Restaurant Preview

Hot new River Oaks restaurant offers a glorious sneak preview at popular Texas farm

Hot new River Oaks restaurant offers glorious sneak peek at Texas farm

State of Grace preview
Shrimp in lime sauce with herbs. Photo by Eric Sandler
State of Grace preview
Sticky short rib with barbecue sauce and herbs. Photo by Eric Sandler
State of Grace Ford Fry Bobby Matos
Chef/owner Ford Fry and executive chef Bobby Matos. Photo by Eric Sandler
State of Grace preview
Shrimp on the grill. Photo by Eric Sandler
State of Grace preview
Raw oysters on ice. Photo by Eric Sandler
State of Grace preview
Garganelli pasta in white bolognese. Photo by Eric Sandler
State of Grace preview
State of Grace preview
State of Grace Ford Fry Bobby Matos
State of Grace preview
State of Grace preview
State of Grace preview

A grassy field 50 miles from River Oaks may seem like an unlikely place for a highly anticipated new restaurant to make its public debut, but that's what happened Sunday afternoon at Blue Heron Farm.

State of Grace, the seafood-oriented, upscale neighborhood restaurant from Atlanta chef Ford Fry that's being led by former Ciao Bello chef Bobby Matos, offered a sneak peek of its menu at an intimate Sunday supper.

Fry, a Houston native, joined Matos, State of Grace general manager Matt Crawford and a full staff for a five-course menu that previewed the restaurant's offerings. Although the restaurant hasn't set an official opening date, Fry estimates it should be ready to debut in two or three weeks.

When he addressed the 25 or so attendees, Fry said his goal is for State of Grace to recall the restaurants he remembers from his childhood growing up in Houston like Hofbrau Steakhouse and the San Jacinto Inn but updated in terms of preparations and ingredients. 

Details on the restaurant's look are scarce, but one loose-lipped insider said the restaurant's stags head logo is reflected in a number of animals heads adorning the walls. Regardless of the details, Fry's reputation for stunning design — check out these pictures from his restaurants The Optimist and Marcel — should rival that of other high-style newcomers like SaltAir Seafood Kitchen or Oporto Fooding House & Wine. 

Neighborhood restaurant

Fry emphasized two key points in his brief remarks. First, he sees State of Grace as a neighborhood restaurant rather than something that's fine dining. Second, he noted that Matos has been given freedom to shape the menu as he sees fit. While Matos earned acclaim for his work at Ciao Bello, State of Grace will be his first opportunity to shape a restaurant's culinary direction. If the results of Sunday's meal are any indication, diners are in for a treat. 

When attendees made the short walk past some of Blue Heron's adorable goats, they arrived to find two long picnic tables decorated with flowers, trays of raw oysters on ice and State of Grace general manager Matt Crawford, who moved to Houston from Fry's restaurant St. Cecilia, waiting with a glass of champagne. The oysters represent State of Grace's extensive raw bar that will include both Gulf and East Coast specimens. 

The cooked portion of the meal began with grilled head-on Gulf shrimp served with lime and herbs in an addictive broth that diners sopped up with individual loaves of Slow Dough bread. From there, Matos demonstrated his deft touch with pasta with al dente garganelli in white bolognese sauce.

Family-style portions

Massive, lightly smoked beef ribs in a sweet, sticky glazed arrived next; fork tender, the meat could either be eaten by itself or in an improvised taco with the grilled roti bread, barbecue sauce and herbs. Grilled eggplant topped with Blue Heron cheese and bowls of black eyed peas served as sides to the entree. Despite the substantial, family-style portions, most people found room for the dessert of individual oatmeal cream pies. 

Despite the rustic setting, Matos and his team executed at a high level. Obviously, the restaurant won't feature metal grates or camp stoves for cooking equipment, but the flavors and presentation all seem consistent with what Fry's reputation would lead one to expect.

Both Fry and Matos refered to State of Grace as the company "first" Houston restaurant. Whether that means a "second" is already in the works remains to be seen, but, based on a first taste of State of Grace, such a development should be welcomed by Houstonians.