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The new Ava is AWESOME (Houston, TX)

February 8th, 2011 No Comments

Last night Robert Del Grande and Lonnie Schiller opened the doors of their latest venture Ava in the West Ave complex on Kirby and Westheimer. What I found inside is EXACTLY what Houston has been missing – an inspired restaurant with a modern sensibility and a new spin on recognizable dishes.  It feels like something you would find in New York.

Candi Schiller, Lonnie’s wife, is behind the rustic yet contemporary decor.  She also created the aesthetic for RDG, which is a little stuffy for my taste.  At Ava, she decorated the space to be more trendy, using exposed brick, walnut and pine stripped flooring, metal tables, and plush velvet booths.  I love, love, love the Italian light fixtures which are think slices of wood tangled into a sphere.  Lonnie’s daughter painted all of the art you’ll find on the walls.

Needless to say, I love the look of it and the food is amazing too!  Check out the menu.

What to see what we chose???

Tomato soup with pesto (fabulously thin and not filling)

Marinated Mushroom salad with speck and some sort of delicious cheese drizzled with truffle oil. This is a half of the dish – Edward and I split it.  It’s really too rich for just one person.

Their wedge salad with Gorgonzola (which I prefer to Blue Cheese).

Linguine with gumbo lump crab in a fisherman’s broth.  As Edward pointed out it’s delicious, hearty, and the cheapest entree.  I agree it’s a solid dish.  Now I’m desperate to try the Pappardelle with duck and mushrooms next time.

Oh my goodness gracious this pork tenderloin was phenomenal!!! The texture was so smooth and the meat so tender.  Topped with a sweet dijon sauce combined with roasted apples, sweet onions, and dried figs, each bite was heavenly!

The two cutlets are perfect to share.  This was all that remained of the little piggy.

And if that all wasn’t enough, we dared to ask for the desert menu.  At first glance, honestly it’s not impressive.  In fact the 10 options (that include an apple tartin, vanilla creme brulee, shortbread cookies, and a few other items) were not appealing at all.

So we settled for the ice-cream sundae.

Feel free to laugh at what it looks like, I did.  But I assure you that marshmallow on top is no laughing matter. Edward and I fought for bites!  I’m not sure what made it so special, but the fact that it was melted with a torch made it feel like stiff pudding, and I mean that in a good way.  It’s not a MUST order item, but we certainly enjoyed it.

This picture pretty much sums up my opinion of Del Grande’s fo0d:

scrap-the-plate delicious.

I have only one issue with the menu – there is not ONE vegetable listed that isn’t marinated, pureed, or covered with cheese.  Apparently there is a house salad with greens and beets, but I didn’t see it.  A “Sides” menu would be a simple solution to this problem.  All of the dishes are so rich (not heavy or overbearing, just saturated with flavor) that I felt like I wanted something fresh to lighten up the meal.

The natural comparison you’ll make to Ava is Randy Evans’ farm-to-table menu and the ambiance at Haven.  I actually think they’re very different. Randy uses more veggies and butter sauces. Haven lacks in decor and is way too loud in my opinion, but I go because it’s the freshest food in town.

Overall, I loved the whole experience at Ava. Last night I even started scouting out the bar for my regular seat :)

That’s my last note actually: The bar won’t be the meat market that once defined RDG and has now taken over Eddie V’s.  It’s a small area that lines the side of the restaurant and the space is limited because of the booths.  Hopefully, they won’t it get stuffed with people so the noise level will stay nice and low.

The bar scene should be hopping at Alto, which is the pizzeria Schiller and Del Grande will be opening above Ava.  Currently it’s still under construction, but when they do allow us upstairs, I bet we’ll find some stiff competition for Dolce Vita.

(Full Disclosure: The meal was generously comped by Lonnie and Robert. Many thanks!)

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