This week, we start our countdown of 2010 restaurant openings and closings, counting down the restaurants that opened in 2010 after great advance buzz only to fall flat or -- worse -- end up dead in the water.
Sabetta 2411 S. Shepherd
This Italian restaurant from Riccardo Palazzo-Giorgio would have been included on the list of 2010's Best New Restaurants if not for one thing: it's closed. In a location that's stumped previous restaurants such as Cafe Zol and Crostini and with an opening smack dab in the middle of a down economy, this Italian gem was gone before its time. Even a glowing review from the Chron's Alison Cook wasn't enough to save it, sadly, and it closed in September -- only five months after it opened.
Ocean's 819 West Alabama
Although fill-in food writer Jason Kerr more or less liked the restaurant when he reviewed it back in July, I was awestruck by how discombobulated the place was when I visited just a week prior to his review. For a ceviche restaurant -- ostensibly -- it offers only a few ceviches, and most of those aren't very well conceived, bungling flavors and a messy design on awkwardly large plates completely interfering with any enjoyment in the fish itself. And only two types of fish are offered for those ceviches: salmon or tuna. There seems to be no chef in the back attempting to tie any of the flavors together, just confused line cooks, to say nothing of the equally confused service, the exorbitant prices or the fact that Ocean's can't even cobble together a decent margarita. How this place remains open with sub-par food and service would be a mystery if the answer weren't so obvious: rich young things with money to burn own and patronize the place. Leave them to it and get your ceviche elsewhere.
BRC Gastropub 519 Shepherd
As evidenced by both my own review and Alison Cook's earlier review in the Chronicle, BRC Gastropub still has a lot of kinks to work out in the kitchen before it's the brother-in-arms to Branch Water Tavern -- right across the street -- that everyone hoped it would be. Former chef Jeff Axline left the restaurant just last month to return to Austin, which has left partner Lance Fegen to take over the kitchen for now. Time will tell if Fegen -- a chef in his own right and owner of the more successful Glass Wall -- can turn BRC around and make it as consistently good as it should be.
Phil's Texas Barbecue 110 S. Heights
Why anyone thought that a purpose-built Washington Avenue barbecue joint -- the 'cue equivalent of a McMansion -- would crank out award-winning barbecue is beyond me. Yet there was quite a bit of excitement surrounding Phil's opening, which pitched considerably when patrons discovered the awkward layout inside, unfriendly staffers and fairly mediocre barbecue. Pit master Gilbert Arismendez -- who was really the only thing Phil's had going for it -- is now gone, so it remains to be seen how the quality of the 'cue will fare in his absence.
Natachee's Supper 'n Punch 3622 Main
I wanted to like Natachee's. God, I wanted to like it. But like BRC, I found myself completely uncharmed by the Main Street restaurant next to the Continental Club, despite its Hee Haw atmosphere with real! live! horse! Despite finding most of the food (and the staff) wholeheartedly bland, I do see glimmers of hope in the oddest places here: the fried pickles and the luscious veggie burger.
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Jus' Mac 2617 Yale
How can I be so cold-hearted as to diss a place that serves macaroni and cheese -- only macaroni and cheese, the ultimate comfort food, the gods' gift to mankind?
Because -- excuse the pun -- it's more than a little cheesy. Fake plastic skillets? Disposable plastic utensils? Besides the latter being awful for the environment and bafflingly unnecessary in a non-fast food joint, plastic silverware is just tacky. Give your patrons real utensils to eat with, please; it would at least make up for the sometimes harrowing wait. (See comments section below; Jus' Mac has started using real servingware.) The mac & cheese, too, needs consistency: sometimes served far too hot, sometimes barely warm.
Octane 3402 N. Shepherd
With such a dearth of quality restaurants and watering holes in Garden Oaks, it was with great anticipation that Octane would bring not only good food, but also good wine and coffee. And it does deliver on those points. My criticism here is far less harsh than, say, that of Ocean's...but Octane needs to step up its service several notches. The restaurant gets a solid nod for offering so many local products and creating good food. But steep prices for the area and not terribly efficient staff keeps Octane from being a standout opening in 2010.