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Take a Peek Inside Cafe Leonelli and Le Jardinier, MFAH’s Duo of Stunning New Restaurants

Le Jardinier makes its much-anticipated debut on May 18

Amy McCarthy is a reporter at, focusing on pop culture, policy and labor, and only the weirdest online trends.

In a revamp years in the making, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston’s brand new Kinder Building is now home to two of the city’s most stunning new dining destinations.

The first is Cafe Leonelli, a bakery-cafe that made its debut inside the MFAH on April 16. As previously reported by Eater, the restaurant is an offshoot of the famed Leonelli Bakery in New York City, known for its pillowy focaccia and other decadent pastries and breads. Chef Jonathan Benno, whose culinary pedigree includes stints at restaurants operated by Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller, and Michael Mina, is in charge of the kitchen.

The restaurant sits in a primo space near the building’s Cornelia and Meredith Long Atrium. Indoors, diners can explore the intricacies of Moon Dust, a visually arresting 2009 sculpture from American artist Spencer Finch that involves 417 incandescent light bulbs and 150 fixtures that hang from the ceiling. Outdoors, the restaurant’s patio serves up views of the museum’s sculpture garden.

Large windows allow natural light to pour into the space, while the open kitchen provides a peek at the focaccias, topped with eggplant parmesan and tons of pepperoni, on offer. There’s an equally compelling pastry case, packed with brightly iced eclairs and extravagantly decorated fruit tarts.

Cafe Leonelli shares a kitchen with its sister eatery, Le Jardinier, which is set to open its doors on Tuesday, May 18. Helmed by French chef Alain Verzeroli, the restaurant will serve a menu that’s focused on locally grown, seasonally available produce. Think dishes like marinated watermelon with ginger, heirloom tomato, and elderflower, and Texas gulf coast shrimp with coarse-ground grits and lobster bisque.

Inside the space, even better views of the Cullen Sculpture Garden await. The walls are covered in blonde woods, along with a vivid installation made of wool and silk fiber by artist Trenton Doyle Hancock that is emblazoned with abstract trees to evoke a truly arboreal vibe. Plush seating and carpets add luxe comfort to the space, while an installation of Isamu Noguchi lanterns lend warm lighting. Behind the bar, a mirror arranged in a geometric fractal pattern is, according to a press release, intended to evoke the aesthetic of the nearby Glassell School of Art.

Before heading to the MFAH to dine — or just feast your eyes on this duo of gorgeous new restaurants — take a sneak peek at the spaces courtesy of Eater photographer Caroline Fontenot.

Caroline Fontenot

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