by Jodie Eisenhardt
MUSEUM PARK CAFE
EXECUTIVE CHEF: JUSTIN BASYE www.museumparkcafe.com 1801 Binz Mon – Thurs: 5 –10pm; Fri – Sat: 5:30 –11pm 713.520.0108
CUISINE: New American
James Beard-nominated chef Justin Basye is back in the saddle after serving in a corporate capacity with Pappas after garnering high praise in the days of Stella Sola, and before that at Voice (inside Hotel Icon).
In the contemporary “Parc Binz” building that also hosts Bosta Coffee & Wine and Korean fried chicken spot, Dak & Bop, the café opened around the same time as Bistro Menil, causing a bit of “museum restaurant” confusion. Located across and down Binz from The Children’s Museum, Museum Park Café might be a bit off the beaten path, but you do not want to miss this cuisine. A fun happy hour menu from 5–7 weekdays features half-price small plates like the insanely delicious scallion and cheddar biscuits topped with salumi caramel for just $4, and the “blue label” burger made with a proprietary house grind, aged cheddar and duck fat fries is a steal for $10. Oh, and the $6 cocktails are fabulous, too.
For dinner, housemade pastas are a must, like the exquisite gnocchi with roasted mushrooms and a hit of acidic heat from pickled chiles balanced by wild arugula. Protein options do not disappoint, either – consider the Black Hills Ranch pork roast, served with creamy polenta, roasted winter veggies and toasted walnuts.
Pastry Chef wiz Chris Leung is the icing on the cake (so to speak) with his innovative, scrumptious desserts. I’m currently obsessed with mascarpone semifreddo. Mmm.
OWNER: FORMER ITALIAN OLYMPIC BOXER ANDREA MAGI www.ilmascalzone.com 12126 Westheimer and 1550 Shepherd HOURS: Varies by location – see website
Choosing Houston as the first U.S. outpost for his wildly successful concept in London, boxer Andrea Magi was impressed by H-Town’s growing interna- tional community and adventurous palate, with plans to open a total of five Houston locations with- in the next year.
The word “mascalzone” refers to a concoction that is a half-pizza, half- calzone (of course!). But the mascalzone is just one of many offerings at this joint with the somewhat hard-to-remember name. The thing is, you might want to retain it because the pizza here can be seriously good.
Preparing all of their ingredients in-house for sauces, pizzas and pastas with mostly organic ingredients, there is a strong commitment to quality. Utilizing a state-of-the-art wood-fired Marana Forni pizza oven, the pies come out fast with a crispy, flavorful crust and fantastic yeast pockets. There are myriad pizza offerings on the menu including plenty of vegetarian options. In fact, the menu is huge overall, with so many pizza, pasta and entrée options (chicken, sea bass, beef!), it’s somewhat over- whelming.
I say focus on the pizza and enjoy the beautiful simplicity of the “Funghi” with its light, just tangy-enough tomato base topped with fresh mushrooms and mozzarella or the “prosciutto e salame.” All pizzas can be ordered gluten-free. I strongly believe we need more good pizza in this town. Hopefully the Shepherd location will allow more to enjoy what the west side has been enjoying for several months.
EXECUTIVE CHEF: ERIN SMITH www.mainkitchenhouston.com 806 Main St. Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner Daily 713.237.1111
Cuisine: Globally inspired, seasonal
Chef Erin Smith is a hometown girl who received a biology degree, then graduated at the top of her class at the California Culinary Academy in San Fran before working with the likes of Thomas Keller and Mario Batali in NYC. Her return to Houston in 2010 found her at the helm of Plonk in Garden Oaks, then as Culinary Director for The Clumsy Butcher group (her biscuits still reign supreme at Blacksmith). All this before the age of thirty.
At the new JW Marriott downtown’s Main Kitchen, Smith aims to change Houston’s attitude about hotel dining with her keen execution of seasonal fare, working passionately with local purveyors. The menu is straightforward – not the least bit uppity – with attention focused on quality and bright flavors resulting in unexpected twists on otherwise familiar dishes in the industrial chic dining room, open to the “806” lounge/bar.
Don’t miss the superb pizza with “sausage ragu,” kale, pickled red peppers and chili flakes; the charred green beans with togarashi (a Japanese mixed- pepper spice), red peppers and toasted almonds and the Guajillo-spiced short rib tacos.
Smith has also been smart in choosing staff to complement her style, includ- ing the acquisition of the very talented Sharon Gofreed, formerly of Uchi, as pastry chef. Herbs, spices and savory elements result in damn delicious desserts … like you needed another reason to go.