UPDATED: The 10 Best New Houston Restaurants of 2012
Oxheart: The Ingenue
Photo by Katharine Shilcutt
Although the name "Oxheart" can conjure up visions of bloody hunks of meat, of offal in hearty portions or animal entrails scored abbatoir-style, Oxheart itself is anything but dense, dark or heavy. Instead, the ethereal space -- which only seats a demure 30-odd people -- focuses more on seasonal produce and Gulf seafood than anything else, and employs the light-handed techniques chef Justin Yu learned while working abroad in Belgium and Denmark. There are only three tasting menus available each evening, and good luck walking in any night of the week to find an open seat.
Oxheart is coyly maddening, in the best sort of way. How does a place in which a team of sous chefs methodically plates dishes with tweezers manage to come off as completely and beguilingly carefree? How does a restaurant this young manage to display such an astonishing depth of maturity? And how do Yu and his wife Karen Man manage to transform such simple ingredients as squash or chard into otherworldly works of art? One thing is definitely certain: Houston has certainly never seen anything like it.
Photo by Marco Torres The Pass & Provisions: The Rogue
Why would a pair of talented young chefs leave promising careers in New York City to take a chance on Houston? Their friends back in the Big Apple must have surely thought Seth Siegel-Gardner and Terrence Gallivan had gone off the reservation when the two best friends moved back to hometown with nothing more than blind hope of securing their own restaurant one day.
The two men lived in a cramped Heights bungalow with their wives and dogs while they scoured for investors by day and cooked underground pop-up dinners by night, the buzz around the two chefs growing louder every day in 2011 and 2012. But success came with its own issues: The pair's Just August and Pilot Light dinner series were so popular that tickets sold out the day they were announced; they won a MasterMind award from the Houston Press, but the publicity caused their Pilot Light series to get shut down by the Health Department.
Finally, though, the pair were able to secure a restaurant. But true to their unique path, The Pass & Provisions isn't just a restaurant. It's two restaurants in one: Provisions, the far more casual side of the two-pronged approach, opened back in September. The Pass -- which only seats a small, set number of people in one, intimate seating per night -- just opened a couple of weeks ago (so it's not ready for consideration on this year's list), yet it's already drawing rave reviews. When chef Marcus Samuelsson came to Houston in July, he promised great things from the two young chefs who'd once worked under him at Aquavit and August: "You're going to have a great restaurant in your community," Samuelsson said. So far, Siegel-Gardner and Gallivan are proving him right.