Restaurant News

Openings and Closings: Rakkan Ramen Opens This Week, Le Jardinier Debuts in May

Le Jardinier offers art on a plate.
Le Jardinier offers art on a plate. Photo by Ricardo Mejia

Le Jardinier, 5500 Main, opens at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston May 18. Located inside the the Nancy and Rich Kinder Building, the French-inspired restaurant comes from The Bastion Collection which also opened Cafe Leonelli at the museum April 16.

Michelin-starred chef Alain Verzeroli will serve as culinary director at Le Jardinier. Verzeroli, who is also a partner at Bastion, said in a press release, "As we've been preparing to open in Houston, I've spent a lot of time learning about what Houstonians crave and developing a menu that incorporates the unique terroir of the city."

The menu will revolve around seasonable vegetables and fruit with sustainable seafood, poultry and meats sourced from local suppliers. Le Jardinier means "the gardener" in French and diners can expect delicately balanced dishes like Burrata with tomatoes, stone fruit, bee pollen and basil seeds or Ora King Salmon with courgettes (that's zucchini to we Texans) and lemongrass emulsion. In keeping with the Texan appetite for beef, there's the grilled Bavette au Jus with broccolini and eggplant mousse.

click to enlarge Salvatore Martone's Michelin-starred excellence shows in his pastry creations. - PHOTO BY RICHARD MEJIA
Salvatore Martone's Michelin-starred excellence shows in his pastry creations.
Photo by Richard Mejia
Bastion's executive pastry chef Salvatore Martone, also a Michelin Star recipient, has curated a selection of gluten-free bakery and pastry items. Desserts such as Salty Caramel Sabayon and a Passion Fruit and Lime Vacherin with floral gelee and vegan ice cream are examples of Martone's mastery. Martone also creates the pastries for Cafe Leonelli and has opened an outpost of his ice cream shop, Frohzen, at the more casual Italian cafe.

click to enlarge The stunning Hancock commission sets the scene for Le Jardinier. - PHOTO BY THOMAS DUBROCK/COURTESY MFAH
The stunning Hancock commission sets the scene for Le Jardinier.
Photo by Thomas Dubrock/Courtesy MFAH
The refined menu needs a refined location and the restaurant is situated on the west side of the Kinder Building with floor to ceiling windows providing a stellar view of the shady Cullen Sculpture Garden, designed by Isamu Noguchi. The dining room is anchored by Trenton Doyle Hancock's Color Flash for Chat and Chew, Paris Texas in Seventy-Two. In addition to its title being a mouthful to say, it is also an eyeful with its vibrant arboreal tapestry made of wool and silk fibers perfect for a restaurant that is inspired by nature. The natural theme is carried through with sage green carpet and veneer walls of vintage limba wood designed by Steven Harris and Lucien Rees-Roberts of Steven Harris Architects. Akari lanterns make a ceiling installation, another of Noguchi's contributions to the museum space.

Le Jardinier will be open for dinner service by reservation.

click to enlarge The broth is vegan, the pork is not. - PHOTO BY RAKKAN RAMEN
The broth is vegan, the pork is not.
Photo by Rakkan Ramen
Rakkan Ramen, 600 N. Shepherd, opens May 3 at M-K-T Heights. The ramen restaurant is known for its plant-based broth which uses kombu, an edible kelp, and vegetables to create the traditional dashi and its umami flavor which is a vital part of the ramen experience. Most ramen purveyors rely on long-simmered pork tonkatsu broth. While Rakkan Ramen's broth is 100 percent plant-based, diners can add proteins like pork, crispy chicken and egg to their ramen bowls. The vegan broth, however, allows for vegans and vegetarians to enjoy the ramen as well.

click to enlarge Ramen's the name of the game but Rakkan offers other items, too. - PHOTO BY RAKKAN RAMEN
Ramen's the name of the game but Rakkan offers other items, too.
Photo by Rakkan Ramen
Rakkan Ramen first opened in Tokyo in 2011 as a four-seat ramen bar. In 2017, it opened its first U.S. location in Los Angeles, California. The M-K-T Heights restaurant is the first for Houston and comes from franchisee Chris Lav, who also brought Pokeworks to Houston in 2018. Lav discovered the ramen restaurant while traveling in the Los Angeles area and felt it would be a fit for Houston. Lav now operates five locations of Pokeworks and plans five Rakkan Ramen stores for Houston as well, according to CultureMap Houston.

Rakkan Ramen's offerings include its Amber (soy), Pearl (pure rock salt), Quartz (vegan creamy sauce) and its miso-based Garnet and Spicy Garnet. It also offers a non-vegan umami sauce made with dried bonito flakes and dried sardines. Other menu items include gyoza, hand sushi rolls and buns which have vegan and non-vegan options. There are gluten-free noodles available, too.

The restaurant is located in Building 5 at M-K-T and fronts the Heights Hike and Bike Trail. It will soon be joined by Da Gama Canteen, a Portuguese-Indian restaurant from Rishi Hospitality. Da Gama is currently hiring, according to its Instagram.

click to enlarge Matt Staph moves to Brennan's. - PHOTO BY KIMBERLY PARK
Matt Staph moves to Brennan's.
Photo by Kimberly Park

Brennan's of Houston, 300 Smith, has a new executive chef. Matt Staph, formerly of One Fifth, will take over the role as Joey Chavez departs to become a private chef. Chavez took over the role from Joe Cervantez last summer, who moved on to Pier 6 Seafood and Oyster House in San Leon, as we reported here in the Houston Press.

Staph has been part of Chris Shepherd's Underbelly Hospitality team for the past five years, working his way up at Shepherd's soon to end concept, One Fifth, to become executive chef. The native Texan began his career working with Chef John Tesar at The Commissary in Dallas moving onto Chef Graham Dodd's Central 214 and spent five years with Dodd at a variety of restaurants including Hibiscus, where the focus was on whole animal cooking, and Wayward Sons where the menu was more vegetable-based. Dodd's philosophy of minimizing waste, supporting local farms and sustainability have stayed with Staph through his culinary adventures.

Staph is also grateful to Shepherd who has served as a mentor. Staph says of his tenure at One Fifth, " We've done some really amazing things at One Fifth and now it's my time, in a way, to follow Chris' lead at Brennan's and make it better than it's ever been. I tell Chris every day, 'I'm going to be better than you, just wait.' He loves that."

For his part, Shepherd, who himself spent nine years at Brennan's of Houston before becoming a James Beard Award-winning mega-star chef and restaurateur, is thrilled for Staph. "I cannot express how happy I am for this move. Brennan's is a place that holds a special place in my heart and I look forward to see what he does there."

Staph will join veteran sous chef Jose Arevalo who has worked alongside many of Brennan's top chefs over the years.

click to enlarge Nick Fine takes over the reins for the last months of One Fifth. - PHOTO BY JULIE SOEFER
Nick Fine takes over the reins for the last months of One Fifth.
Photo by Julie Soefer

One Fifth, 1658 Westheimer, meanwhile, has recruited Nick Fine to the role of executive chef until One Fifth makes its planned departure this August. Currently Fine is Underbelly Hospitality's culinary director and is planning on opening his own restaurant, Wild Oats, with the hospitality group this summer at Houston Farmers Market. Fine is also a Brennan's alum.

One Fifth, Shepherd's five years-five concepts venture will come to a close most likely this summer, though a definitive date has not been established. We were told that the date is "fluid". For now, it will finish out as One Fifth Southern Comfort. With Underbelly's upcoming concepts Wild Oats and Georgia James Tavern on the near horizon, Fine's return to One Fifth will more than likely mean he and Shepherd will have some surprises up their sleeves for the rotating menu, including preview dishes for the new restaurants and throwback favorites from Underbelly. 

click to enlarge Fresh ingredients offer healthy choices at Aloha Poke Co. - PHOTO BY ALOHA POKE CO.
Fresh ingredients offer healthy choices at Aloha Poke Co.
Photo by Aloha Poke Co.

Aloha Poke Co. announced plans for 11 new stores in the Houston market by 2025. The expansion will nearly double the brand's total franchise holdings. Its spread into Houston will be its first entry into the Texas market with the long-term development plans to include other metroplex areas such as Dallas/Fort Worth and Austin.

Leading the Houston expansion is franchisee Baryalay Razi, who was Aloha Poke Co.'s first franchisee with a three-unit deal in Maryland. Razi, a native of Afghanistan, is also a longtime Bojangles franchisee whose plans for the Houston market are to help build a legacy of wealth for his family with his two daughters poised to take control of the Houston expansion. The family's first Aloha Poke Co. in Houston is expected to open in late summer/early fall of 2021.

Another location in Cypress is expected to open in late summer 2021 from husband and wife Corey and Amanda Tabb.

Stacked Pickle, 6944 FM 1960 W., has been under construction for a few months, now. The concept is owned and operated by former Indianapolis Colts player and Super Bowl champ Gary Brackett. The sports bar and restaurant first opened in Indianapolis in 2010 but in May 2020, Brackett announced that he would be closing all ten locations of his popular sports bar due to the pandemic and its affect on sports and restaurants, as reported here in the IndyStar.

We have reached out for more information about the Houston location but have not received an opening date as of yet.

Howdy Hot Chicken piles on the deliciousness. - PHOTO BY IBRAHIM HALAWA
Howdy Hot Chicken piles on the deliciousness.
Photo by Ibrahim Halawa

Howdy Hot Chicken
, 3520 S. Shepherd, opened April 13. This is the second location for the halal hot chicken joint. It has another location in Sugar Land at 19922 Southwest Freeway. Its menu is brief but has all the hot fried chicken items that one would need. The Howdy Sammie is a spicy fried chicken breast on a brioche bun with Howdy slaw, howdy sauce and sweet pickles. The Texas Toast Sammie is pretty much the same except that it's served on thick Texas toast with the addition of a slice of American cheese. The hot chicken can also be ordered as a two piece chicken tenders basket and the tenders are available singly as well. Kids' tenders are made without the heat. The sides and snacks include waffle fries, Howdy slaw and mac n' cheese. The Loaded Chicken Fries is a mess of waffle fries topped with fried chicken bites and queso for a calorie bomb of pleasure.

Delivery is available through third party apps including Doordash, UberEats, GrubHub and Toast.

click to enlarge Teriyaki Madness in Katy anchors the strip center. - PHOTO BY ABDALLAH SALAMAH
Teriyaki Madness in Katy anchors the strip center.
Photo by Abdallah Salamah
Teriyaki Madness, 25705 Katy Freeway, opened April 1 in Katy. This makes the magic 100 for the Asian fusion chain which operates in over 20 states. It also has two locations in Mexico and there are three stores planned for Canada. There are five in the Houston area with two more planned for Spring and Humble.

click to enlarge The Teriyaki Madness is spreading. - PHOTO BY ABDALLAH SALAMAH
The Teriyaki Madness is spreading.
Photo by Abdallah Salamah
The fast casual concept offers teriyaki bowls with different proteins including chicken breast, spicy chicken, steak, salmon and spicy tofu. Other bowl options include chicken katsu, orange chicken and yakisoba. For starters, there's chicken eggrolls, edamame, chicken potstickers and crab rangoon. Side choices like stir-fry  veggies, yakisoba noodles and fried, white or brown rice are available as are the brand's signature, house-made sauces.

Poke Yana, 17400 Spring Cypress, opened April 12. This is the second location for the family-owned business. The first opened at 1414 Northpark in Kingwood March 1. It serves Hawaiian-style poke with either its signature bowls or build-your-own bowls, salads or burritos with roasted seaweed wrap. Diners can choose from signature bowls like the spicy Fat Boy with Ahi tuna, salmon, avocado, jalapeno, mango habanera and more. The Skinny Girl is a veggie delight with tofu, spring mix, broccoli and other vegetables topped with wonton crisps. For the adventurous there's the Unagi Don with baked eel, edamame, sesame seeds, daikon, unagi sauce, furikake and shredded nori.

Customers have the option of building a personal favorite with a base of rice, spring mix or roasted seaweed wrap then choosing a protein, mix-ins, toppings, sauce and crunch. Side options include seaweed salad, crab salad and miso soup. There are bottled soft drinks, coconut water and aloe drink.

click to enlarge Gatsby's Prime Steakhouse will have a sister lounge next door. - PHOTO BY MICHAEL ANTHONY
Gatsby's Prime Steakhouse will have a sister lounge next door.
Photo by Michael Anthony
Daisy Buchanan Lounge, 4321 Montrose, will open in May. There is not a definitive opening date yet for the sister lounge to Gatsby's Prime Steakhouse which just opened March 12 next door. The new lounge takes over the Bar Victor space which itself was very posh and glamorous.

Do Darya, 14639 Beechnut, opened in February and has a special Iftar and Dinner Buffet for the month of Ramadan through May 12. The Iftar menu includes items like Dahi Bailey, Chana Chaat and Mix Pakora while the dinner buffet has dishes such as Butter Chicken, Mutton Qorma, Lathori Fish, Beef Biryani plus naan and paratha puri.

Caribbean Jerk Palace may be coming to Houston soon, according to a tip from a Houston Press reader. The Chicago-based black-owned Jamaican restaurant will be located at 3801 Emancipation Avenue. We reached out for more information and were told that it may open this summer. It will make the fifth location for the brand and the first for Houston.

click to enlarge LALO tequila has a pedigree. - PHOTO BY GUERILLA SUIT
LALO tequila has a pedigree.
Photo by Guerilla Suit
LALO, a newly launched blanco tequila from Eduardo "Lalo" Gonzalez and founding partner David R. Carballido, is partnering with H Town Restaurant Group to raise money for Houston Food Bank on Cinco de Mayo. For every LALO cocktail sold on May 5 at participating H Town restaurants, $1 will go to Houston Food Bank. The list of restaurants includes Backstreet Cafe, Hugo's, Xochi, Caracol and Prego.

Gonzalez is the grandson of famed tequila producer, Don Julio Gonzalez. He and Carbillado began with a small batch pure blanco tequila with no additives and no barrels. It was so popular with friends and family that the duo decided to offer it to the public.

click to enlarge Candente has a newly renovated patio for margarita sipping. - PHOTO BY SHANNON O'HARA
Candente has a newly renovated patio for margarita sipping.
Photo by Shannon O'Hara
Candente, 4306 Yoakum, is celebrating Cinco de Mayo on its newly refreshed patio May 5 from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. There will be a mariachi band and margaritas will be $3 off for happy hour from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.  The full menu plus street tacos will be available, too.

The new covered patio was done by Erin Hicks Designs and offers heaters, fans, lots of greenery and a nearly 1,000 square foot fountain. There are moveable planters for creating semi-private tables. In total, the space offers 4,000 square feet of patio and green space.

Restaurants Reported Open in April 2021:

Acme Oyster House, 1201 Westheimer, opened April 10
Bar No. 3, 3410 Montrose, opened March 29
Beard Papa's, 2174 Stuebner Airline, opened April 17
Bimbim Box, 10111 Louetta, softly opened March 31
Cafe Leonelli, 5500 Main, opened April 16
Davis St. at Hermann Park, 5925 Almeda, reopened April 1
Dish Society, 2643 Commercial Center Boulevard, opened March 18
El Caribeno, 12904 Fry, had its grand opening April 17
Fegen's. 1050 Studewood, opened April 6
Fuku, 2575 Dairy Ashford, opened early April
Fuku, 401 Dallas, opened early April
Gatsby's Prime Steakhouse, 4319 Montrose, opened March 12
Greenway Coffee, 712 Main, opened early April
Gloria's Latin Cuisine, 23333 Grand circle Boulevard, opened April 2
Houston Cider Co., 1125 W. Cavalcade, reopened its taproom in April
Ichiro Sapporo Ramen, 9393 Bellaire Boulevard, opened late March
Max's Restaurant North America, 8011 S. Main, opened end of March
Old Harbor Cajun Seafood and Bar, 6935 FM 1960, opened April 12
Salata, 3201 N. Shepherd, opened April 15
Space cowboy, 100 W. Cavalcade, had its grand opening April 23
Starck Room, 2450 Louisiana, softly opened In mid-February
Tonight and Tomorrow, 3410 Montrose, opened March 29
Tres Amigos Cafe y Cantina, 3402 N. Shepherd, opened April 22
Uncle's BBQ, 23211 Kuykendahl, opened March 17
Voodoo Doughnut, 1214 Westheimer, had its grand opening March 30

Restaurants Reported Closed for April 2021:

BCK, 933 Studewood, closed April 30
Inversion Coffee and Art, 1953 Montrose, closed late March
Ritual, 602 Studewood, closed April 4
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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.