Bedford

Houston
Bedford
Photograph by Debora Smail

if someone handed me fifty recipes and said, “Pick out the one by Robert Gadsby,” I could do it in a flash. It’s not that I’m so smart; it’s that he’s so distinctive. I mean, who else but Gadsby is serving a mushroom risotto made with Texmati rice in a Thai-style coconut curry with sliced grapes (pictured)? Who besides RG is doing osso buco seasoned with ginger and cinnamon and garnished with pomegranate seeds? Where other than one of Gadsby’s restaurants would you find homemade barbecue sauce spiked with yuzu juice? I could go on, but you get the idea. The man’s marching to a different drummer.

Well-known in Houston for his stints at Noé and Soma, Gadsby has taken flight and landed at his very own restaurant, Bedford, in the Heights neighborhood. Here he is indulging his idiosyncratic, Asian-inflected fantasies to his heart’s content, in a tall, airy dining room that could easily have seemed stark and commercial except that it is filled with smart contemporary art in media ranging from paint to glass to mosaic tile.

When our party of six trooped in, we immediately got a bad case of chef’s-table envy. Right beside our perfectly fine enclave in the main dining room was a long bar fronting the open kitchen where Gadsby holds court about once a week, doing an extemporaneous tasting menu for those lucky enough to snag a seat. It looked like a lot of fun, but once we scanned the well-priced choices on the printed menu, we decided we were quite happy after all.

The top appetizer of the evening, decided by acclamation, was the tuna tartare with a “fondue” (actually a mash) of wasabi-and-lime-spiked avocado. It came dressed with white soy and yuzu juice and garnished with a single raw oyster rolled in black sesame seeds: brilliant. My other favorite starter was the thick, sweet butternut squash soup laced with crème fraîche hit with a blast of ginger and then topped with a dice of dried apple, celery, and granola. The only appetizer that really flopped was the seared scallops (which could have been a touch fresher) on a boring cauliflower purée.

If the starters had Gadsby’s signature Asian influence, the entrées leaned more Mediterranean. The tender (if way too salty) lamb osso bucco, for instance, had a nice dusting of Parmesan, with pomegranate seeds adding a note from the far eastern end of that continent-spanning sea. Rigatoni with house-cured beef-and-lamb sausage, goat cheese, and moist oven-dried tomatoes had a similar culinary provenance. But the best main course was perhaps the most American (Gads-by’s full of surprises): fantastically flavorful beef tenderloin with diced turnips and rutabagas.

As for desserts, I’m skipping them, because while they were as creative as the menu, they weren’t quite in the same league. Instead, I want to close by mentioning that Gadsby has every intention of planting a rooftop victory garden in the spring, where guests can convene for cocktails and what he deems a “mythical” view of downtown Houston. Now, that—and the tuna tartare—is something worth coming back for. Bar. 1001 Studewood (713-880-1001). Lunch Mon—Fri 11—2:30. Dinner Mon—Fri 5:30—10, Sat & Sun 5:30—11. $$—$$$ W+

For a soup recipe from Bedford, try Gingered Butternut Squash Soup or Spiced Coconut Butternut Squash Soup .

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