Take me to Avondale

Popular Montrose restaurant swaps French focus for wine bar chic

Popular Montrose restaurant swaps French focus for wine bar chic

L'Olivier interior
Changes are coming to L'Olivier.  L'Olivier Restaurant & Bar/Facebook

An acclaimed Montrose restaurant is jumping on the reconcepting trend that’s becoming increasingly popular in Houston.

French restaurant L’Olivier will soon become a new concept called Avondale Food & Wine, co-owner Mary Clarkson tells CultureMap. The new restaurant will serve as both a platform for chef Olivier Ciesielski to embrace a more diverse menu and allow for the addition of an all-new retail wine component overseen by local wine consultant Nate Rose.

“After six and a half years of being open, Chef Olivier and I decided that we wanted to take a departure from where L’Olivier is currently,” Clarkson says (full disclosure: she is also a regular co-host on CultureMap’s “What’s Eric Eating” podcast). “We want to broaden our base as far as our diners. We want to make a more casual concept that people could be at every single day.“

L’Olivier will serve its last meal on September 8. It will reopen as Avondale on September 13. The new restaurant will introduce itself to diners on September 12 with a special screening of Grand Cru, a documentary about winemaker  Pascal Marchand, at the River Oaks Theater. Tickets are already available via Eventbrite for either the screening or the screening with bites and a wine tasting.

Closing for a few days will allow Clarkson and Ciesielski to make a number of changes to the space. They include new art that pays tribute to Avondale, the historic neighborhood within Montrose where the restaurant is located, a new mural on the planters out front, and new lighting in the bar.

Most importantly, the private dining room will become a retail showcase for 100 bottles of wine selected by Rose. The showroom will have its own entrance so that potential customers don’t have to walk through the restaurant just to buy wine. To facilitate the change, the restaurant will convert from a mixed-beverage liquor license to one that allows it to sell only beer and wine.

In terms of the restaurant, Ciesielski and sous chef Ronald Shaw will collaborate on a new menu that focuses on shareable plates made with seasonal ingredients and local produce. According to Clarkson, the 15 or so items will change as often as every two weeks. Rather than staying rooted in French classics, the new direction will allow the chefs to be more creative in their techniques.

“We want it to be reasonably priced,” Clarkson says. “A dynamic menu that is not rooted in one type of cuisine. It will have American and European influences on it, but it won’t be tied to any one cuisine.”

Rose’s wine selections will focus on the small, boutique wineries that he built relationships with during a 10-plus year career at Spec’s. The restaurant will feature 20 by-the-glass selections that change constantly.

“We want to be the outlet for the smallest of the small family producers that have a personal connection to our success, and we have a personal connection to their success,” Rose says. “The by-the-glass list will be constantly changing. They may turn in less than a week; it’s hard to say when you’re securing a single case of wine. The good thing about a by-the-glass program like that is people get to try wines they’d never be able to try in a traditional format.”

Diners will have the next three weeks to make a final visit to L’Olivier. Ciesielski will run a special, five-course menu of customer favorites, and the bar will offer specials on spirits: $5 for wells and $10 for higher end bourbon and Scotch. Asked about whether her chef and business partner will miss seeing his name on the door, Clarkson has a quick reply.

“Olivier, to his credit, has always been someone who was willing to make whatever changes are necessary to make what he’s doing a success,” Clarkson says. “I think he realized he’s done what he wanted to do with L’Olivier. He wants to do something different, and that’s what Avondale is all about.”