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A look back at the year’s best new restaurants

By Marene Gustin

 

Restaurants are the cultural culinary lifeblood of Houston; we have some of the finest in the country, and there are more and more new and exciting ones every year.

This past year was no different, with a glut of gourmet establishments springing up like bluebonnets in springtime. Here then are some of our favorites that opened in 2015 ranging from Greek food to pizzas to seafood and more and more seafood.

Sommelier Evan Turner finally realized his longtime dream of opening a modern Greek taverna, and it was a hit. Helen Greek Food and Wine, in a cozy Rice Village spot, marries the flavors of Greece with the abundant fresh fish and produce from the Gulf Coast. The tightly curated menu by chef William Wright sports items from vendors such as Black Hill Ranch and Blue Horizon Seafood. Specialties include a grilled, feta-brined chicken plated with crispy lemon confit potatoes and wood-grilled octopus with split peas. Do try the dolmades wrapped in local collard greens instead of grape leaves and save room for the sweet Greek doughnuts with a side of honey dipping sauce. Turner himself has put together one of the finest Hellenic wine lists in the country, and the staff can quickly guide you through pairings.

Foodies were sad when Ray Salti closed his Sorrel Urban Bistro last year, but he opened Bollo Woodfired Pizza in the Upper Kirby space. It’s a modern spot with high ceilings and Italian murals. The open kitchen allows you to see the imported Neapolitan stone oven where the pizzas are baked over wood at 800 degrees. Our favorite is the pesto pollo topped with goat cheese, grilled chicken, walnut pesto, red onions and sundried tomatoes. But don’t stop at the pizzas, there are larger plates of chicken Parmesan, thick pork chops with potatoes and a baked calzone. For a lighter meal try the chopped Caesar salad with its tangy housemade dressing along with the lobster ravioli — a sweet and meaty treat swimming in white truffle butter topped with shaved Parmesan. They have a full bar and excellent wine list to round out your meal and a locally made creamy gelato for dessert.

The folks over at Treadsack (D&T Drive Inn and Downhouse) had a very busy year, opening three new concepts in The Heights: Foreign Correspondents, Hunky Dory and Bernadine’s. Foreign Correspondents was a hotly awaited opening, probably because of the reputation of chef P. J. Stoops, who made a name for himself as a fishmonger promoting bycatch (trash fish) in tasty dishes. The new restaurant focuses on farm-to-table Northern and Northeastern Thai food. Think spicy blue crabs from Anahuac, Texas, deep-fried then stir-fried with spicy curry paste and basil. Fish dishes and noodle dishes shine, but there are plenty of excellent vegetarian menu items that even meat lovers can enjoy.

Hunky Dory also opened with a high-profile chef: Richard Knight, who rocked the Houston food scene with the snout-to-tail Feast. Now he brings his talents to the British-American menu here. Start with a slab of divine foie gras with wine poached apple slices or the gulf snapper tartare and move on to Knight’s take on traditional fish and chips or the kedgeree — smoked kippers with smoked rice and a poached egg. There’s also a pub menu that features an incredible dish of breaded pork fingers you dip in a spicy English mustard sauce. Pair with an Indian pale ale or one of the curated cocktails. The Sheep Dip may not sound delicious but the concoction of Sheep Dip Islay whiskey, Drambuie, egg white and bitters is a thing of beauty.

Last but not at all least of the Treadsack openings is Bernadine’s, which shares a building with Hunky Dory. Chef Graham Laborde has created a menu that reads like a love letter to Gulf Coast seafood. The I-10 Tower is a vision to behold: raw oysters, marinated blue crab claws, pickled shrimp, smoked fish dip and more. While the fresh seafood is the star here, we can’t get over the smoked ribs with sorghum popcorn (yes, popcorn) and pickled Satsuma. A real exciting menu paired with clever cocktail concoctions and a nice wine list.