Restaurant News

Openings & Closings: Ménage à Foie

Two big blows of bad news shook the food community this week: Yelapa Playa Mexicana announced its closure, and Moon Tower Inn decided to take a three-month break to remodel.

The writing had been on the wall at Yelapa since chef Brandon Fisch left a few months ago. Owner Chuck Bulnes struggled to find Yelapa's focus between Fisch and previous chef L.J. Wiley, both of whom brought a more aggressively modern bent to the coastal Mexican food served at the restaurant. Towards its end, Yelapa was trying to straddle both that cuisine and the more mainstream, queso-laden Tex-Mex to which more Houstonians are accustomed. In the end, the split focus -- and the sorrowful parking lot, no doubt -- spelled disaster for the plucky little place, which closed just before its second anniversary.

An open note to the jerk of a landlord who owns that piece of land: Hobbit Cafe, Mugsy's, Blue Fish and Yelapa all deserve a better parking lot, and its guests deserve not to have to battle yawning potholes in order to dine at your restaurants. What the hell is wrong with you? Repave your mothereffing parking lot, for the love of fancy baby carrots.

In other news, the Moon Tower Inn boys explained the three-month closure on their Facebook page, citing the 65-year-old structure's...well...structural issues, as well as the need for a larger kitchen. That last part can't be argued with; I've seen hour-and-a-half waits at MTI in the evenings, although right now seems like a strange time to tackle construction issues. Glorious patio weather has just taken over Houston, so why close your entirely outdoor restaurant during that time?

Stop baffling me this week, people. It's not good for my digestion.

In better news, Magic Johnson -- yes, that Magic Johnson -- helped unveil the new restaurant that's taking over where VOICE used to be in the Hotel Icon. When VOICE, under the expert guidance of chef Greg Lowry, took lunch off its menu, you knew the restaurant wasn't long for this world. Line & Lariat will be taking its place in Spring 2012, with an all-star cast of its own.

TQLA's head chef Tommy Birdwell has been consulting on the menu, and will leave Line & Lariat in the capable hands of chef David Luna (formerly of Flora & Muse, Canopy and Shade). It will be serving contemporary Texas cuisine, which should be a draw for the business travelers that usually camp out in the hotel, as well as for downtown diners in from out of town.

Also downtown, I walked past the former Byrd's Market earlier this week and was thrilled to see the pace with which Georgia's Farm to Market is on target to open. It's looking like it could be a Halloween opening, although the City of Houston has taught us to always expect delayed opening dates while final permitting takes place...

And just down the street, The Capitol is set to open within the next few weeks. So named for its location on Capitol at Main, the restaurant/live music venue already has shows booked into December. The menu for the restaurant portion promises an eccentric if intriguing list of dishes: Fresh Gulf ceviche, short rib tacos in a wonton shell, roasted lamb sandwich and a ménage à foie are among the choices.

Last but not least, Sugar Land has another option for late-night dining, coal-fired pizza, brunch and cellar wine...all in one restaurant. Coal Vines, which has opened its first location outside of Dallas, offers all four things under one roof, and its wine prices are impressively low for a restaurant. I'm already feeling the tug of a White Pizza calling my name. I'll just be sure to order something other than an oaky, buttery Chardonnay to go with it.

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Katharine Shilcutt