Houston lost quite a few restaurants this year, but we were lucky to have many more open in their place. Stay tuned for next week's year-long wrap-up of every single opening and closing in town (it's a doozy, folks) to compare the lists for yourself.
Until then, though, these are the restaurants that closed in 2011 that we'll miss the most.
When chef Chris Shepherd announced that he was leaving his post at Catalan -- which had become one of the most celebrated restaurants in the city under his leadership -- owners Grant Cooper and Charles Clark knew that they couldn't keep Catalan open without him. (Or without Shepherd's crew, like sous chef Antoine Ware, many of whom departed with their chef.) So they closed the restaurant, eventually reopening it as Coppa, with brand new chef Brandi Key and a whole new theme. While we adore Coppa, we're also eagerly awaiting Catalan's reincarnation of sorts when Shepherd's Third Coast, charcuterie-driven joint Underbelly opens next year.
Before it closed in August, Voice was one of the best restaurants in town -- and certainly one of the very best downtown -- but flew maddeningly under the radar, despite the many talents of chef Greg Lowry and his team. Lowry will be the sous chef at the soon-to-open Triniti under Ryan Hildebrand, so at least he's stuck around. And Voice is currently undergoing a rebranding to become Line & Lariat, serving a far less modern and far more accessible menu of Texas favorites under chef David Luna. It could have been worse; the Hotel Icon could have lost its restaurant altogether, and then there'd be nothing to showcase the utterly gorgeous, gilded two-story dining room -- and that would be the biggest crime of all.
It was a shock to many in the food community when Bootsie's closed in late July. It seemed as if the homespun little house in Tomball had become the perfect setting for chef Randy Rucker's modern interpretations of Gulf Coast cuisine and native ingredients. The restaurant has since reopened under namesake Bootsie herself (Rucker's mother), serving a different, far more casual menu. And Rucker is set to reboot Bootsie's when his new place with pastry chef Chris Leung, Restaurant conāt, opens next year.
Another big loss to Houston's fledgling modern cuisine movement, Yelapa Playa Mexicana specialized in updated interpretations of coastal Mexican food that often -- unfortunately -- flew right over many a diner's head. In the land of Tex-Mex, a strikingly Latin American ceviche or a thoughtfully deconstructed guacamole is often woefully unappreciated, despite many a review and write-up testifying to the restaurant's greatness. Yelapa cycled through two talented and now-vanished chefs before attempting to add more standard Tex-Mex elements to the menu as a last-ditch effort to capture the public's interest. In October, it shut its doors as an unfortunate illustration of the fact that critical darlings aren't always public favorites.
Antone's in the Village
Many longtime Houstonians were furious when Antone's in the Village closed in August. Reasons behind the closure were legion -- everything from rising rent costs in the area to the fact that the quality had decreased ten-fold over the years after the Antone's family broke apart -- but much of the blame ended up pushed onto its next door neighbor, the successful benjy's. In a few months, benjy's had opened a new spot in the old Antone's location: Local Foods. And while we loved Antone's back in the day, we have to admit that Local Foods and its excellent sandwiches seem to be a better replacement so far.
Sweet 'n' Namkin
Sure, it wasn't the city's best Japanese restaurant. Or even it's best yakitori restaurant -- and that's saying something, since we have so few. But who didn't love going to Coco's and being clucked over by Mama, or even -- if you're lucky enough, like our assistant music editor Craig Hlavaty -- to be shown pictures of a cheeky-looking Mama in a bikini from her youth? Coco's was an example of the rapidly disappearing old Montrose, and has now become a cheesy-looking men's clothing store. The good news is that you can still find Mama's son -- Ken Takagi -- down the street at his own restaurant, the underrated Sushi Tora.
Like Coco's Yakitori, the food at King Biscuit wasn't that great. In fact, it hadn't been good in a very long time. And the rickety old restaurant along White Oak was representative of the old Heights spirit that's disappearing as the neighborhood continues to gentrify. If my father still lived in Houston in his little cottage on Michaux, he'd have wept over King Biscuit's closure. (I still haven't broken the news to him.)
This marked one of the quickest openings and closings in the Vallone family's history. Casual Italian spot Caffe Bello opened along Lower Westheimer in August 2010 and closed less than a year later, in May, having never quite caught on with the surrounding Montrose neighborhood. Original chef Michael Dei Maggi had already departed and eventually cropped up at Dragon Bowl, where he revamped the menu before leaving once again. And Caffe Bello's current chef at the time, Bobby Matos, was shuffled over to Ciao Bello, Caffe Bello's sister restaurant near the Galleria. Don Julio's is now located in the old La Strada building, and packs them in most every night.
A more recent closure, this wonderful little Italian restaurant in far West Houston was supposed to be chef Alberto Baffoni's fine return to form after a long absence and under-utilization at restaurants like Bohemia. But although Baffoni's cooking was better than ever, the odd location kept customers away from the strip center restaurant and it closed its doors a couple of weeks ago.
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This pizza place on Market Square never quite lived up to its potential, or its early promises of live music and an open-air patio on the upper levels of its historic downtown building. That may have been because -- despite being in a highly visible location on the revitalized Market Square Park -- ERA was never able to draw in large enough crowds to sustain it, let alone support future development. It's a shame, too, as the tranquil restaurant was making some of the finest and most creative pizzas in town before it closed in October.