Back Table Kitchen & Bar at the Woodlands Resort has hired Michelin-star trained chef Jonathan Lestingi as its latest chef de cuisine — and he’s bringing his experience at award-winning destinations across the country to the table.
The Johnson and Wales University alumnus spent years as a chef de partie under Patrick O’Connell at the Inn at Little Washington — the only three-star Michelin restaurant in the Washington metropolitan area — and around a decade in New Orleans, working at top spots like Brennan’s, James Beard Award-winning soul restaurant Willa Jean, and his own gastropub and whiskey bar, Oxalis.
But in recent years, Lestingi said the good times in New Orleans were coming to a close. “I was ready to make a change,” he said. “...I think I was ready to do a little adulting maybe.”
And now, Lestingi has taken his talents to Texas.
The chef arrived at the Woodlands resort’s Back Table Kitchen & Bar at the start of last summer. Tucked away in the suburban area, just 45 minutes north of Houston, it’s clear that his new stomping grounds aren’t quite as bustling as New Orleans’s French Quarter, but he’s hoping to make his mark — starting with Back Table’s menu.
Lestingi has made a notable splash in 2022, bringing brunch — an alleged New Orleans creation — to Back Table, along with an international flair to its Southern cuisine. “I just want to use different products from the South and showcase that as much as possible, but I try not to let fusion become confusion,” Lestingi said.
That desire comes through with creative dishes like the blackened redfish, topped with leek ash, and paired with cucumbers and fingerling potatoes atop a cream cheese tzatziki sauce; and the six-hour, Bordeaux-braised chuck short ribs with black-eyed peas, pecan gremolata, and fresh horseradish. In the vegetable polenta, sweet potato, cooked in a cast iron, sinks into a bed of creamy polenta and preserved lemon butter.
Other major stars of the menu include hickory-smoked fried chicken wings; a smoked onion bearnaise, that though paired with the steak frites, could be bottled and poured on almost anything, and the tres leches cake. Dressed like an Old Fashioned cocktail, Lestingi’s take on the Latin dessert uses bourbon instead of rum, combines orange bitters in the whipped cream, and tops it with a whiskey-soaked cherry.
Brunch now includes fried chicken and waffles, ricotta pancakes served with honeycomb butter made in-house, and shakshuka, a signature Middle Eastern brunch dish made with poached eggs, fire-roasted spicy tomato sauce, merguez sausage, feta cheese, and avocado.
As for his move to the Woodlands, Lestingi sees it as a challenge with lots of promise.
“I think Texas presents a lot of opportunity. The population’s exploding. There’s tons of people moving here,” Lestingi said. “It’s always going to be different when you move somewhere new. It’s going to be hectic here, but I welcome the challenge. ... I’m excited to be here and to make the change.”
Back Table Kitchen & Bar, at 2301 N. Millbend Drive, is open for dinner from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Brunch is served from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekends, and happy hour specials are available daily from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
- Back Table Kitchen & Bar Welcomes Pedigreed Chef de Cuisine, Jonathan Lestingi [Visit The Woodlands]
- Woodlands Resort Quietly Opens a New Restaurant With Brunch Power — and More Big Changes Are On the Way [Houston Press]