One of Houston’s most acclaimed restaurants is taking a short break. Theodore Rex will be closed until May, chef-owner Justin Yu announced.
In its place, Yu is turning over his downtown restaurant to chef de cuisine Kaitlin Steets, who will operate a restaurant pop-up in the space. Dubbed Littlefoot, Steets will serve two, five-course tasting menus: a degustation menu of Texas vegetables, meat, and fish and an all-vegetable menu. The pop-up will begin service February 13 and run through the end of April, at which point Theodore Rex will resume service with Steets back in her role as chef de cuisine.
In addition to her time at Theodore Rex and its predecessor Oxheart, Steets brings experience from Willows Inn, a widely acclaimed restaurant in the Pacific Northwest. She earned a James Beard Award semifinalist nomination in the Rising Star Chef category in 2020.
Littlefoot will be informed by those experiences, as well as classic French technique. Dishes include roast quail with green Chartreuse and fennel for the degustation menu and farro verde with smoked vegetable fumet for the vegetable menu.
“I'm fascinated with culinary fundamentals, based on French cuisine,” Steets writes in an email. “It’s not really my style to try and 'recreate,' rather embrace how something 'should' be while also considering geographic relevance … Littlefoot should be playful, and I hope you have fun personally questioning whether the food feels familiar or new.”
Steets emphasizes that Littlefoot isn’t necessarily a testing ground for a future restaurant. Rather, it’s both a chance to learn and the opportunity to exercise some different culinary muscles.
“After six years at 1302 Nance, it's both exciting and terrifying to be taking over ‘officially' for a bit,” she writes. “It wouldn't be in Justin's nature not to have bountiful feedback and advice, but given his history with Oxheart, I'd be crazy not to utilize him as a primary resource.”
Yu, who won a James Beard Award for his work at Oxheart, tells CultureMap in an email that he’ll use the pause to create new dishes for Theodore Rex and make upgrades to the interior and the plateware.
“We're over three years in and restaurants as ambitious as ours sometimes need some time to breathe and re-energize,” Yu writes. "It's been a hell of a year and I'm looking forward to investing more of my time and money into some more details to make the restaurant better."
He also praised Steets and emphasized that she’s earned this opportunity to show diners what she can do when she isn’t working within the framework of Theodore Rex’s cuisine.
“Kaitlin deserves to have her chance to speak her thoughts and ideas on restaurants of food into existence,” Yu writes. “I'd entrusted her with my restaurant, and she just has a lot to say that didn't work with Theodore Rex because in essence, it was still my restaurant. I'm excited to go and eat at a place that I think deserves a space in Houston's dining scene.”