It is now time — drumroll, please — to announce the winners of the 2015 Eater Awards in Houston. These winners comprise a diverse group of the finest and most interesting chefs, restaurants, and bartenders in the city. They've defined this year in dining, and we applaud them.
First, a quick recap: Eater's local editors in 24 cities nominated candidates for five major categories: Restaurant of the Year, Chef of the Year, Bartender of the Year, So Hot Right Now Restaurant, and Stone Cold Stunner. These awards are geared toward places that have opened in about the past year, or people who have become involved in new ventures or otherwise changed the game in that time, which is why many renowned veterans don't appear). Eater readers then voted to narrow the field to a final three in each category. From that final three, the Eater editorial team chose one to move forward. The national winners can be viewed here, but now, without further ado, here's who came out on top in Houston.
Eater Awards 2015
State of Grace, while brand-spanking new in the scene, has already built up an enormous amount of hype and buzz to live up to. Ford Fry's homecoming restaurant to the River Oaks neighborhood in Houston where he grew up has definitely delivered. The James Beard winning chef conjures tastes and nostalgic touches from his Southern childhood, and the city has been abuzz with it's recent opening.
Chef of the Year
Nominees: Jean-Philippe Gaston, Chris Shepherd, Ryan Pera, Adam Dorris, Omar Pereney
Winner: Jean-Philippe Gaston
Jean-Philippe Gaston helped launch Izakaya less than six months ago, but in its first month of operations he made it to #38 of Allison Cook's Top 100 Best Restaurants of Houston. Chef Gaston was previously with Kata Robata of the same group and this time brings playful twists on traditional Japanese Izakaya food (small sharing plates meant for groups and lots of drinking). Fresh grilled baby octopus and their Peruvian ceviche are standouts.
Bartender of the Year
Nominees:Robin Berwick, Noah Edgar, Alba Huerta, Mo Rahman, Steven Salazar
Winner: Mo Rahman
Mo Rahman is one of the hardest working and most underrated bartenders in Houston, so it's a nice surprise to see him in our list. You can find him single-handedly slinging cocktails behind his bar at Kata Robata and running the beverage program for the entire restaurant.
So Hot Right Now
Nominees: Pax Americana, Izakaya, Salt Air, State of Grace, B&B Butchers
Azuma Group has taken one small departure from sushi this time with Izakaya. The new restaurant runs with the traditional izakaya concept on one of the most sought after pieces of real estate in Houston at the corner of West Gray in Midtown. Not only is chef Jean-Philippe Gaston's menu out of this world, but Izakaya also has officially built the largest Japanese whiskey selection under one roof in Texas.
Stone Cold Stunner
Nominees: Hunky Dory, State of Grace, Salt Air, TABLE on Post Oak, Tout Suite
Winner: Hunky Dory
Chef Richard Knight has made a big change since his time at Feast with Hunky Dory. The space is amazing because its casual and accessible enough to feel unpretentious, but when you pay attention to the details like the tartan plaid chair fabric or the way he has the beams in the ceiling designed to resemble a Union Jack flag, you can tell its been thoughtfully orchestrated as a show-stopper. The color palette of rich turquoise, white and gold plays nicely with the crackle and singe of the open-air large wood-burning hearth in the back where the steaks and meats are grilled. Even the adjoining whiskey bar feels both stylish and classic, similar to an authentic British pub.