UPDATED: The 10 Best New Houston Restaurants of 2012
Roost: The Upstart
Photo by Katharine Shilcutt
Roost is a restaurant that perfectly captures the current Houston culinary zeitgeist. No longer do our most celebrated chefs labor for years learning and perfecting standards and classics. These days, it's about returning to and exploring your roots as well as your passions -- no matter where in the world they came from. It's the era of the young turks, where wandering chefs come home not to play by the rules but to create their own.
In Kevin Naderi's case, that includes his own Persian heritage, the Southern farm-to-table aesthetic he embraced under Chef Randy Evans at Haven, Japanese flavors and ingredients picked up alongside Chef Robert Gadsby when he was still at Soma, and the Mediterranean and Thai influences so prevalent throughout Houston itself. When I describe Roost to people, it requires a complex description. But I'm okay with that -- good restaurants are often complex things.
"It's a neighborhood bistro, kind of," I start off by explaining. "It's sort of farm-to-table -- whatever that really means anymore -- but it also has a lot of Japanese and Middle Eastern and Thai influences. And really good craft beer. And it's super-casual." Usually, at least one of these things is enough to convince someone to give Roost a shot, although the restaurant certainly hasn't been without steady businesses since opening in mid-December of last year. I like to think it's this combination effect that is such a draw. So many of our restaurants no longer neatly fit into "French" or "New American" or even "fusion" boxes. We are simply living in a post-fusion world.
Triniti: The Aesthete
Photo by Katharine Shilcutt
Named for the "culinary trinity" of savory, sweet and spirits, chef Ryan Hildebrand's Triniti gives equal attention to all three menu components. Emphasizing beverages and desserts as much as the main courses is an unusual move, although it's one that pays off in this starkly contemporary space -- but Triniti is so much more than that.
Triniti is sort of the Avengers of Houston restaurants, with players assembled from some of the city's best dining rooms and kitchens. Familiar waiters from Voice, a manager from Reef, a sommelier from Vic & Anthony's, chefs with pedigrees from restaurants such as The Barbed Rose, bistro moderne, Aries, Voice and Textile, all of them under executive chef Ryan Hildebrand's steady leadership. It's a dream team of talent in both the kitchen and the front of the house, which has the potential to be an ego-driven mess. Instead, they function as a thoughtful, confident team -- something which is conveyed in even the smallest touches here, from the Riedel glasses and Laguiole knives to the soundtrack of MGMT, Cold War Kids, Passion Pit and M83 that encourages a fun atmosphere despite the upscale food.
The problem is what to call Triniti, though. Just as with Roost or Underbelly or Oxheart, there's no neat term for what Hildebrand and his team are serving here. At Triniti, you can see the bone structure of New American cuisine in its elegant, expressive sauce work and transformed comfort food, like a foie gras "breakfast" with crispy bacon, a delicate quail egg and fig syrup served alongside a torchon. Yet Triniti is not New American. In that "contemporary" vein, it incorporates newer techniques and -- more importantly -- local ingredients that give the restaurant a sense of place: a Railean rum-based cocktail or greens from Wood Duck Farms are here not as garnish but as an overall attitude toward the cuisine. For now, I'm happy with calling it simply exquisite.