In 2016, the dominant story in Houston restaurants has been the arrival of new concepts from out of town. From Steak 48 and Le Colonial in River Oaks District to Snooze in Montrose and Cane Rosso in the Heights, restaurants from other cities are winning fans.
Even the best locally-owned newcomers like State Fare, Ritual, and Kuma Burgers (among others), are high in deliciousness but lack the sort of ambition that garners national attention. At this point, the most promising newcomer of the fall season looks to be coming from chef Ryan Lachaine, who will open Riel in the former Te House of Tea space in November.
Lachaine’s resume, which includes stints as a sous chef at Midtown seafood restaurant Reef and working for James Beard Award winner Chris Shepherd at Underbelly (where he earned a prestigious Eater Young Gun award), puts him in prime position to open an ambitious, forward-thinking restaurant that makes a splash. Beyond his local history, the chef has traveled to participate in high-profile pop-ups like Indie Chefs Week (a collaboration with Austin restaurant Foreign & Domestic) and RAW:ALMOND in his hometown of Winnipeg.
“Those things are a like a free stage, but you get to cook with so many different guys and learn so many things. They’re invaluable,” Lachaine tells CultureMap. “I’ve made more connections and more lifelong friends doing that than I ever would have imagined. Guys I talk to everyday: Ned Elliot, Scott Vivian, B.J. Smith, Richie Nakano.”
Lachaine will bring all of those experiences, as well as his Canadian upbringing and his mother’s Ukrainian heritage, to Riel. Named after Louis Riel, a Canadian historical figure who was executed for treason after taking part in the Métis resistance movement, the restaurant will present a tidy group of 13 or 14 shareable items along with a couple of larger, family-style entrees. While Lachaine may be best known for his tamarind blue crabs, that doesn’t mean Riel’s food will be exclusively Asian-inspired either.
“We’ll get what products we can get, and as a staff we’ll make a decision about what we can do with it,” Lachaine says. “Whether it be Ukranian, Asian, or whatever. We’re not looking specifically to do one thing, but obviously there will be influences that inform what we serve.”
Chef E.J. Miller is leaving his position as executive chef at Down House to work as the sous chef at Riel. Miller tells CultureMap that the chance to work with someone like Lachaine appealed to him.
“As cheesy as it sounds, I follow him on Instagram and saw that he’s traveled everywhere,” Miller says. “He’s gotten to see all these things that I can’t necessarily do. I just want to see what he does and help him out every chance I can.”
Those dishes will be served in an intimate, 65-seat dining room with a nine person chef’s counter, and an eight seat bar. Most importantly, Lachaine will return to Montrose, which is the neighborhood where he’s had his greatest successes.
“It’s very important to be in Montrose. I’ve always cooked around there or in Midtown,” Lachaine says. “It was important to be somewhere I was comfortable and I’m used to. That was huge to find that spot.”
Lachaine left Reef in January 2015 and has been traveling and planning Riel since then. He’ll reintroduce himself to diners at a couple of pop-ups before the restaurant opens, but for the most part he’s ready to let his cooking do the talking.
“I’m ready to get back to work. Traveling and doing this stuff is fun, but I’m ready to get back into a kitchen.”