Recently, two Houston restaurants, both less than two years old, have garnered national acclaim.
Chef Bryan Caswell of Reef, the kicked-up Gulf Coast seafood restaurant in midtown, was recently named one of the 2009 Best New Chefs by Food & Wine magazine. And a few blocks away in Montrose, Feast restaurant, with its "nose-to-tail" European fare, was honored with a glowing write-up by esteemed New York Times food critic Frank Bruni.
Needless to say, the buzz in the Houston food community got loud following this national attention. It's true that these are not just two of the best restaurants in Houston, but two of the best in the country. And the folks behind these restaurants -- Caswell and partner Bill Floyd at Reef, Richard Knight and James and Meagan Silk at Feast -- have earned the acclaim. Local boy Caswell paid his dues working for the likes of über-Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten in New York and Houston. British ex-pat James Silk of the Feast team cut his teeth at the British nose-to-tail emporium St. John in London.
Hopefully, Houston is on its way to being more that just a bastion of barbecue and Tex-Mex in the eyes of the national media. There are so many other outstanding and recognition-worthy establishments here that might deserve a similar spotlight. What follows is a (very) short list of local restaurants -- two seafood, two European/Mediterranean -- that deserve at least a devoted following of Houston food lovers, if not national attention.
It would be a stretch to say that Reef wouldn't exist if it hadn't been for Christie's, but it is fair to say that this venerable seafood destination helped to create (along with the original Landry's restaurants) Houston's insatiable appetite for Gulf Coast seafood. The slogan here is "Established before you were born," and Christie's was in fact started in 1917 along the Galveston waterfront by Turkish immigrant Theodore Christie. Over the years, Christie's has helped popularize seafood dishes such as the fish sandwich and fried shrimp. Today, the third generation of Mr. Christie's family owns and runs the restaurant. And although the menu and environment are authentically old-school, a visit to Christie's for fresh Gulf seafood, cooked using decades-old recipes, is well worth it.
Whereas Christie's may be considered "authentic" old-school Gulf Coast seafood, Danton's bills itself as part of a new generation of Houston seafood restaurants serving Gulf Coast seafood in a contemporary setting. Located in the Chelsea Market in the Museum District, Danton's is owned by lifelong friends Danton Nix and Kyle Teas. Nix, a self-taught chef, has a background working with Houston institutions like Goode Co. Seafood and Willy G's. Danton's delivers exactly what it promises -- classic Gulf Coast seafood dishes prepared with skill and freshness.
The technical brilliance of the classic French dishes created at this tiny bistro on Colquitt near Shepherd is, in my opinion, unmatched anywhere in Houston. Chefs-owners (and French ex-pats) Eric LeGros and Dominique Bocquier pour their professional skill and passion into these dishes. It is a credit to these entrepreneurs that they are willing to create a restaurant of such uncompromising quality in a city with so many chain restaurants. A recent visit on a Wednesday night revealed a busy, if not completely full, dining room, which is good news for Houston food lovers - and the owners.
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This small, friendly, unassuming restaurant hidden in plain sight in the University Village area produces consistently good and authentic Turkish/Mediterranean food. I have visited off and on for several years and never had a bad meal. Standouts include the meze platter (an assortment of cold appetizers) and superb Turkish pizzas. Try the Efes beer.