"I think the menu has a nice balance between heartier and lighter," says Richard Sandoval. The chef, who logs 300,000 miles annually traveling to his more than 40 eateries from Dubai to Tokyo, knows a thing or two about opening a restaurant. His latest, Bayou & Bottle, debuted at 5 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 21.

He's right about the menu, whose small plates hop from a Gulf fish crudo and roasted oysters to beef tallow fries with flavorings similar to that of a borscht, and beef bones filled with oxtail and marrow. There are a few entrées, too, on the abbreviated menu, which Sandoval says will change four times a year. For now, Amish chicken with cilantro rice and gumbo is one. So are dayboat scallops in brown butter with pear and sunchoke. Desserts include a brownie with Bourbon, bacon and black banana ice cream.

The interior reflects the fact that this is indeed a whiskey and Bourbon bar with its woods and leathers, but somehow, it doesn't feel like a fusty steakhouse at all. In fact, it's surprisingly light. "We are want this to be the living room of Houston," explains Sandoval, adding that he didn't want it to be forbiddingly dark or excessively masculine.

Robert Day, Sandoval's director of operations for his entire restaurant group, is in Houston through the Super Bowl making sure that everything runs smoothly at Bayou & Bottle. Along with bar manager Judith Piotrowski, he conceived the mix of classic and original cocktails. Piotrowski was opening bar manager at both Coppa and Weights + Measures, but says it was a unique challenge training her staff before the restaurant was built. They only began working at the marble bar, the longest in Houston, on Sunday.

Whether it's sipping an 11 Week Ride, biting into a banh mi or putting at Top Golf next door, Houston is sure to be ready for its new living room.

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