Named after Diana Hobby, described as a devoted patron of the arts who played a key role in the building’s development, Diana American Grill takes its inspiration from classic theater district restaurants in New York and Los Angeles. Operated by Spectrum Concessions and Catering, the restaurant features an all-new interior created by Houston-based architect Tim Cisneros and a menu created by Cafe Annie chef-owner Robert Del Grande.
“It’s a theater district restaurant,” Del Grande tells CultureMap. “There’s a long history of theater district restaurants in America. They have a certain style. They move with the general pulse of what’s happening there.”
Mindful of the space’s needs — diners want to be in their seats before the curtain goes up — Del Grande opted for a classic grill room menu centered around steaks and seafood. Dishes like Gulf shrimp cocktail, Caesar salad, and filet mignon with fingerling potatoes follow a fairly simply formula.
“The pledge was buy great stuff and don’t ruin it,” Del Grande says. “That’s what it all comes down to. They’re buying great beef, great fish, and keeping it simple.”
The James Beard Award winner says that he used a cooking demonstration to persuade the Hobby Center board to ratify his plan.
“I convinced them that any dish that has cheese in it, the better the cheese, the better the dish will be,” Del Grande says. “Great cheddar, great parmesan. They taste it and they go ‘wow, that’s really good.’ [I said] I could get you [less expensive] Kraft parmesan, and it would taste like cheesy sand.”
Del Grande says he’s also enjoyed the process of training a new crew. At Cafe Annie, the chef works with a veteran crew, but at Diana he’s had the opportunity to introduce young chefs to the proper technique for steaming the live Maine lobster that goes into cavatelli pasta with marinara sauce and ricotta cheese.
“This training part is really fascinating,” he explains. “We have a good all-purpose extra virgin olive oil and a finishing one that’s a more pungent green olive oil. They said, ‘there’s two kinds?’ I said, yes, ‘there’s more, but we’ll stick with two.’”
The menu is compelling enough that it could lure diners who don’t have tickets to a performance, but Diana is only open for dinner on weeks that shows are being performed. Weekday lunches will follow later this fall.
“It’s a cool look, a great place to look out the windows at downtown,” Del Grande says. “It’s got a good feel to it. You feel the aura of it.”
Diana American Grill (at The Hobby Center for Performing Arts); 800 Bagby St.; Open show weeks Tuesday through Friday from 5 pm to 8 pm and Saturday 12 pm to 8 pm; 713-315-2562.