By Jim Ayres
Make no mistake—Fairview Street rocks day and night, at least east of Montrose Boulevard. Things get quieter as you go west, but that’s changing thanks to one of Houston’s most exciting new restaurants
I had the pleasure of visiting Riel with a dear friend on a recent Tuesday evening. Riel, as many of you know and some of you may lament, is the new occupant at 1927 Fairview, formerly House of Té which closed last year. Even at 6:30 on a typically slow weeknight, the place was bustling. The word is out. Riel is Montrose’s latest hot spot.
Décor inside is a refreshing change from the woods and browns that have dominated the last few years. A muted blue and gray color scheme sets off space-agey light fixtures that someone designed! No bare Edison bulbs here (though they’ll reappear in an upcoming column). Polished concrete floors amplify the sound level but look great.
Conversation over cocktails wasn’t too hard. I ordered a Riel Martini, and my first sip was a pleasant shock. Sweet, spicy aquavit (did I taste cardamom? Pear?) made its presence known along with Aylesbury Duck vodka and Cocchi Americano, an aromatic aperitif. Ice cold and very James Bond.
All the food we tried was spectacular. For starters, we couldn’t resist a bowl of Tempura Cauliflower with kimchi hot sauce. The sauce, which tasted a lot like Texas Pete—not a bad thing at all—and funky fermented cabbage is a natural pair for the crispy white vegetable. Not a single bite was left.
A Gulf Fish Karaage featured tender chunks of fried red snapper and a dill ranch dipping sauce. The fish had that distinctive just-caught flavor, so fresh that the sauce, good as it is, isn’t necessary. A side order of Pierogi, doughy crescents stuffed here with Texas cheddar cheese and
mashed potato, showed Chef Ryan Lachaine’s combination of Gulf Coast and Ukrainian influences to great effect.
Thrilling is the only way I can describe Riel’s Hangar Steak. Served the most alluring shade of medium rare, it came with more pierogi and a brushstroke of horseradish cream, and made me starry-eyed—even more than the light fixture above our table! Every perfectly cooked bite sang to me: “ You gotta come back to this place.”
And I will, often. Prices aren’t too bad. Service is excellent; they’re genuinely happy to see you. I can’t wait to try Riel’s Amberjack served in ham broth, or Montreal Smoked Meat (think pastrami on rye, just a little more special). Houston’s foodie illuminati rave on the Sticky Toffee Pudding dessert with foie gras. And there’s a 32-ounce New York Strip that can feed three or four, which makes its $95 price a bargain.
But on that Tuesday night, as we left a full dining room, we stopped and congratulated Chef Lachaine on his success. Everything was wonderful, we told him. As he thanked us, he was grinning ear-to-ear. And so were we.
1927 Fairview Street Houston, Texas 77019