bar from Balls Out Burgers owner Ian Tucker will make its debut in the Washington Avenue arts district with Dominick Lee as executive chef. For an in depth look at Lee's culinary background, check out Kate McLean's recent Chef Chat with Lee here in the Houston Press. Another New Orleans transplant, Todd Leveritt,  will serve as Director of Operations. Rounding out the team will be Dory Fung, former head pastry chef at Yauatcha and Shannon Noelle Crow, formerly of 13 Celsius, will serve as sommelier. Crow has developed a wine list of all natural, organic or sustainable wines for Poitin. Half the bottles will be under $65, making wine pairing with Lee's cuisine affordable.

click to enlarge Chef Dominick Lee - PHOTO BY TREVOR GERLAND
Chef Dominick Lee
Photo by Trevor Gerland
A glimpse at Lee's menu for Poitin shows the influence of the women in his life. Perhaps his Moroccan inspired slow-braised lamb neck with harissa, ras al hanout, dates, prunes and cauliflower couscous bears the influence of chef Kiran Verma's fragrant Indian cooking from his time as her sous chef at Kiran's. And maybe his herb-infused ricotta ravioli is a nod to his Nana, who passed away last year.

Along with a diverse culinary style, Poitin will also offer a creative cocktail program, with beverage director, Sarah Cuneo and bar manager, Christa Havican working in tandem, like "Thelma and Louise", according to the press release. Joining the bar team will be Kevin Dougherty, former assistant bar manager at The Exchequer in Dublin, Ian Tucker's highly acclaimed gastropub.

Tucker is an Irish immigrant who married a Houstonian and wound up two years ago on our fair shores.
"Just as the city of Houston opens its doors to immigrants from all around the world, Poitin welcomes all comers," says Tucker. He envisions the restaurant as a "cultural embodiment of the city's inclusive spirit". On behalf of our diverse and friendly town, we say failte.

Charivari's pecan-covered Dobos cake. - PHOTO BY DAWN MCGEE
Charivari's pecan-covered Dobos cake.
Photo by Dawn McGee

Charivari, 2521 Bagby, is closing, according to Houston Food Finder. Johann Schuster's continental European restaurant has served dishes like weiner shnitzel, seafood choucroute and seared foie gras to Houston diners for eighteen years. The Transylvanian-born chef immigrated to Houston with wife Irmgard-Maria in the late nineties, after having owned a successful restaurant in Germany's Black Forest for a decade.

Fans of his cuisine don't have to fret, however, because Schuster is planning to open a more casual place offering European fare. The changing demographics in Midtown and the the fine dining scene in general have prompted the move to a different area and a more casual approach to the menu, which will still offer customer favorites like schnitzel and fresh seafood, but also sandwiches.

Johann Schuster has plans for a new restaurant. - PHOTO BY TROY FIELDS
Johann Schuster has plans for a new restaurant.
Photo by Troy Fields
The location of the new restaurant has not been revealed, but it could be just a couple of months before it makes its debut.

Meanwhile, for those who want to get a final meal at the Midtown spot before Charivari closes, the last day of service is May 26 and there will be a customer party with tickets available on the restaurant's website.

Cafe Chino, 3285 Southwest Freeway, has closed. May and Eddie Chan have served Chinese food to Houstonians for nearly 30 years with the original Cafe Chino opening in Rice Village in 1988. In 2010, the Chans moved to the Southwest Freeway location due to what they said was a huge increase in rent at the former spot.

May and Eddie Chan met at his father's restaurant when they were young and learned the ins and outs of the business there before venturing out on their own as reported by the Houston Press. They owned a number of restaurants in Houston, including Pacific Rim, which the Houston Chronicle named the best restaurant in Houston in 1998 and L'Asiatique, a French/Chinese eatery.

No word yet as to why the the Chans have closed their final restaurant.

Photo courtesy of The Lost Cajun
The Lost Cajun, 24004 Southwest Freeway, is slated to open May 21 in Rosenberg, with plans for a family-friendly grand opening around July 4th.

The Colorado based chain has 16 locations with more Texas stores planned in San Antonio, Keller, and Lubbock. Founder Raymond Griffin is from Barataria, Louisiana and operated a fishing lodge for 15 years but Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Ike and Gustav convinced he and his wife to chuck it and head for Colorado where they opened a small gumbo shop in 2010, according to the Lost Cajun website. With his life-long friend, Jon Espey, he founded The Lost Cajun and is expanding it nationwide with a family of franchisees, whose personal stories are included on the chain's website.

click to enlarge Find your  inner Cajun at The Lost Cajun. - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE LOST CAJUN
Find your inner Cajun at The Lost Cajun.
Photo courtesy of The Lost Cajun
The restaurant serves Cajun favorites like jambalaya, etouffee and gumbo, plus beignets which Griffin describes as being as good as New Orleans', " if not a wee bit better". Only way to know is to check it out fo' yo'self.

We have our sights on the Cat-touffee, three strips of southern fried catfish covered in crawfish etouffee over a bed of rice. There are Po Boys and fried seafood staples, plus "lagniappes" like fried okra, boudin balls and alligator bites.

The Cajun restaurant offers Abita Beer and Root Beer, Louisiana chickory coffee and red or white Porch wine, which is described as box wine you would share with your momma on the porch. Probably with a couple of hound dogs at your feet.

Lori and Blaine Law are the franchisees for the Rosenberg restaurant and are setting their sights on opening five more in West Houston in the future.

There is also another franchised location to the east in Humble at 7042 E. FM 1960.

click to enlarge Musaafer will offer a global and cultural  experience to diners. - PHOTO COURTESY OF?
Musaafer will offer a global and cultural experience to diners.
Photo courtesy of?
Musaafer, 5515 Westheimer, at the Galleria VI wing, is slated for late fall 2018. This newest concept from The Spice Route Company will be the first U.S. restaurant for founders Shammi and Mithu Malik, who own The Spice Route Company restaurants in Port Harcourt, Nigeria and St. Victoria's Island, Lagos.

The owners sent two chefs on a hundred day journey across India to discover the different foods and cuisines which emerge from the different climates and indigenous foods. The cuisine at Musaafer will be inspired by the open-air markets, street food and lavish palace meals. Diners can expect dishes based on the external influences on India's global cuisine, from the Greeks, Turks and Persians in the north and the Portuguese and West Asians in the Southern coastal areas.

Patrons will reach the 10,000 square foot restaurant by private elevator. If the artist's renderings are any indication, the decor of Musaafer will be as colorful and unique as its food.

Tasty Sandwich, 2802 Old Spanish Trail, opened in March. The food truck serves Mediterranean sandwiches and rice dishes with options like chicken or beef shawarma, gyro or falafel. Sides include Arabi pickles, fries and coleslaw. There's a Philly cheesesteak for the less adventurous.

click to enlarge Your taste buds will sing at SING. - PHOTO COURTESY OF SING
Your taste buds will sing at SING.
Photo courtesy of SING
SING, 718 West 18th, will open fall 2018. The Singaporean restaurant is a collaboration from former Houston Press food writer Cuc Lam and Jerry Lasco of the Tasting Room and Max's Wine Dive. Lam will serve as chef and operating partner. Plans are for a soft opening in September and official opening in October.

click to enlarge PHOTO COURTESY OF SING
Photo courtesy of SING
Originally, the restaurant was planned for the Oak Forest area, but now has found its way to the Lowell Street Market in the Heights after much searching and footwork on Lam's part. Besides writing about food, Lam has hosted more than 100 pop-ups and a recipe/cooking blog called "Just Cuc It! ". Her travels to Singapore have influenced her global cuisine.

click to enlarge Bak Kut Teh is the essence of pork. - PHOTO COURTESY OF SING
Bak Kut Teh is the essence of pork.
Photo courtesy of SING
SING's menu will feature dishes like Tiger Cry Satay — skewers of marinated beef, plus plenty of noodle choices including boat noodles, a dish of beef bone broth, rice noodles and meatballs with herbs, lime and house-made chili sate oil. Those with a love of the tongue-numbing szechuan peppercorns can opt for the Dan-Dan, a wok-fired rice noodle dish with ground pork and ya cai (pickled vegetables).

For noodle slurping youngsters, SING will offer a kids menu. Along with a dining room seating 20 to 30 guests, there will also be an outdoor patio.

On the beverage side, look for nitro taps with Thai tea, green tea, and cafe Sua Da. There will also be craft brews, inexpensive house wines and " sake-to-me-mosas". That will have you singing like Aretha.

Wanna Bao, 2708 Bagby, began its soft opening this month, according to Eater Houston. First time restaurateurs, Dean and Grace Dee are bringing their version of xiao long bao(soup dumplings) to our city which is rapidly growing in appreciation of authentic Sichuanese cuisine. The steamed dumplings filled with meat and broth create the same kind of obsession that pho and ramen have attracted among foodies.

Dean's parents own One Dragon in Chinatown, whose xiao long bao were given a glowing review by the Houston Press in 2016. He worked in his father's kitchen to gain experience before wife Grace and he, former petroleum engineers, decided to open their own restaurant serving Sichuan and Chengdu cuisine with plans to add Singaporean and South Asian dishes in the future.

Peri Peri Factory, 6375 Westheimer, opened April 23, serving spicy Portuguese flame-grilled chicken. The peri-peri (or peli-peli, pili-pili or piri-piri) is an African bird's-eye chili pepper that is usually mixed with garlic, lemon, oil and vinegar to create a flavorful marinade or sauce.

Just as there are a number of spellings for the pepper, there are a number of ways each culture or country makes the dish. Most people are comparing Peri Peri's version to Nando's, a popular Portuguese/African chain started in South Africa in 1987 before spreading world-wide.

The restaurant's peri peri meter goes from " plain...ish" to inferno, so diners can experiment with their personal heat tolerance. You might want to have one of the restaurant's milkshakes ($5.25) on hand just in case.

click to enlarge Let your cholesterol fly high with these wings. - PHOTO BY MELISSA SKORPIL
Let your cholesterol fly high with these wings.
Photo by Melissa Skorpil
Pluckers Wing Bar, 25310 Northwest Freeway, is opening May 14 in Cypress. The Austin-based sports bar and wing joint offers game-watching, beer-drinking patrons tasty, if not altogether healthy, treats like wings, burgers and fried chicken sandwiches. When is the last time you asked your friend to go watch the Texans and grab a couple of salads?

Shakespeare's teenage heroine Juliet asked " What's in a name?"  Well, when it come to Pluckers, everything. If you order your wings with the "fire in the hole" sauce, you can expect just that. The Bypass Burger and The Gut Grenade aren't being vague, either. You can order one of the salads, but unless you order the grilled chicken instead of fried, don't expect your doctor to be impressed.

However, vegetarians can choose The Impossible Burger with a patty made entirely from plants. Maybe you've heard of it. Perhaps you've eaten it. Not quite sure it is meeting the hype, but it's an option.

Pluckers fans enjoy the variety of sauces such as Dr. Pepper, Gochujang(Korean BBQ), and others of varying heat and sweetness. There are also dry rubs available, for that one person in your group. You know who I'm talking about.

Pluckers has other over-the-top sandwiches like The Cheech and Chong, which is a fried chicken breast sandwich with queso, guacamole, grilled onions and tortilla chips. Don't get your hopes up for something else. This isn't Colorado.

They do have fried Oreos and Twinkies, though. If you still have the munchies after that, you might want to ease up, man.

Openings reported in the month of April:

Aqua S, 9889 Bellaire, opened in March
The Berry Bar, 1660 W. Lake Houston Parkway, grand opening April 14
B. Good, 2162  Spring Stuebner  opened April 27
Black Bear Diner, 24600 Katy Freeway, opened March 19
Bloom and Bee, 1600 West Loop South, opened March 10
Blue Onyx Bistro, 4720 Richmond, grand opening April 10
Bombshells Restaurant and Bar, 13965 South Freeway, opened April 11
Bouchee Patisserie, 1600 West Loop South, opened March 17
Brew:30 Taphouse, 15914 Telge, opened April 7
The Butler House, 23931 Gosling, grand opening April 7
Cafe Ginger, 1574 West Gray, reopened April
The Cottonmouth Club, 108 Main, opened April 13
Craft F&B, 1600 West Loop South, opened March 17
Cypress Trail Hideout, 25610 Hempstead, opened April 3
Dattz Pizza, 11730 Grant, reopened April 9
486 Crawfish, 6155 N. Fry, opened mid-March
Fuddruckers, 4360 Kingwood, reopened February 20
Golden Chick, 13600 South Post Oak, opened April 23
Grazia Italian Kitchen, 22764 Westheimer, opened April 19
Hay Merchant, 1100 Westheimer, opened April 27
Leibman's Eatery, Market and Gifts, 10100 Katy Freeway opened April 16
Les Noo'dle, 1717 Montrose, soft opening April
Little Ginger, 2855 W. Lake Houston Parkway, opened April 18
Olive Garden, 14231 East Sam Houston Parkway North, opened April 9
Pappa Charlie's Barbecue, 25610 Hempstead, opened April 3
Pepper Twins Mini, 9721 Broadway, opened March 31
Postino Wine Cafe, 642 Yale, opened April 11
Prohibition Texas, 26420 Preston, opened March 3
Rodeo Goat Ice House, 2118 Lamar, opened March 26
Snappy Salads, 1000 Main, opened
Sweet Paris, 23501 Cinco Ranch, opened April 9
Tea + Victory, 2030 E. TC Jester, opened April 10
The Yellow Cup Coffee and Tea, 6001 Washington, opened April 17

Closings reported in the month of April:

MidiCi, 2925 Richmond, closed in mid-April

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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.