As of this morning, RDG + Bar Annie is no more, sort of. In its place rises the iconic Cafe Annie, the nationally-ballyhooed restaurant that in the 1990s elevated Houston's contemporary dining scene and chef Robert Del Grande to star status, setting the pace for the city's vibrant 21st century culinary landscape.
No, RDG is not closing. Rather in the early morning hours today, work crews begin removing that signage and replacing it with the familiar Cafe Annie logo that graced the early Post Oak Boulevard location for more than 20 years.
Likewise, newly printed menus herald the Cafe Annie revival and some of the restaurants signature dishes from the early days are joining current favorites. Think coffee-roasted filet of beef, mussel soup, black bean tostados, rabbit enchiladas.
The name change and menu tweaking are part of the celebration honoring Del Grande's 35th anniversary in the kitchen. It's a tenure that the chef, who holds a PhD in biochemistry from the University of California at Riverside never imagined.
"It's hard to believe that that little whimsical what-the-heck-thing turned into 35 years," Del Grande said on the day before the name change. That whimsical thing was a boy-chases-girl move to Houston, intended for three months only.
A marriage, a daughter, a James Beard award, numerous other honors and three restaurant locations later, Del Grande is poised to move forward by taking a small step back. It's a move, he says, that was partly inspired by his wife Mimi's Throwback Thursday infatuation.
"We saw it as a continuum," he said. "And half the people still call it Cafe Annie, anyway."
Del Grande says the menu is not changing completely, that current favorites will remain. "We're going to kind of roll through different things. It's not that this is a total about face. We'll still be doing new things as we did before."
But diners can expect the menu to revolve throughout the year.
Tuesday morning, Candice Schiller, who created the whimsical contemporary design of the BLVD Place location was busy at work installing black faux tiles across the floor reminiscent of the original Cafe Annie. In addition, she moved the popular "Everlast" painting from the downstairs lobby to Bar Annie as it held a Bar Annie position in the earlier restaurant. These are the only cosmetic changes that diners will find.
Later this month, Cafe Annie investors, regulars and friends will gather for a special celebration of the restaurant's and Del Grande's 35 years in Houston's culinary spotlight.
In a statement on the name change, Del Grande waxed philosophical, as is his wont, "To revolve, akin to revolution, is to return to the beginning but with a fresh view – all revolving involves revisiting, and all revisiting offers the opportunity to see something new in something old. The past can be just as intriguing as the future. Possibly they are one in the same. Maybe time is a series of loops arranged in a line; and all celebrations are but loops of time; all celebrations offer the opportunity to revisit the things we love.”