Andiron executive chef Louis Maldonado, a talented toque, rose through the ranks at several Michelin-starred restaurants, including French Laundry in Yountville, Aziza, Mourad and Cortez in San Francisco, where he led the team to earn their first Michelin star. (Photo by Jenn Duncan)
Inside the dining room of Andiron, the new fine dining steakhouse concept by Michael Sambrooks. Photo by Julie Soefer.
Andiron's dine-in bar area is covered with a smoky-looking Cippolino marble, lit overhead by a 28-foot-long custom chandelier made with 250 tubes of light. (Photo by Julie Soefer)
The pommes Anna side dish at Andiron. Photo by Jenn Duncan.
Both the steak tartar ($28) at Andiron and its bluefin tuna ($28) counterpoint are a mixture of ground and chopped flesh. (Photo by Jenn Duncan)
As they say, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Restaurateur Michael Sambrooks, who has built a reputation manipulating the subtleties smoke can impart to food, is betting big on his new live-fire restaurant called Andiron in Houston. The man behind The Pit Room and the Mexican-inspired restaurant Candente is making quite the splash in his latest endeavor.
It is a fine dining enclave/steakhouse in the former home of Stages Theatre in a Mission Revival building on Allen Parkway.
Andiron is rumored to have cost upwards of $5 million to create, and it’s no wonder Sambrooks enlisted the award-winning Manhattan interior design firm AvroKO to fashion his most important venue yet. He scoured the country to find his executive chef Louis Maldonado, a talented toque who rose through the ranks at Michelin-starred restaurants including The French Laundry in Yountville and Aziza, Mourad and Cortez in San Francisco, where he led the team of the San Francisco spot to earn the restaurant’s first Michelin star.
To court his well-heeled patrons, Sambrooks wooed Jose Montufar to serve as maître d’. Montufar is a recognizable Houston figure who spent decades working the front of the house at Tony’s, Cafe Annie and The Annie Cafe and Bar.
With fire as its focus, the dining room that adjoins the bar area at Andiron (110 seats, total) shines with polished-copper accents, charred (shou sugi ban) blackened wood cladding and an open kitchen that grants diners a view of the 22-foot-long wood-fired grill imported from Spain. The marble-topped tables are lined with white veining to recall slabs of well-marbled beef. Diners seated on green channeled banquettes there can scan the room, taking in the stunning coffered ceiling, herringbone parquet and Texas mesquite end-wood flooring.
The dine-in bar area is covered with smoky-looking Cippolino marble, lit by a 28-foot-long custom chandelier made with 250 tubes of light.
Start your repast with a classic cocktail crafted by head bartender Angel Batista. Opt for classics such as a gin and tonic ($18) or perhaps an old-fashioned made with Andiron’s own barrel-aged select rum ($19). The wine list is producer and vintage-focused, with more than 500 labels emphasizing wines from Burgundy, Bordeaux, Spain and California by producers including Groth (Oakville, California), Bryant Family (Napa), La Rioja Alta (Rioja, Spain) and D’Angerville (Volnay, France), all curated by sommelier Renato Bringas.
Andiron, a Tale of Fire — and More
Chef Maldonado tells us that everything in his kitchen touches fire. But don’t mistakenly assume that a robust char is the theme du jour. Maldonado deftly uses the same flame that licks beneath his grill not just to barbecue or char a piece of meat, but to dry bones and dehydrate fruit and vegetables to concentrate its flavor and impart just a subtle hint of smoke, later refreshed with a splash of olive oil or vegetable juice.
Starters include a chilly selection of bivalves, including Murder Point oysters and Middleneck clams adorned with barbecue vinegar or embered cocktail sauce (market price). Both the steak tartare ($28) and bluefin tuna ($28) are a mixture of ground and chopped flesh. For the tuna, the loin is diced while the toro is ground and mixed with burnt onion gelée, topped with shaved summer truffle and served with pommes gaufrettes dusted with salt, matcha and seaweed powders.
The salads encompass steakhouse standards like the wedge ($22) and a classic tossed with herbs, vinaigrette and anchovy ($18). But don’t overlook the coal-roasted beets ($18). A trio of assembled beets — poached, pickled and grilled — is accented with beet molasses, a spear of grilled celery (a most underused vegetable) and a crunch of toasted pecans.
It’s a flavor play of sweet, tart and savory on your palate.
As expected, the Andiron menu focuses on meat and the carnivore selections are quite broad, culling together prime cuts such as an 8-ounce filet ($59) and a mighty 21-ounce ribeye ($80), both from Niman Ranch, as well as a 14-ounce Australian Wagyu BMS 8-9+ New York strip ($105). Or, do as I did and select a smaller, perfect 2-ounce portion of rarified olive beef, a Wagyu selection from Andiron’s robata grill ($48).
The latter is listed on the special Daily Reserves carte, which proffers a limited array of Wagyu prefectures, as well as something to share with your dining companions: a 32-ounce bone-in eye of rib ($275). Large-format dishes include a 28-day-aged 34-ounce prime bone-in ribeye ($185) and a whole grilled turbot ($110). The turbot’s tender moist flesh was filleted and poised below a cover of its own crisped skin. The idea is to break apart the crunchy skin and enjoy it atop each bite.
Vegetable sides run the gamut from the typical steakhouse variety — whipped Yukon gold potatoes ($16), creamed spinach ($16) and wild mushrooms (market price) to options far from the usual, such as the grilled eggplant, a timbale layered bottom up with basil pesto and grilled eggplant seasoned with garlic and anchovy topped with parmesan ($16). The caramelized onion tart is a savory tarte tatin made with bite-sized onions in lieu of apples, each rendered slowly into a sweet tender caramelized state and poised on a thin crust ($22).
End your meal with one of four desserts on pastry chef Katie O’Hara’s menu. From a rich-as-Rockefeller chocolate cake with a yuzu caramel and roasted kumquats ($15) to a sweet take on tiramisu, with the ladyfingers layered with espresso semifreddo ($15).
Andiron is located at 3201 Allen Parkway. It is open from 5 pm to 10 pm seven days a week.