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A look back at the year’s best new restaurants

By Marene Gustin


Houston’s dining scene has rocketed to foodie acclaim in the past several years and 2014 showed no signs of slowing that trend, with several high profile openings from bakeries to Korean culinary spots.

And the Museum District benefitted most from the new openings, garnering three new hot spots.

With world-class museums and the beautiful Hermann Park, this area is already a draw for Houstonians and tourists alike. Now it’s also a dining destination in its own right.

Take Museum Park Café, the airy new eatery inside the Parc Binz building brings together two stellar talents: Executive chef Jason White, formerly of Oxheart and Revival Market and Chris Leung of the acclaimed Cloud 10 Creamery now have the reins. At the café they combine their skills to create delicious bone marrow appetizers, cheddar biscuits, slabs of prime rib and duck fat fries that marry with smooth seasonal mousses and beautiful chocolate truffles.

On the other side of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, just down Montrose Boulevard, you’ll find the latest from restaurateur Shepard Ross: Pax Americana. In this former home of Thai Sticks chef Adam Dorris serves a tightly curated menu of American dishes that include Gulf Coast golden tilefish, roasted bone marrow and braised Berkshire pork collar. It’s a small space, that can get loud during peak hours, but the food is worth the visit and, as befits a Museum District restaurant, there’s a real Warhol hanging on one wall.bistro menil vue room facing menil collection credit bistro menil

The newest addition to the neighborhood is Bistro Menil, the café addition to The Menil Collection grounds. Run by chef Greg Martin, this charming, bright and artsy space offers growlers and wines on tap. The food is wonderful as well. Do try the eggplant “fries” with anchovy aioli and a black olive tapenade for dipping. Good entrées include the chicken Ballotine, stuffed and resting on a bed of wild mushroom duxelle and the grilled quail glazed with a Pomegranate molasses.

  bistro menil bar credit bistro menil bistro menil exterior with love jack credit bistro menil                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Bistro Menil Vue Room | Bistro Menil Bar | Bistro Menil Exterior with Love Jack                                                                                                                                                                                     

Common Bond Cafe & Bakery has been packed since it opened and has garnered rave reviews, from four-star ratings to winning a spot on almost all the best of the year lists. Chef Roy Shvartzapel and team wow with everything from simple buttery croissants to Vietnamese style sandwiches offered at lunch and the perfectly fluffy scrambled eggs that are a breakfast staple.Another highlight of the year in eating was not in one area but in a niche: bakeries.

Pondicheri Bake Lab + Shop is an extension of chef Anita Jaisinghani’s popular Indian eatery in the multi-use West Ave complex. The second floor bakery and shop offers the chef’s sweet and savory pastries as well as jars of spices, chutneys and curries. There is an open kitchen so you can watch the baking in progress and also a juice bar with some tasty vegetable concoctions blended with turmeric and ginger.

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And 2014 was a very good year for pizza, particularly with the addition of Coltivare Pizza & Garden in The Heights. The Italian-American eatery from Revival Market’s chef Ryan Pera and Morgan Weber boasts its own vegetable garden and wood-burning pizza oven that combine to create some of the best pies in town. Versions range from simple to the duck pizza dressed with fresh basil from the garden. They also serve a menu of rustic Italian staples like pastas, steamed mussels and flash fried cauliflower. Be warned that it is small and they don’t take reservations.

Last year’s new Korean and sushi hot spot Nara underwent some retooling for it’s first birthday, paring down their Korean dishes and increasing their delicious fresh sushi offerings. But there was another contender to the Korean crown that opened this year.

 

Dosi opened in the same Upper Kirby neighborhood and has been winning converts to Korean flavors since its April opening. Besides chef Jordan Asher’s spicy tapas-style plates of Korean fried chicken and Wagyu beef jerky, this stylized late-night spot also offers soju, a traditional infused alcohol.

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        Dosi food sample                               Dosi bar

Certified Master Chef Fritz Gitschner opened 60 Degrees Mastercrafted in Upper Kirby. Yes, the name may be a mouthful but not nearly as much as the delicious tastes of the Akaushi steaks and burgers chef creates here. While any meal here is special this restaurant boast one of the best Sunday brunch menus around. Come early and grab a table on the gorgeous patio and prepare to feast on such delicacies from the buffet as crawfish corn pancakes, tenderloin and country style pate.

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And last summer saw the return of one of Houston’ favorite seafood wizards, Mark Holley, longtime head chef at the old Pesce. Holley’s Seafood Restaurant & Oyster Bar in Midtown can make a meal at the oyster bar, where you can watch the shucking and grilling of barbecued oysters. But don’t pass up such simple dishes as blackened grouper or the more complex muddled stew of pork belly, shrimp, clams, red snapper and tomato broth. And if money is no problem, go for the caviar service and enjoy.

       picture on right: Mark Holley, former head chef at Pesce, now has

      his own place in Midtown.