Restaurant News

Openings and Closings: Four Seasons Gets a Pan-Latin Steak House, The Roastery Closes

Seafood dishes like aguachile and ceviche bring Latin flavors to Toro Toro.
Seafood dishes like aguachile and ceviche bring Latin flavors to Toro Toro. Photo by Richard Sandoval Hospitality

Toro Toro
, 1300 Lamar, will open at the Four Seasons Hotel Houston in fall 2021. This will be the sixth location for the concept. The hotel has partnered with Richard Sandoval Hospitality to bring his award-winning global Pan-Latin Steakhouse to Houston. It will open in the hotel’s revamped third floor restaurant space, replacing Quattro, the now-closed Italian restaurant known for its spectacular brunches..

Toro Toro is a combination of the Japanese word for tuna and the Spanish word for bull, representing a menu that will feature seafood and steaks. With vibrant Pan-Latin flavors from Rodizio-style Churrasco and creative shareable small plates, the new restaurant will also take inspiration from the convivial dining culture of Central and South America. The restaurant will feature an open kitchen with a wood-burning grill with meats presented and carved tableside. There will be family-style ceviche, tiraditos (a Peruvian raw fish dish) and Mexican street snacks called antojitos.

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A spread of vibrant dishes at Toro Toro.
Photo by Richard Sandoval Hospitality
Toro Toro's expansive wine list will highlight Latin wines and classic Latin cocktails like mojitos and margaritas, all hand-muddled with fresh ingredients and artful garnishes.

"This is an exciting opportunity to expand upon the success of our existing partnership with Richard Sandoval Hospitality to bring a new elevated and interactive dining experience to Houston," says Tom Segesta, General Manager of Four Seasons Hotel Houston. "Richard’s global reputation coupled with the continued success of his culinary partnerships with many of our sister Four Seasons properties will be the perfect addition to our city’s vibrant dining scene."

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The bar at Toro Toro is bright and open.
Rendering by Meyer Davis
The redesign of the hotel’s third floor restaurant and dining venues culminates a nearly six year relationship between the luxury hotel and world-renowned design firm Meyer Davis. The design firm is responsible for reimagining the hotel’s reception, lobby, bar & lounge and meeting areas in a modern Texas style.

Toro Toro itself will feature a stunning art program curated with works of Houston-based female artists and layered with references to Latin America. Besides the main elegant main dining area, open kitchen and central bar, Toro Toro will also offer a large overflow banquet room, ideal for corporate events or special gatherings.

Toro Toro will be open daily serving breakfast, lunch, dinner and weekend brunch.

Peanut Tikka showcases Da Gama's spices.
Photo by Ninfa Sanchez

Da Gama Canteen, 600 N. Shepherd, opens May 15 at M-K-T Heights in Building 5. The Anglo-Indian concept comes from Rishi Hospitality which is owned and operated by Chef Rick Di Virgilio and wife Shiva Di Virgilio. The couple also owns OPORTO Fooding House and Wine at 125 W. Gray.

Named for Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama, the modern cafe by day and wine bar by night is influenced by his spice route, with inspiration from the Portuguese-Indian territories of Goa, East Africa and Portugal. The diverse menu will offer fine-casual Indian canteen food with freshly toasted spices. House-baked breads include naan from a tandoori oven.

A look at the menu shows starters such as Three Chili Paneer and Masala Hummus. The Kali Dal is a dish of slow-simmered black lentils and there's also Caldo Amarelo, a soup of cauliflower, kale, potato and cashews. No Portuguese-inspired menu would be complete without salted cod and it shows up here as fritters. There's also seafood including a grilled whole mackerel and Goan Fish Curry.  Meat entrees such as Pork Vinho de Alho, a braised pork curry, and Galhina Africana,  a grilled Afro-Portuguese spicy half chicken are on the menu as well. Desserts include its Sticky Date Cake with ginger spice (not the girl band version), dulce de leche caramel and caramelized banana.

Sticky Date Cake is a tempting dessert of ginger spice cake with caramel and bananas.
Photo by Ninfa Sanchez
In addition to the Indian canteen food, customers will also be able to order from the Chai Naasto cafe window when it launches in a few weeks. It will offer specialty drinks such as chai, organic coffee, tropical cocktails and light street food like Tandoori rolls, samosa chaat and curry bowls.

The wine list is even more diverse with natural, biodynamic and sustainable selections from well-known producers like France, Italy, Spain and California but also lesser known vineyards in South Africa, Greece, Slovenia and Georgia (the country, not the state).

The restaurant will open for dinner service only for now with lunch and brunch options planned for the near future.

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Maybe it should be called a fatty melt.
Photo by Kirsten Gilliam
Back Table Kitchen & Bar
, 2301 North Millbend, will debut June 2 in The Woodlands. The new culinary concept from The Howard Hughes Corporation will open in the space formerly occupied by another Hughes restaurant, Robard's Steakhouse. Back Table will offer a casually stylish setting on the grounds of The Woodlands Resort with over 5,000 square feet of restaurant space and an 800 square-foot terrace that overlooks the 18th green of the Panther Trail golf course. The waterfront venue is designed to evoke the charm and feeling of the Coastal South. In The Woodlands.

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Take in the green view at Back Table.
Photo by Jenn Duncan
While Robard's was a more fine dining steakhouse concept, Back Table is geared to be family-friendly with an enclosed game room off the entry with classic games such as foosball and darts. The in-house design team at Howard Hughes has partnered with Collaborative Projects, a Houston-based firm known for other Houston dining and bar venues such as UB Preserv, Julep, The Pastry War, The Rice Box River Oaks and Goode Company Armadillo Palace. The design partnership has resulted in a space that takes advantage of the natural setting with windows overlooking the green and pond and high ceilings with a framework of beams leading to a cupola. Details such as exposed brick veneer walls and sealed concrete floors add a fresh, more casual vibe while lighting is provided by not only the giant windows but also schoolhouse-style pendants with a modern aesthetic. The dining room has seating for 111 with taupe banquettes, blue upholstered chairs and black walnut tables.

Just as the bar at Robards was an expansive space for mingling, the bar area at Back Table will offer seating for 48 and will be a focal point of the restaurant.  There are a dozen beers on tap, a curated wine list of New World varietals and handcrafted cocktails. Creative, colorful, and we assume, delicious, milkshakes will be available with or without alcohol. Once brunch is introduced, guests can expect tableside sangrias and Bloody Marys.

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Over-the-top is the way we like it.
Photo by Kirsten Gilliam
The modern, comfort food menu was created by consulting chef David Morris with mains such as Louisiana Shrimp and Grits, Duck Leg Confit and handlebar Short Rib. Smaller plate options include Voodoo Beer Batter Fish Sticks, Duck Gravy Poutine, Tennessee Tonkatsu Ramen (say wha?) and Crispy Gulf Oyster BLT. There's also a selection of gourmet burgers and sandwiches and bust-your-britches items like the Oxtail Chili Dog or Bif's Patty Melt. For slimmer appetites, there are fresh dishes like Country Ham & Summer Melon and Coal-Roasted Beets & Farmer Lee's Spinach.

Back Table will initially be open daily for dinner beginning at 4 p.m. Lunch and brunch services will be added soon.

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State fare brings its southern-inspired fare to The Woodlands.
Photo by Julie Soefer
State Fare, 1900 Hughes Landing, is expected to open in late 2021. The announcement comes from The Howard Hughes Corporation and Culinary Khancepts which operates two other State Fare Kitchen & Bar locations, Liberty Kitchen and its sister company Star Cinema Grill. The new and third State Fare restaurant will join other dining establishments at Restaurant Row overlooking the 200-acre Lake Woodlands with a fire-pit on the outdoor patio for enjoying happy hour. There will also be seasonal live music events from the Rock the Row concert series at Hughes Landing.

Omar Khan, President and CEO of Culinary Khancepts says, " I’m excited to share that and be a part of The Woodlands community. The Hughes Landing location is a first-class development that perfectly aligns with our brand and vision."

Gensler Houston, the same architect for State Fare Kitchen & Bar in Sugar Land, will lead the design of the new space.

The Roastery
, all four locations, will close May 16 permanently, according to CultureMap Houston.  With four famous New York restaurateurs behind the coffee concept, the first location opened in the two-story H-E-B grocery store at 5106 Bissonnet in 2018. With the name recognition of Four J Foods' partners, Jason Giagrande, Jonathan Waxman, Jimmy Bradley and Joey Campanaro, it seemed assured of success as three subsequent locations within Houston area H-E-Bs soon followed. The shuttering of the four locations was announced on Instagram. Part of the announcement read, " We'll be ceasing operations at our current locations and are looking to relocate in the near future to continue to serve our Houston family. " So, perhaps it's just a break-up with the grocery store chain.

The Roastery will be open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. with a limited menu until its closure.

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Houston Farmers Market celebrates the city's culinary diversity.
Photo by Houston Farmers Market

Houston Farmers Market, 2520 Airline Drive, is nearing its final phase of completion but many of its vendors who have previously been working out of tents have now moved into the open air market itself. The market has been in operation since 1942 on the east side of The Heights from The Farmers’ Marketing Association of Houston Inc. which sold the property to MLB Capital Partners in May 2017. MLB committed to keeping the property as a farmers market, albeit with a number of upgrades to the infrastructure with climate-controlled spaces, shaded open-air market areas, restrooms, and common seating areas. The more organized parking and green landscaping will also make for a better customer experience. Dedicated green spaces will serve as a setting for community programming, such as chef demonstrations, wine tastings and  live entertainment.

Todd Mason of MLB Capital Partners said, "As a visitor of this market for over three decades, this is a project I am very passionate about. Our goal is to maintain the cultural aspects that are synonymous with this great market, while enhancing the visitor experience and reinvigorating the Houston Farmers’ Market as a destination for all Houstonians." Mason's business partner, Chris Shepherd, is a project consultant for the market and his Underbelly Hospitality will open Wild Oats with Nick Fine soon, along with a yet-to-be announced fast-casual concept.

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Houston is becoming a culinary mecca.
Photo by Houston Farmers Market

Joining Underbelly's concepts will also be Crawfish & Noodles which will open its second location at The Houston Farmers Market this fall.  The 3,298 square-foot, full-service restaurant will overlook the market’s nearly one-acre green space. Crawfish and Noodles is known for its Viet-Cajun dishes, such as Viet-Cajun crawfish, and its more authentic Vietnamese fare.  Owner and James Beard Award finalist Trong Nguyen said about the new location, " I have been coming to the Houston Farmers Market ever since I first moved to Houston 30 years ago. This is still the same market, just modernized. I’m excited to be a part of this project because open market concepts are exactly what Houston is about, community."

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Superfruit bowls are super fruity.
Photo by Original Chop Shop

Original ChopShop, 5018 San Felipe and 3021 Kirby, will open this summer. The San Felipe location will open in August, making it the first in Houston and the sixteenth for the brand. It will be followed by the River Oaks store in September.

The healthy food concept began in Old Town Scottsdale, Arizona in 2013 but its debut in Houston is a natural expansion considering that one of its investors is Mac Haik of Mac Haik Enterprises LTD. Most Houstonians know Haik as a former wide receiver for the Houston Oilers and also his fleet of car dealerships. Haik is also an investor in bellagreen American Bistro which has five Houston locations.

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Breakfast wraps at ChopShop get you going.
Photo by Original ChopShop
Original ChopShop offers nutritional sandwiches, salads and bowls for folks looking to enjoy healthy ingredients with freshness at the core. There are Protein Bowls like Thai Coconut Chicken, Spicy Korean Steak, Green Curry Tofu and Teriyaki Chicken. The Superfruit Bowls include Acai and Pitaya and there are parfaits like the PB&J Greek Yogurt. There's a variety of salads plus sandwiches such as the Moroccan Turkey, Veggie and Hummus and Chicken and Prosciutto. There is also a breakfast menu available till noon. Like many health-conscious food businesses, there's a plethora of fresh juices and protein shakes. Kale Cleanse, anyone?

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Make it easy on yourself and let experts do the mixing.
Photo by Ready to Drink

Ready to Drink Pop-up, 1919 Washington, is now open and will be open for at least the next three months, taking over the private room off the patio at Alba Huerta's Southern-inspired bar, Julep. Huerta has partnered with Luis Villegas, a veteran bartender and owner of Big Ice HTX to create a 1,000 square-foot space devoted to the pleasure of cocktails.

While Julep was closed during the pandemic shutdown, Huerta began selling pre-made cocktails to go in order to keep her beloved concept and its employees afloat. Now, Julep is back open to the public who can drop in for one of her famous craft cocktails and then take a looky-loo at the bottled selections at Ready to Drink.

There are classic favorites and modern creations for every taste. The bottled cocktails are all made at Julep and include Negronis, martinis, Old Fashioneds, Bees Knees and more. Each pre-bottled cocktail has a shelf life of three weeks. The margaritas are also available in gallon or half-gallon sizes.

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Alba Huerta and Luis Villegas are Ready to Drink.
Photo by Emily Jaschke
With its dedication to all things cocktail, customers can also purchase large format ice from Villegas' craft ice company Big Ice HTX. The ice options range from crushed to large cubes in a variety of shapes and sizes. True cocktail devotees can also add accessories like strainers, muddlers, jiggers and shakers. A wall of herbs are available for garnishing and flavoring drinks as well as dried garnishes. Prosecco gummies, whiskey flavored popcorn and mimosa lollipops are fun treats and there is a selection of cocktail books to help newbies learn the art of home mixology, including Huerta's own award-winning Julep: Southern Cocktails Refashioned.

While Ready to Drink is currently a long-term pop-up, there are hints that it may have its own brick and mortar location in the future.

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Dish Society returns to Finn Hall.
Photo by Isabel Protomartir

Dish Society at Finn Hall, 712 Main, reopened May 11. The farm-fresh concept has five larger locations around Houston. As pandemic restrictions have loosened and vaccination rates rise, food halls like Finn Hall are starting to gain steam again as their vendors, and customers, return.

The Finn Hall location will have limited hours for a short time as things get back to normal. For the time being, Dish Society at Finn Hall will be open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Thursday.

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She's a Caniac, Caniac, on the floor.
Photo by Joel Bordelon
Raising Cane's, 4055 Little York, will celebrate its grand opening May 18. There will be the 'Lucky 20' drawing for Free Cane's for a Year to twenty winners plus free Cane's T-shirts for the first 100 customers, 13 and up, who purchase a combo meal. From May 18 through May 25, customers can enter to win $1,000 for the charity of their choice plus Free Cane's for a Year. One entry per person.

Founder and CEO Todd Graves began the chicken finger concept in 1996 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and it has exploded to more than 500 locations in the United States. Graves is now producing a streaming series on Discovery + called "Restaurant Recovery" in which Graves, along with industry professionals and celebrities, helps struggling restaurants to get back on track financially after the pandemic crisis. Houston's own Irma Galvan of Irma's Original is one of the restaurants featured, as reported by the Houston Chronicle.

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Feges BBQ has been selling its meats and sauce at Urban Harvest Farmers Market.
Photo by Erin Smith
Feges BBQ, 8217 Long Point, is getting closer to an opening date (possibly late June/early July) and it is currently hiring for the Spring Branch location. However, with business picking up again at the Greenway Plaza location and the debut of the new restaurant nearing, Feges BBQ will have its last day at the Urban Harvest Farmers Market, 2752 Buffalo Speedway, May 29.

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Baby got back ribs at KP's Kitchen.
Photo by Emily Loving
KP's Kitchen, 700 Town and Country Boulevard, is hosting a grand opening May 18. There will be a ribbon cutting ceremony at 1 p.m. with members of the Greater Houston Chapter of the Texas Restaurant Association.
The elegant American bistro softly opened in mid-February, as we reported here in the Houston Press. It comes from Kerry Pauly, an industry veteran who has worked at Houston restaurants such as benjy's, The Classic and Local Foods. Pauly, who lives in the Memorial area near the restaurant, wants it to be the type of neighborhood bistro where families and friends can enjoy American and Southern fare in a comfortable atmosphere with 2,079 square feet of indoor space and a 372 square foot patio for outdoor dining and relaxing.

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It's patio time in Houston.
Photo by Emily Loving
The menu includes dishes like 12-Hour Baby Back Ribs, Southern Fried Chicken Tenders, Hot Chicken Sandwich, Seared Ahi Tuna Salad and crave-able veggie items such as Crispy Cauliflower and Crispy Brussels Sprouts. Desserts such as Key Lime Tart and Nanny's Creme Fraiche Cheesecake are comfort desserts with a sophisticated touch. KP's Kitchen recently added a weekend brunch menu on Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. so late risers have plenty of time to make it to brunch.

The restaurant is currently still BYOB.

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Greg Peters is one man with two jobs.
Photo by Anthony Smith
Underbelly Hospitality is making some changes to its staff with promotions for some and a couple of new hires. Chris Shepherd and business partner, Todd Mason, are preparing the company's existing restaurants for the growth they plan with more new restaurants including Georgia James Tavern and Wild Oats.

The first promotion is for Greg Peters as he moves up from his role as chef de cuisine at Georgia James to executive chef at both Georgia James and Hay Merchant. Along with Peters, will be Jeff Taylor, general manager at Georgia James who will now take on the dual role at GJ and Hay Merchant as well. The merging of management at the side by side concepts was a necessary one, according to Peters. "We understand that there are two different concepts here but one business to run." Georgia James will also have a new sous chef, Ben Snellenberger, a Houston native who attended the Culinary Institute of America in New York, eventually returning to Houston to work at restaurants such as Oxheart and Coltivare. Most recently, Snellenberger served as executive chef at Calle Onze.

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Nick Wong is taking the reins at UB Preserv.
Photo by Julie Soefer
Another Underbelly Hospitality shift includes Nick Wong's move from chef de cuisine at UB Preserv to executive chef, shifting the perspective fully from Shepherd to Wong.  Besides being named a Rising Star Chef in 2019 by StarChefs, the California native was previously a team member at David Chang's culinary empire Momofuku, a detail he shares with a new hire, Tara MacMullen. She is a former service director at Momofuku restaurants having spent spent seven years overseeing multiple Momofuku restaurants in the United States.  She joins the team at UB Preserv as general manager.

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A pound of bacon sausage and Chris Shepherd's smiling face.
Photo by Julie Soefer
Chris Shepherd's Bacon Sausage Co. is now selling pre-packaged sausages at 60-plus H-E-B stores in Texas. Now that the Take and Bake collaboration with the San Antonio-based grocery store has ended, the James Beard Award-winning chef is continuing his relationship with H-E-B with his Pecan Smoked Bacon Sausage, an item Shepherd serves at his steakhouse Georgia James and also makes its way into dishes such as Nick Wong's fried rice at UB Preserv.

Shepherd first served the sausage, which was originally made with lamb bellies, at his first restaurant, Underbelly. However, he found pork to be an even better base and is collaborating with Belville Meat Market to produce the sausage for H-E-B and wholesale. A sixteen-ounce package retails for $8.29.
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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.