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A Houston restaurant institution changes things up, becomes more chef and seafood driven

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TTR, The Tasting Room, Uptown Park, crab sushi, January 2013
The sushi calls for an equal partner - champagne, of course. Photo by Barbara Kuntz
TTR, The Tasting Room, Uptown Park, pork ribs, January 2013
Pork ribs cooked in and dabbed with the chef's special Cajun barbecue sauce Photo by Barbara Kuntz
TTR, The Tasting Room, Uptown Park, red snapper ceviche, January 2013
Small-bite ceviche atop crispy plantain chips Photo by Barbara Kuntz
TTR, The Tasting Room, Uptown Park, portobello mushroom, January 2013
Vegans unite! TTR's new grilled portobello mushrooms with sautéed spinach and Pea Patch tomatoes Photo by Barbara Kuntz
TTR, The Tasting Room, Uptown Park, crab sushi, January 2013
TTR, The Tasting Room, Uptown Park, pork ribs, January 2013
TTR, The Tasting Room, Uptown Park, red snapper ceviche, January 2013
TTR, The Tasting Room, Uptown Park, portobello mushroom, January 2013
Barbara Kuntz, head shot, column mug, October 2012

The fare at The Tasting Room just became even more . . . well, tasty, with chef-driven winter/spring menus featuring new dishes to augment the classic core offerings at each of the four locations.

At the Uptown Park restaurant, chef Jonathan LeBlanc pulls from his days of preparing fresh seafood aboard yachts in the Alaska Pacific and from his deep family roots in Acadiana.

“Every day, I see what’s fresh,” he says, noting he gets personal email bulletins from his choice local seafood supplier. “Then, I go with what ‘catches’ me in the kitchen each morning.”

 Jonathan LeBlanc pulls from his days of preparing fresh seafood aboard yachts in the Alaska Pacific. 

Off-the-boat red snapper caught his attention for a new winter/spring specialty on the catering menu: Small-bite citrus-cooked ceviche delights atop crispy plantain chips at $32 a dozen. Diced red, green and yellow peppers and a hint of jalapeño — plus a thin spread of sriracha sauce between the mix and chip — add a delightful zest to the fish.

While visions of margaritas may dance in your head with this creation, LeBlanc’s elevated version actually invites a glass of bubbly, such as the Prodige Brut.

LeBlanc continues to indulge customers in his seafood skills with California-style sushi rolls using fresh crab as his motivation. His crowning touch: Electric green wasabi masago for an impressive presentation. Also on the catering menu at $30 per dozen, the sushi appears as a special on the current seasonal menu.

To vegans’ delight, LeBlanc has mastered the new winter/spring menu selection of a grilled portobello mushroom served with sauteed spinach and Pea Patch tomatoes. The mushroom is marinated in olive oil, garlic and black pepper for at least eight hours before it is grilled to perfection. While a small plate, the dish is quite satisfying as a $10 meal. LeBlanc recommends Vanishing Point Pinot Grigio as a pairing.

The meat literally falls off the bone of LeBlanc’s Cajun barbecue pork ribs prepared with his family's barbecue sauce recipe and served alongside an Asian snow pea salad. Slow braised for three hours and then broiled, the four plated ribs at $14 are meant to be shared — or not.

LeBlanc suggests the Guard Shack Zin to accompany the ribs, as well as the Guard Shack Red Blend from Sonoma Valley, my own pick.

Best of the rest

Other new menu items at TTR Uptown Park include spinach and Mediterranean salads with options for chicken atop both or shrimp or blackened salmon on the latter and artisan sandwiches such as a grilled vegetable panini with roasted garlic hummus spread, grilled portobello mushrooms and provolone cheese served on Slow Dough ciabatta.

For heartier appetites, winter/spring brings a white pizza with mozzarella, grilled Portobello mushrooms, roasted artichoke hearts, spinach and sun-dried tomatoes to the updated menu, as well as a grilled steak with white truffle oil and balsamic-wildflower honey gastrique.

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