Glitzy New Mediterranean Restaurant Spices Up the River Oaks Scene — Albi Is Full of Surprises
Two Brothers and a Buddy Create a Unique New HavenBY Laurann Claridge // 05.21.23
Some of the Eastern Mediterranean dishes created at Houston's new Albi restaurant show consulting chef Mark Cox and executive chef Christian Hernandez's skill. (Photo by Michael Anthony)
Owners of Albi, Jimy Fakhoury, ALaddin Nimri, and Nano Fakhoury. (Photo by Michael Anthony)
Here in the 6,600 square foot space (with 220 seats) designed by architect Adel Sadek diners are cosseted in plush, curvaceous rosy velvet booths, and golden Platner-style chairs, dimly lit from above with merlot-colored silk-shaded lights and chandeliers dripping with crystal-like bibelots. (Photo by Michael Anthony)
The veal kefta ($27) at Albi is akin to a meatball, is made with ground veal, topped with a dollop of tarator (tahini-based sauce), skewed on a fragrant cinnamon stick. (Photo by Michael Anthony)
Another view of the plush dining room of the new Albi restaurant on West Gray. (Photo by Michael Anthony)
The seasonally driven cocktail program aligns with Mediterranean influences and offers an array of signature cocktails and fresh mocktails like this Lebanese gin and tonic. (Photo by Michael Anthony)
The Lemon Halvah Tart combines the popular sesame-based confection with lemon curd and sits alongside a lemon and olive oil ice cream. (Photo by Michael Anthony)
As the saying goes, appearances can be quite deceiving. Case in point, perched on the second floor above the Men’s Warehouse store on West Gray, you’ll find Albi, a new Mediterranean-style restaurant brought to you by siblings Nano and Jimy Fakhoury (the duo behind Mary’z Mediterranean restaurants), as well as their partner and chum Aladdin Nimri.
Don’t be deterred by the tenant below, enter around the back of the building, walk up a dark stairwell and you’ll find yourself in an expansive dining room glittering in emerald and ruby jewel tones. Here in Albi’s 6,600 square foot space (with 220 seats), designed by architect Adel Sadek, diners are cosseted in plush, curvaceous rosy velvet booths and golden Platner-style chairs. Everything is dimly lit from above with merlot-colored silk-shaded lights and chandeliers dripping with crystal-like bibelots.
Albi, which is Arabic for the phrase “my heart,” elevates the centuries-old food of the Eastern Mediterranean (think: Lebanon, Greece and Turkey) in a thoroughly modern way, thanks to the contributions of chef-consultant Mark Cox — the former chef and owner of the famed Mark’s — and executive chef Christian Hernandez, who previously held the post of chef de cuisine of the lauded Houston restaurant March.
“We look forward to creating something very special for Houstonians – an ambiance that evokes a very distinctive vibe of the Levant area of the Middle East, which refers to the region along the eastern Mediterranean shores — a vibe we feel will resonate beautifully in this relaxed, but buzzy corridor,” Nano Fakhoury says in a statement.
Whether you choose to drink and dine at the 16-seat bar or opt for a table for two or more, Albi’s seasonally driven cocktail list is a fun mashup of tinctures (with and without alcohol) punctuated by flavors found throughout the Mediterranean. Conceived by Laval Hospitality beverage consultant Souvik Dasgupta, you’ll discover the two-tone shah of sunset made with arak (a strong anise liquor), lime juice, topo chico, hibiscus tea and mint, a Turkish espresso martini conjured with a combo of cinnamon-infused vodka and Turkish coffee and the Aegean blue cocktail (care of blue Curacao) dubbed Waters of Petra, a gin-infused rosewater, elderflower cordial with a champagne foam.
Care for wine? Albi’s list pulls from regions in Lebanon, Italy, Spain, France, Greece and Israel.
Inside the Albi Menu
The menu is divided into four sections: salads, cold mezza, hot mezza and mains. I skipped right to the cold mezza, starting with the don’t miss Albi hummus ($14), a silky, smooth rendition drizzled with olive oil and topped with crispy fried chickpeas to add a bit of crunch. The beets bil tahini ($16) is a chilly puree of salt-baked beets studded with small chunks of golden beets and pickled berries, sprinkled generously atop with a powder of dehydrated tahini. Warm puffy pillows of pita bread accompany each dish.
On the warmer side, the Albi potato ($23) is a take on Greek skordalia, a puree of fingering potatoes and garlic with lots of olive oil topped with glistening beads of smoked trout roe. The feta dumplings ($18) are tender, bite-sized orbs reminiscent of Italian gnocchi, pan-fried and poised on a bed of citrus-spiked labne. The veal kefta ($27), akin to a meatball, is made with ground veal, topped with a dollop of tarator (tahini-based sauce), skewed on a fragrant cinnamon stick. The king trumpet-filled shwarma ($18) brings a cheeky take on tacos. With the sauteed mushrooms cradled in a fresh warm pita, each is dressed with garlic-scented tzatziki and paired with a charred lemon half.
The grilled octopus main ($32) was exquisitely prepared sous-vide served atop a verdant basil hummus, while the Jidori chicken roulade ($27) is stuffed with house-made turmeric and chicken sausage alongside a rice bowl with caramelized onion puree and golden raisins inspired by Lebanese biryani.
Desserts are a delight at Albi. Created by Gwendolyn Uscanga, they include a pistachio tiramisu ($18) and lemon halvah tart ($20), which combines the sesame hard candy flavor with a tart lemon curd under a bruleed pomegranate meringue cooled with a scoop of lemon-tinged olive oil ice cream
Albi is located at 1947 West Gray Suite 200. It is open for dinner Tuesdays through Thursdays from 5 pm to 11 pm, and Fridays and Saturdays from 5 pm to 2 am.