The Dan Marino Restaurants

Page 5 of 5

2. Backstreet Cafe

Backstreet Cafe hasn't changed all that much since we awarded it Best Brunch back in 2004, but that's why we like it. The classic River Oaks restaurant is the oldest of Tracy Vaught and Hugo Ortega's restaurants — tucked into every nook and cranny of a century-old house, including its lush backyard — and has run smoothly for years precisely because of that consistency. The menu doesn't stagnate, but does continue to offer old favorites like gingerbread waffles and perfect eggs Benedict over cheddar-chive biscuits for brunch. The service — including longtime sommelier Sean Beck — has remained consistently excellent, too, guaranteeing that pretty much every meal at Backstreet will be a success.

1. Brasserie 19

A River Oaks playground for Houston's rich and famous, Brasserie 19 nevertheless has the food to match the crowds and the hype, turning out classic French and Belgian staples like steak frites and cassoulet alongside an impressive list of beers, wines and cocktails to match. Executive chef Amanda McGraw has also begun to branch out into more modern daily specials such as a 63-degree over parmesan custard and pickled shrimp with smoked crème fraîche — all of which have been equally well-received. The sleek, marble-topped bar is the place to be if you're young and single, while the restaurant's main floor is a gathering point for socialites and food-lovers alike. The egalitarian patio is the most pleasant spot to dine, however, with far less noise and a pretty view of the brightly lit River Oaks Theatre marquee across West Gray.

Restaurant News

Openings and Closings
Backstreet is back, plus craft beer-based grub gets wheels.

Katharine Shilcutt

Last week was quiet; this week has some talking to do — starting with news that David Grossman will be closing out at Branch Water Tavern and taking the restaurant's name with him when he does. The restaurant itself will remain open under a new name and new ownership, reports Greg Morago at the Houston Chronicle, and Grossman hopes to reopen Branch Water Tavern in another venue at a later date.

"Grossman said Matt Brice, of Bistro Des Amis in Rice Village, is the new lessee of the Branch Water Tavern space," writes Morago. "It is not known what type of restaurant he will operate there or what it will be named."

Backstreet Cafe, meanwhile, has been temporarily closed for renovations since January 14 but reopened yesterday. A source at the restaurant says that most of the changes were the sort of basic, behind-the-scenes repairs and upkeep required for a century-old house, so don't worry — Backstreet still looks exactly the same.

It was announced back in September that chef John Sheely of Mockingbird Bistro would soon be opening a second restaurant near the Galleria, in the BBVA Compass building that's currently under construction. Mike Riccetti at the Examiner has the scoop on that new restaurant — Osteria Mazzantini, named after Sheely's maternal family — which will feature Italian classics in a 130-seat space with an 80-seat patio. Riccetti even has a sample menu, with intriguing dishes like calf's brain-filled ravioli on the list. Osteria Mazzantini is slated to open at 2200 Post Oak this April.

Another food truck hit the streets last week: Craft Infusion, a mobile canteen from Troy Witherspoon — the former chef at Petrol Station — that will be serving more of Witherspoon's noted beer-based grub. Look for the truck today at Oak Forest Chill (3542 Oak Forest Drive), where it's been serving lunch and dinner since last Friday.

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Katharine Shilcutt