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Openings and Closings: Ostia Debuts, Xochi Returns

Bubba didn't mention shrimp with harissa.EXPAND
Bubba didn't mention shrimp with harissa.
Photo by Jenn Duncan

Ostia, 2032 Dunlavy, opens for dinner September 25 with its lunch service set to launch October 1. The New American restaurant is a highly anticipated venture from executive chef/owner Travis McShane, a Houston native who has spent more than a decade earning his stripes with renowned chef and restaurateur, Jonathan Waxman. McShane, a graduate of the University of Texas and the Culinary Institute of America in New York, worked his way up in Waxman's kitchens to executive chef at Barbuto in New York, then Adele's in Nashville. McShane eventually took on the role of corporate chef for Waxman's culinary operations from New York to San Francisco to Atlanta. McShane has not only been influenced by his travels through American kitchens but also his culinary travels throughout Italy and Europe.

Travis McShane comes home.EXPAND
Travis McShane comes home.
Photo by Lauren DeFrehn

The Mediterranean and Italian influences show up in the sample menu for Ostia, representing the focus on farm to table ingredients and seasonal sourcing. Guests might have choices such as a fritto misto of summer vegetables or whole shrimp with harissa. Homemade, fresh pastas will be a regular offering with dishes such as bucatini with guanciale or chittara with garlic, rabe, wild arugula and anchovy. Entrees might include whole fish with Meyer lemon tapenade or a pork chop with apricot mostarda and escarole hearts. A risotto with monkfish, shrimp and scallops will make seafood lovers happy.

McShane has brought in Master Sommelier Jack Mason as wine consultant. Mason, who oversaw the entire wine program for the Pappas Restaurant Group, was furloughed by the company in March due to the pandemic, according to the Houston Chronicle. He most recently collaborated with Molly Austed on the wine program at the newly-opened Bludorn.  Now, Mason has teamed with McShane to produce a well-curated list of Old and New World wines to accompany the seasonal menu. Cocktails will be classics with a little augmentation.

Ostia's exhibition kitchen adds to the excitement.EXPAND
Ostia's exhibition kitchen adds to the excitement.
Photo by Jenn Duncan

For the restaurant's design, McShane turned to Jon de la Cruz of DLC-ID in San Francisco, who has designed restaurant spaces such as Che Fico and Protege. This is the first Texas project for de la Cruz and the decor represents the restaurant's upscale dining experience without pretension, setting the mood with bluegrass-colored walls complementing sunset-colored stucco and terracotta brick. Antique brass and polished cement floors add to the ambiance with plants in oak barrel wood hinting at the French orangerie effect in the open-air wing. There are retractable walls that can open for Houston's pleasant days or provide protection in the less temperate weather. The greenhouse room is climate-controlled.

The Tlayuda at Xochi is still on the menu.EXPAND
The Tlayuda at Xochi is still on the menu.
Photo by Paula Murphy

Xochi, 1777 Walker, reopens October 1 at 4 p.m. It is the last of the restaurants from H Town Restaurant Group, co-owned by chef Hugo Ortega and wife/restaurateur Tracy Vaught, to open after the pandemic shutdown. Its location in the Marriott Marquis in downtown Houston has severely affected its ability to operate as the city  suffers the loss of tourism, sporting events, concerts and business travelers. 

The restaurant is reopening with a reduced menu and limited hours for now. However, many longtime favorites will be on the menu including the wood-grilled oysters and the Barbacoa de Res de Zaachila. Lunch service is suspended but Xochi will be open for happy hour and dinner from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday with a Sunday brunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Fall is a good time to warm your cockles, or oysters, by the fire.EXPAND
Fall is a good time to warm your cockles, or oysters, by the fire.
Photo by Paula Murphy

H Town Restaurant Group has been firm in its safety protocols during the pandemic which includes strict adherence to face coverings while in the restaurant until being seated. It also asks that guests wear masks when leaving the table. It is accepting credit and debit cards only. Reservations are strongly recommended. Walk-in guests must wait in their cars or at a safe distance for an available table. We suggest that you just make reservations.

There is metered parking, nearby lots and valet service.

Feelin' Roovy at Robot Noodle.EXPAND
Feelin' Roovy at Robot Noodle.
Photo by Flynn

Robot Noodle, 1221 West 11th, opened September 19, as reported by Houston Food Finder. The create-your-own-bowl concept comes from Ken Bridge, owner of Delicious Concepts which has operated several different restaurants out of the location, most recently Blackbird Izakaya, which closed in July. Bridge wanted an easier, simpler concept and the menu at Robot Noodle leaves the decision making up to the customer. Diners can pick a protein from options like chicken, shrimp, beef and tofu with a variety of vegetable choices. Pick a sauce and base of either rice, egg noodles or udon and you're good to go for dine-in, take-out or delivery. The orders are done through Delicious Concepts' proprietary ordering app, Roovy, which was started in 2018. Everything is cashless and contactless.

The restaurant also offers its vegetarian Robot Rolls and edamame plus soft drinks and beer.

Pho Ben, 935 N. Shepherd, softly opened September 18. This is the second location for the Vietnamese restaurant. The first is at 3613 Highway 6 in Sugar Land. It serves a variety of Vietnamese favorites including pho, banh mi, vermicelli and steamed rice dishes. There are egg noodle soups and plenty of vegetarian options. For dessert, there's bean pudding (red, white or combo) or Asian fruit in sweet cream. Beverage choices include coffee drinks, tea and smoothies in flavors such as strawberry banana, avocado or for the adventurous, durian.

Crawfish Cafe is expanding.EXPAND
Crawfish Cafe is expanding.
Photo by Kiet Duong

Crawfish Cafe, 1026 N. Shepherd, had its grand opening September 19. This is the second location for the Viet-Cajun crawfish restaurant. The first location opened in 2013 in Chinatown at 11209 Bellaire Boulevard.

It offers boiled crawfish with a variety of flavor options like garlic butter, Thai basil, Cajun and its newest flavor, Coco Loco for coconut fans. Though it is no longer crawfish season, the restaurant is importing its mudbugs from California, according to CultureMap Houston. The going rate currently is $10.99 a pound. The owner told the Houston Press that it hopes to start selling live crawfish again in November.

The restaurant also offers crab legs, blue crabs, clams and mussels, plus fried seafood baskets and chicken wings. There are starters like crawfish egg rolls, Cajun calamari and seafood gumbo. Beer and soft drinks are available, too.

The Crawfish Cafe is planning a third location in San Antonio for 2021.

Fight the quarantine fifteen with salad.
Fight the quarantine fifteen with salad.
Photo by Brooke Viggiano

Sweetgreen, 820 Main, opened September 21, according to its Facebook page. The new downtown location makes the third in Houston. It opened its first in Rice Village in July 2019, followed by a location in Montrose a few months later. Now, downtown workers (those still in office) and residents can enjoy healthy, seasonal food with ingredients sourced from small and mid-sized farms.

There are more than salads here but the menu is still veggie-centric. Warm bowls like the Chicken Pesto Parm with quinoa and the Harvest Bowl with wild rice offer protein and grains with a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts and cheeses. Vegetarian options include the Shroomami with tofu and mushrooms. There are plates like the Chicken Chimichurri, Herby Fish and Rice and Tofu Steak and Sweet Potatoes, so there's more than just bunny food.

Customers can also make their own bowls to fit their personal palate. The dressings are made in-house and are gluten-free.

Pressed Juicery and Second Servings team up for nutrition.EXPAND
Pressed Juicery and Second Servings team up for nutrition.
Photo by Mishca Lanes

Pressed Juicery, 714 Yale, opened September 23. This is the second Houston location for the juice shop which opened its first Houston store in Rice Village this past June. It sells fresh-pressed juices and plant-based snacks plus its non-dairy Freeze, a frozen ice cream-like dessert. It also offers acai bowls, juice shots and bundles of juices and smoothies. The produce comes from local growers within two days and the company strives to have the juices pressed within three days from harvest to maximize freshness and nutrition. The chain now operates more than 80 stores in eight states and its products are available in 2,000 retail outlets.

For its grand opening, the Heights Mercantile store is offering a special deal on its Most Popular Bundle through October 16 for $15 and customers who sign up for its VIP membership during this time can choose two free items. It is also offering free delivery to Houston residents through October 16 on online orders of $40 or more. No promo code is necessary, just a Houston address.

This weekend, September 26 and 27, the Heights location will donate 100 percent of sales to Second Servings of Houston, a local non-profit that collects food from restaurants and grocery stores that would otherwise go to waste and distributes it to approved meal sites around the city the same day. Its dual mission is to feed those in need and to avoid food waste.

Agu Ramen Bistro, 7340 Washington, will have its last day of service September 27. It is open for dine-in or take-out through this Sunday. The Hawaii-based ramen concept has already closed its locations in Honolulu, Dallas and Sugar Land.

Cozy up on a couch with a cocktail at Miss Carousel.EXPAND
Cozy up on a couch with a cocktail at Miss Carousel.
Photo by Julia Gabriel

Miss Carousel, 1201 Saint Emanuel, reopened September 24. The cocktail lounge is part of a trio of concepts which includes Vinny's and Indianola, from Agricole Hospitality. It closed due to the pandemic but reopened for a couple of weeks in June. The lack of traffic caused Miss Carousel to close again but people are beginning to venture out once more. Now it has reopened, serving food from its sister (or brother) restaurant next door, Vinny's- A Slice is Nice. Indianola is temporarily closed.

Guests can relax on one of its comfy sofas with a cold brew from Saint Arnold's, Karbach, 8th Wonder or even a Stella Artois and watch the Astros while enjoying a slice of New York-Style pizza or some Lil Wangz. There's also wine, ranging from its $5 House wines to Perrier Jouet Grand Brut ($80). For ballers, there's even a 2008 Dom Perignon for $250 which would be perfect for Vinny's Big Baller sandwich, loaded with Angus beef meatballs, sauce and cheese. Dom goes with everything.

Cocktail choices include its version of Ranchwater, a Cucumber Mint Mule and its signature Miss Carousel Rum Punch made with El Dorado Five Year Old rum, Hennessey VS, Amontillado sherry, lemon and fassionala mix. Fassionala is an old-fashioned tiki elixir making a comeback and usually has notes of strawberry, lime, passionfruit and hibiscus. All the cool kids are drinking it.

There are no more SusieCakes for Houston.
There are no more SusieCakes for Houston.
Photo by Erika Kwee

SusieCakes, 2563 Amherst and 1711 Dryden, are closed. At first, it seemed temporary but its Facebook pages for the Houston locations say that they are closed and the website no longer lists the Houston stores. We have reached out to see how this affects other locations in Texas and California. For now, the website lists a store in Dallas and Fort Worth but it appears that the location in Plano has been closed for months.

The Toasted Yolk warms up fall with new beverages.EXPAND
The Toasted Yolk warms up fall with new beverages.
Photo by Graphic Design FX

The Toasted Yolk, with 14 Houston area locations, has new cocktails and coffee drinks for autumn. Heigh-ho, here comes the pumpkin spice. The Pumpkin Latte is made with The Toasted Yolk's locally roasted espresso, steamed milk and bold pumpkin spice. Guests can pump up the pumpkin with some Tito's vodka in the Spiked Pumpkin Latte. For a delicious and pretty cocktail, there's the Chocolate Espresso Martini made with a shot of espresso and vodka swirled with chocolate syrup and Irish cream. Leaves and temperatures are beginning to fall. Let's just hope hurricane season is over.

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