The Opening & Closing of the Week: Dec 12-18
Each Friday, Gastronaut rounds up the most notable openings and closings of the week.
It used to be that all of the hot new Montrose restaurants were opening not along Montrose Blvd. itself but along Lower Westheimer. Now that the dollar amount of that real estate has become dearer by the day, more restaurants are expanding into other areas of the neighborhood: BCN Taste & Tradition at Richmond and Roseland; Pax Americana just around the corner at Montrose and Oakley; and now chef/owner Claire Smith's newest venture, Woodbar, at Montrose and Branard, which opened this week.
3939 Montrose Blvd.
Woodbar is located directly next door to Canopy, Smith's original Montrose restaurant (which resides in the corner space once occupied by chef Monica Pope's famed Boulevard Bistrot). Like Canopy, it will offer a variety of fresh-baked pastries from pastry chef Jonny Ugarte and a list of clever cocktails. Unlike Canopy—or Shade, Smith's popular 19th St. restaurant in the Heights—the emphasis at Woodbar is on fast-casual dining. The restaurant opens daily from 6:30 a.m. to midnight, encouraging people to drop by for coffee and grab 'n' go pastries in the morning, cocktails and light bites in the evenings.
On the cocktail end of things, look for concoctions from drinks whiz Diedre Goodhue such as a strawberry-pepper daiquiri made with aged white rum; a pineapple smash with rye whiskey; and a Phoni Negroni with mezcal and cinnamon syrup. On the small bites menu from executive chef Liz Brooks, you'll find mini lobster rolls; eggplant and onion rings with harissa and creamy feta sauces; and a trio of empanadas that includes one stuffed with butternut squash, shiitake mushrooms, and smoked mozzarella.
In closings news, Cafe Japon has said sayonara to its cramped quarters in the same Upper Kirby development that also houses Twin Peaks, Paul's Kitchen, Ruggles Black, Elevation Burger, Taco Cabana, and a bank. Parking had become increasingly difficult to come by in recent years as the corner of Kirby Dr. and Hwy. 59 drew more attention, while Cafe Japon itself withered in the face of nearby competition from the likes of Kata Robata, Blue Fish House, Sushi King, and Miyako, not to mention steeply rising rents in the area.
Cafe Japon will always hold a place in my heart as the first place I ate sushi (thanks, Mom!) and the only restaurant in Houston where I ever spotted a legitimate [to me] celebrity: The Cure lead singer Robert Smith, who quietly ate a plate of nigiri in a booth across from what I'm assuming was his manager, while the band was on tour in Houston in 2000. It's tough to imagine Smith would eat at Cafe Japon nearly 15 years later, and I often wonder if I dreamed the whole thing.