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Kevin Naderi On Opening Lillo & Ella

"Kevin Naderi"
"Kevin Naderi"
Photo: Dragana Harris/HoustoniaMag

When Kevin Naderi opened Lillo and Ella in Shady Acres back in May, he was adamant about one thing: it was not, now or ever, Roost II. While he was willing to bring along some of the lessons he'd learned from his first foray as a restaurant owner, he had no intention of creating a carbon copy. What he did, instead, was something he felt still showcased his personality, and gave diners what they wanted most – great food in a great environment.

To be clear, here. It's not Roost II?
No. It's definitely not Roost II.

So, what is it?
It's a necessity for the area, for starters. There are no Asian spots here in Shady Acres. There's a lot of Tex-Mex, a lot of fast casual places nearby, but nothing like this. The neighborhood has changed over the last few years and people coming into it have more a foodie palate, so it is definitely time for something that caters to that.

What made you say, "Let's do an Asian-inspired place?"
I like Asian, first of all. It's what I like to eat. And I'd noticed that when I would change up the menu at Roost and create specials, I'd veer toward something Asian, so that concept just seemed natural. By doing it the way we aren't stepping on the toes of anyone else around here, and we have a chance to stand out.

Obviously, the menus are different here than they are at Roost. What are some other differences you want to point out for people?
The bar program, first of all. Sebastian and Aaron have done a great job on the menu. I'd wanted to do a bar, and we don't have at Roost. We have more shared plates here. And, people might think that some of the ingredients we use here are similar to those at Roost, but here we're using Thai basil, instead of the Italian basil at Roost. In fact, shallot/garlic/ginger is basically the base here. Roost is much smaller. At Lillo and Ella we have four cooks because we have a much bigger menu. And a grill. That was something I wanted to work with for a while. At Roost, it's a flattop, but here we have a grill and that's great because I really wanted one for the skewers.

You got into the creation of seasonal menus at Roost. How will that play out here at Lillo and Ella?
We'll still change the menu on occasion here, but we don't have that same farm-to-table concept in Asian cuisine. With the bases we use and the dishes we serve, they're more constant, instead of constantly changing depending on what's in season. So, this allows for a more consistent menu for our diners. At Roost, we changed the menu every three weeks. Here, we'll likely do it quarterly.

What lessons did you take from Roost when you opened Lillo and Ella?
All kinds of small details, like how to order ingredients, even how to make up playlist for music in the dining room. One of the challenges here was the number of employees. At Roost, we had five, and here there are 25 people on staff. Already, my GM has left for Pax Americana, so we're going through growing pains, but that's any restaurant, and I know that the staff will sort itself out. We have good people and we're figuring out who's best at doing what.

What do you want diners to know when they walk in the door?
Come in here with an open palate and an open mind and have a great cocktail and some great food. We're still new and we're growing, but we'll do all we can to make sure you have a good time.

-Holly Beretto

Lillo & Ella

2307 Ella Blvd, Houston, TX 77008 (281) 888-5335 Visit Website