On the intimate mezzanine terrace decked with plush sofas, loungers and umbrellas, a Gatsby-worthy party is already underway by the office-cheating hour of 4:45pm. Revelers have breezed past the hostess and servers pouring Champagne from silver buckets to the three outdoor patios at Montrose foodie newcomer, Emmaline.
After a long, cold winter, Houstonians are embracing this fresh-as-spring restaurant and bar by Sam Governale, former operating partner of Fleming’s Steakhouse. A big draw for the buzz is the stunning interior design by Emmaline’s creative director, Ashley Putman. Formerly Teala’s Mexican Restaurant, the vintage building with soaring windows that frame the Downtown skyline has been reimagined with a mix of feminine and masculine elements, resulting in an elegantly timeless vibe. Think pink roses, secluded Hollywood booths, a romantic interplay of leather and wooden floors, dangling rattan lamps, pastel banquettes, a sunroom with woven bistro chairs and garden-inspired pillows.
“In Italy, the classic trattoria is the epitome of a neighborhood kitchen and serves as the cultural thread for the people in that township,” says tall, dark and handsome Governale, who named the concept after his great-aunt. “Similarly, we want to offer a home-away-from-home experience for guests to come as they are, whether from a run along Buffalo Bayou or for dinner and drinks before or after an event.” The contemporary American-European menu by chef Dimitri Voutsinas proffers upscale entrees and casual options meant for sharing, like rustic wood-grilled pizzas and Tunisian tuna crudo with apples and pistachios.
Voutsinas, with 20 years of cooking experience in France, Greece and his native New York, knows his way around a grill. A must-have starter is the smoky grilled asparagus with top-notch prosciutto, a poached egg and aged Parmesan shavings—its black garlic vinaigrette is the kicker. Also skillfully executed is the Oysters and Pearls dish: charbroiled mollusks gilded with robiola cheese and caviar. For something leafier, salads like First Place, featuring arugula, frisee, grilled pancetta, creamy goat cheese and walnuts, are thankfully spared heavy dressings.
A pork chop also gets kissed by that grill with homey sides of fennel apple sauce, glazed root vegetables and bracing purple mustard. And then there’s the cioppino bianco, wood-fired and served in a tiny cast iron skillet with prawns and mussels bathed in a heady broth spiked with vermouth, tomato and fennel. Pasta snobs will relish fire-roasted lobster and squid ink tagliarini with charred broccoli florets and chili breadcrumbs—an over-the-top dish—while agnolotti seasoned with saffron and stuffed with acorn squash and kale shines.
You might be surprised to see a frittata Americana—a classic omelet of pancetta, asparagus and wild mushrooms—on the all-day menu. Another throwback is the fontina fondue with dipping skewers and accompaniments. Ditto the gorgeous stuffed peppers gigged with cauliflower couscous and basil tahini (It’s vegan!). Even the ubiquitous burger gets dolled up with tomato confit, La Tur Italian cheese, fennel jam and pancetta.
At night, the interior glows and the handsome center bar fitted with antique mirrors and leather and brass stools is bustling two or three people in for cocktails. A well-conceived wine list, craft and European brews and spirits focusing on small-batch brands round out the beverage program overseen by Lindsay Huntsman, who moved here from California’s wine country.
When it comes to a leisurely weekend brunch, the sun-drenched setting is right on. Just try resisting mains of fluffy eggs Florentine with creamed spinach, a smoked salmon platter, or the signature mascarpone pancakes. Speaking of sweet, pastry chef Alyssa Dole’s dark chocolate espresso torta with chocolate cookie crust and almond gelato is wicked. But the ultimate palate cleanser, really, is the pretty and nonsweet buttermilk panna cotta enlivened with blood oranges, olive oil, fresh thyme and saba grape syrup drizzles. Oh, great-aunt Emmaline would definitely be proud.
3210 W. Dallas St.
PRICES Appetizers, $10-$18; entrees, $16-$32; desserts, $10
Mon.-Thu. 11am-11pm, Fri.-Sat. 11am-midnight, Sun. 10am-9pm, brunch Sat.-Sun. 10-3pm
Seasoned restaurateur Sam Governale brings a new all-day neighborhood hot spot to Montrose, dishing American fare with European flair along with patios and charm.
COCKTAILS AND WINE
Handcrafted cocktails, like Playing the Angel spritz, sport catchy names and quality ingredients. Expect fun wine flights ($23 to $35) and an approachable 1,500-bottle list with time-honored wines from well-loved regions.
Valet or park in the neighborhood if you’re lucky enough to find a spot.