Houston's next hot restaurant? Fine dining chef with Michelin-star resumé has big plans
The period between now and the Super Bowl’s arrival is shaping up to be a busy one for new restaurants. While most people are focused on new arrivals from high-profile chefs like Chris Shepherd, Ronnie Killen, and Hugo Ortega, as well as the imminent arrival of Shake Shack, a new project that’s flying under the foodie radar could emerge as one of the year’s best new arrivals.
Former Coltivare bartender Martin Stayer will open Nobie’s in the former home of Au Petit Paris next month. Stayer’s immediate employment history has caused some blogs that sussed out a TABC application to speculate that Nobie’s might be a bar, but the restaurant, which he named for his grandmother, will be considerably more sophisticated.
Stayer is a highly trained chef with an extensive resume that began at Scott Tycer’s innovative fine dining restaurant Aries before a move to Chicago saw him work at Michelin-starred kitchens like L20 and Moto. After spending a decade in the Windy City, Stayer and his wife chose to move to Houston to improve the quality of life for their two sons.
“I had been looking at spaces since I got to Houston. I made a couple of offers where someone either made a higher offer or we found something upon inspection where it didn’t seem like the right place,” Stayer tells CultureMap. “Then our real estate guy Kevin Keane told me about this place. He knew I liked the free-standing building . . . I was the first person who looked at it. I kind of loved the place.”
Expected to open in November, Nobie’s will blend Stayer’s fine dining training with an affordable price point. The chef says he wants Nobie's to be more casual and affordable than the restaurants that shaped the early part of his career.
“I decided I’m only going to work at places my friends can afford to come in,” Stayer says. “You can still make great quality food and not have the pretense of fine dining.”
The menu will be divided into snackable items that are perfect for eating while enjoying a drink at the bar, shareable plates for a light meal, traditional entrees, and larger entrees like a tomahawk steak or whole stuffed snapper that can feed two or three people.
Seafood will play a big part in Nobie’s menu. Stayer envisions a rotating selection of both Gulf and East Coast oysters, as well as other raw seafood preparations and items that can be spread on toast like tartares and liver mousse. Vegetarian options will also be accounted for.
A couple of Colitvare veterans, bar manager Sarah Troxell and general manager Dominic Ruiz, will join Stayer at Nobie’s. Sous chef Aaron Mooney worked with Stayer in Chicago and has a similar background in fine dining. Troxell and Stayer will work together on the restaurant’s cocktail list, which Stayer says will be short and change regularly.
In addition to the food, music will be a major part of Nobie’s appeal. Each room will be equipped with vintage audio gear from the mid-'70s, and all music played in the restaurant will be from analog sources — either vinyl records or custom mix tapes. The goal is to create a lively atmosphere that makes Nobie’s a neighborhood destination.
“You don’t have to feel like you have to be on your best behavior,” Stayer says about the environment he wants to create. “It’s a house. I feel like we have that house party vibe where we’re hosting a dinner party. Come in and have a drink and a snack, come and have a full meal, whatever you want to do.”