By Jim Ayres
I rarely go downtown. Pride—of course, I’m there. Otherwise, it takes a very special event to put me among the skyscrapers, where I invariably get lost.
Sometimes, though, curiosity gets the best of me. A few years ago, I took a tour of the newly (and still) trendy Market Square area for this column. And a couple of weeks ago, I finally got to see all the new restaurants and hotels that opened in the shadow of Super Bowl LI.
I’m impressed with all the dining options. Xochi, Chef Hugo Ortega’s latest and by most accounts finest, takes pride of place at the new Marriott Marquis. Featuring upscale cuisine from the Mexican state of Oaxaca, Xochi’s colorful and creative dishes are the crowning glory for this year’s James Beard Award-winning Best Chef, Southwest.
Looking for something more casual, where you can catch a game, or ten? Just stroll across the Marquis lobby and you’re at Biggio’s, the city’s splashiest sports bar and restaurant. While Xochi is chef-driven, the food here is strictly business hotel and priced accordingly. Burgers start at $16. No one seems to mind a bit.
Brasserie du Parc brings Paris to Discovery Green. Nestled in the ground floor of One Park Place, you’ll find mussels, steaks, French Onion Soup, duck—all the staples. There’s also Crêperie du Parc, a traditional French crêperie with a walk-up window for deliciousness to go.
Over at the newly renovated Four Seasons, Bayou & Bottle is “Houston’s Living Room” according to their website. Ostensibly a whiskey bar with a great selection of craft cocktails, this lounge also offers Korean BBQ Wings, a Kale Caesar Salad, and a decadent Short Rib “Knife and Fork” sandwich.
By this time, I was getting hungry, and I had an Astros game to get to. Fortunately, the Minute Maid Park area has two new Italian options owned by none other than Jim Crane. Potente is the more upscale of the two. Its menu brandishes such terms as “Caviar,” “Branzino,” “Wagyu” and “Truffles”. It’s open for dinner only, but I couldn’t imagine mixing anything that rich with ballpark beer anyway.
So it was into Osso & Kristalla I strolled. It’s a more casual, modern trattoria open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Here I snacked on Polenta Tots with marinara, a tasty variation on the time-tested potato version. I was torn between a Chopped Italian Salad with grilled chicken, pancetta, artichoke and about a dozen other ingredients (all good), and a hearty Italian Dagwood sandwich with six meats and two cheeses on sourdough.
I wanted those so badly, but I ended up with a Sicilian Barbecue Shrimp with more of that creamy polenta and an olive focaccia so toothsome that I wanted a whole round of it to take into the stadium. Which, somehow, I got and did without detection!
Osso & Kristalla is bright and cheerful. Anytime you’re downtown and want something light and Italian, this is your place.
Osso & Kristalla
1515 Texas Avenue
Houston, Texas 77002