First Taste

Michael Kramer's new Felix 55: Already a Rice Village standout, but with room for improvement

Michael Kramer's new Felix 55: Already a Rice Village standout, but with room for improvement

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The interior design by owner P.J. Jamea resembles a swank hotel bar. Photo via Felix 55/Facebook
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Michael Kramer's modern American menu, includes references to his tenure at Voice and The Tasting Room. Courtesy of Felix 55
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Michael Kramer, as seen in his Voice days Courtesy of Voice
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Mini pulled pork tacos made for a nice, light bite. Photo by Sarah Rufca
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Lobster mac and cheese at Felix 55. Photo by Sarah Rufca
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The risotto was full of flavor but a little too rich. Photo by Sarah Rufca
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Courtesy of Felix 55
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Courtesy of Felix 55
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I'm not going to lie, it's a little jarring to walk into an upscale restaurant on the Morningside stretch of Rice Village. Dodging the college kids and assorted fratty types that populate Brian O'Neill's and neighboring Baker Street, entering Felix 55 feels like a completely different world.

The interior design by owner P.J. Jamea resembles a swank hotel bar (you know, if Houston had such a thing) with playful wingback chairs, stately leather sofas and eye-catching light fixtures.

 I personally think small plates are where Kramer shines, and the Felix 55 menu has plenty to choose from.

 When it comes to executive chef Michael Kramer's modern American menu, there are notes from both his tenure at Voice and The Tasting Room, plus a few idiosyncratic dishes (read: fried chicken and waffles) thrown in.

I personally think small plates are where Kramer shines, and the Felix 55 menu has plenty to choose from. The beautifully thin-cut beef carpaccio has simple and elegant flavors (it's more than a little similar to the version Kramer served at The Tasting Room), and I really liked the use of charred corn kernels for texture in the creamy summer corn soup. An off-menu trio of mini pulled pork tacos was a fun and tasty surprise as well.

Another was the ceviche, which isn't the tomato-and-avocado-heavy cornet of slightly citrusy seafood that proliferates outside restaurants with a South American bent. This is the real deal, with a bold leche de tigre and big chunks of seafood and onion — it's probably one of the five best in town.

Less exciting was the mushroom risotto, which was deliciously creamy but felt a little boring, and the sea scallops, which had a slightly undercooked, gelatinous texture, though the lemon marinade and Israeli couscous on the dish were nice touches.

The entrees are thoughtfully composed, like a juicy, flavorful mesquite-smoked duck with fig mostarda, couscous and a brushing of crushed hazelnuts, and a perfectly grilled hangar steak with a roast onion vinaigrette that was more than serviceable.

The red snapper dish, with charred corn, grape tomatoes and tiny cubes of pancetta, was nicely designed, though the fish in my case came out a touch dry.

Where the flatbreads, with their assorted assemblages of cheese, tomatoes, mushrooms and a light coating of olive oil are all delicious in their easy, shareable sort of way, the additions section of the menu didn't do much for me. The lobster mac and cheese suffered from the odd choice of a tight corkscrew pasta and the addition of pancetta bits that overpowered any lobster flavor, and the mere inclusion of truffle fries on the menu gets a giant sigh from me.

Felix 55 is really a lovely space and Kramer's solid and well-thought-out menu immediately vaults it to a status as one of the best restaurants in Rice Village. And yet it's frustrating that a little inconsistency and some superfluous details keep it from feeling truly great.