It didn't take long for the Harwood Grill to complete its transformation of the former home of 60 Degrees Mastercrafted. After a month-long process that saw the addition of an outdoor bar, new paint and a reconfigured dining room, River Oaks's newest restaurant opened to the public last week.
The makeover makes the space feel a little warmer than its previous incarnation. Tablecloths and a ranch-scene mural on the wall add a little ambiance, but the space didn't need much work. A large patio that runs along Westheimer remains an inviting place to spend time before the summer's arrival.
"We’re not trying to be the fanciest place in town. We just want good, straightforward food that’s approachable."
When owner Raymnod Gibson needed a chef to execute the concept he describes as a "family-friendly, neighborhood restaurant that still produces quality products," he turned to executive chef Craig Bianco. The chef brings his extensive resume that includes stints in Las Vegas, New York and with San Antonio-based catering company the RK Group. Gibson and Bianco first met in San Antonio, when Gibson was working for food distributor Ben E. Keith.
"Raymond and I get along and can get from A to Z really quickly," Bianco tells CultureMap. "A lot of the menu items were brainstormed really quickly."
That menu serves up classic dishes like crab cakes, burgers and steaks. "We want to try to fit in the neighborhood and please some people with good food and service," Bianco explains. "We’re not trying to be the fanciest place in town. We just want good, straightforward food that’s approachable."
Part of that approachability extends to the restaurant's extensive use of akaushi beef. Burgers and braised short ribs over pappardelle pasta give diners other ways than steaks to consume the high-quality, Texas-raised beef. Of course, that doesn't mean the steaks have been neglected. Where 60 Degrees sold steaks that were priced by the ounce and cut to order, Harwood Grill has fixed portions that are less expensive than its predecessor. In addition, the restaurant is searing all its beef on cast iron at high heat to give it a texture that the meat at 60 Degrees lacked.
The restaurant is preparing items like stocks, sauces and French fries in house — even the mozzarella in the pancetta salad is hand-pulled. About the only things Bianco isn't making are the hamburger buns and dried pasta.
Bianco says that so far things are running smoothly. Once he has a sense of demand, he'll grow the menu with additional items. Diners are also taking advantage of the restaurant's butcher case to take steaks home. Prices are competitive with similar high-end offerings at places like Whole Foods and Central Market.
Ultimately, Gibson and Bianco plan for this location to be the first of many Harwood Grills. How that plays out remains to be seen, of course, but betting on Texans' love for beef seems like a sure thing.