Introducing One Fifth Mediterranean
Chris Shepherd is ready to unveil the latest version of One Fifth. Having completed its second iteration as the European-inspired Romance Languages, Shepherd, chef de cuisine Matt Staph, and Underbelly Hospitality culinary director Nick Fine are ready to turn the page to One Fifth Mediterranean, defined as the cuisines of the Eastern Mediterranean and Northern Africa. Diners will get their first taste when the restaurant opens Saturday, September 1 (unless it quietly opens on Friday, August 31).
One Fifth's first run as a steakhouse became such a smashing success that the James Beard award winner and his crew are turning into a new restaurant, Georgia James, that will open in mid to late September. Don't expect Romance Languages to follow a similar path, which is alright by the chef.
“That’s what I love about this restaurant,” Shepherd said in a statement. “It’s a vehicle for education. Whether that leads to something long term is less important than what we learn along the way.”
The James Beard Award winner explains that the decision to switch from his original plan to make One Fifth's third iteration a seafood restaurant happened organically. He'd find himself wandering the aisles at Phoenicia looking at ingredients or dining with his staff at Lebanese restaurants. As part of the preparation for the opening, Shepherd and Fine spent time at Philadelphia's acclaimed Israeli restaurant Zahav to educate themselves about flavors and spices.
“People have been grilling meats and baking breads with live fire for centuries, but a lot of it is new to me,” Shepherd added. "I knew the next concept had to be Mediterranean to give me an outlet for my passion and to give all of us the opportunity to learn.”
The menu, which is divided into seven sections, represents the chef's attempt to honor the region's diversity. Prices below are approximate until the opening menu is released Saturday morning.
- I Dip, You Dip, We Dip: Hummus and other dips served with freshly baked pita. The restaurant has purchased a high-powered food processor to make smoother, creamier hummus. ($10-14)
- Salatim: Small salads such as lebneh (cucumber with dill), zaalouk (eggplants with tomato and onion), and coffee-roasted beets. ($5-10 each)
- Mezze: Small plates such as kibbeh, chicken liver, and crispy pickled cauliflower. ($12-15)
- Al Ha'esh (from the fire): Items prepared in the wood burning oven, including vegetables (mushroom with black lime, eggplant with feta), meats (merguez sausage, 44 Farms flat iron, and lamb sweetbreads), and seafood (Gulf bycatch, octopus). ($12-15)
- Family-style: Larger dishes such as yogurt-marinated chicken, whole fish, and braised lamb. ($40-75)
- Grains: Tah Dig (Persian wedding rice), crispy couscous, and a daily special. ($10-20)
- Condiments: Options like schug, amba, and harissa that add sweet, spicy, acidic, and other elements ($1 each)
Diners may also opt for a "sightseeing tour" that offers highlights from each section. For dessert, pastry director Victoria Dearmond swaps American ingredients in classic dishes like babka, which uses pecans instead of pistachio, and baklava, which uses Videri chocolate from North Carolina. A dessert mezze plate offers a variety of tastes that include chocolate hummus, halva, and semolina cake. Wine director Matthew Pridgen has added varietals from Morocco, Turkey, Israel, and Lebanon to the list.
Just as the restaurant's concept evolves, so does the design. Working with local design firm Collaborative Projects, partner Kevin Floyd has painted the walls white and added textured white tiles with blue trim. Designer Matthew Tabor has added a new layer of imagery to the printed silkscreen graphics in the dining room.
Restaurants like Zahav and Shaya in New Orleans have earned national acclaim by elevating the flavors of Israel and its neighbors, but the trend hasn't really come to Houston — until now. To stand out from popular restaurants on Hillcroft or even neighbors like Aladdin and Niko Niko's, Shepherd and his team will have to demonstrate that all that education has paid off in dishes that justify their prices with refined preparations and depth of flavor. Whether they've succeeded or not will be up to the diners who ultimately determine whether or not Shepherd and Floyd have to start looking at real estate for another One Fifth spinoff.