Restaurants / Openings

Beachy New Montrose Restaurant Keeps It California Cool — Graffiti Raw Shows Grant Cooper’s Creative Side

Your First Look Review

BY // 01.27.23
photography Kirsten Gilliam

The cool, sophisticated in teriors of the new Houston restaurant Graffiti Raw belies its name. The fourth restaurant from The Big Vibe Group — creators of the Houston restaurants Flora, Coppa Osteria and Gratify — is located in the upscale Montrose Collective development. If the name conjures up images of illicit graffiti tags to some — think a New York City subway car or highway overpass marred with gang tags — defacement of public property isn’t exactly the connotation the trio of owners had in mind.

No, instead as Grant Cooper, co-owner along with his wife Jacy Cooper and Josep Prats, explains: “Graffiti Raw’s name comes from the raw creativity, originality and inclusivity of street art – reflected in the approachability of its menu — presenting high-quality ingredients in a raw relaxed package.”

The new Montrose area restaurant Graffiti Raw comes from The Big Vibe Group. Their talisman is "the raw man" pictured here.
The new Montrose area restaurant Graffiti Raw comes from The Big Vibe Group. Their talisman is “the raw man” pictured here.

At Graffiti Raw, the beachy interiors are easy on the eyes. The room, its niches reflected in mirrors hung about the space, features a layered look of soft blond woods and chic saddle-colored woven leather dining chairs in a room lit with a diffusion of light emanating from a panoply of Moroccan-crafted rattan fixtures dangling overhead. The new Houston restaurant’s talisman is the raw man, depicted in stone, welcoming diners from just outside on the tiled patio.

Reminders of the raw man’s bearded face can be spotted throughout the restaurant. Houston artist Haley Bowen has created elegant figurative murals reminiscent of the ancient sort of sepulchers in the catacombs of Rome or Pompeii discreetly painted on the way to the bathrooms.

Artist Haley Bowen creates a mural for the latest restaurant by The Big Vibe Group in the Montrose Collective.
Artist Haley Bowen creates a mural for the latest restaurant by The Big Vibe Group in the Montrose Collective.

The food and vibe at Graffiti Raw are meant to transport you vicariously to the ocean side (think Venice Beach) with fare that borrows from a Californian melding of cuisines. It’s a little Asian, a little Mediterranean and a little Mexican.

The all-day kitchen and bar feature cocktails with a tropical edge — not sugary sweet, mind you — but made with fresh juices from beet to cucumber. These cocktails lean on spirits like tequila and rum. While the wine list is concise, with about 30 primarily organic varietals, there is also a sake program on the list, with 4-ounce, 8-ounce pours and full bottles available.

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I can vouch for Graffiti Raw’s quaffable cocktail dubbed The Big Sur ($15), the restaurant’s modern-day answer to the tequila sunrise made with orange and beet juices which lends the drink a vibrant look and taste.

A Closer Look at the Graffiti Raw Menu

Graffiti Raw’s food menu pays homage to its sister restaurants from pasta honed at Coppa Osteria to margaritas, guacamole and chips at Flora to the caviar program and fresh ceviche popular at Gratify. There are even a few Easter eggs on the menu. Take the Daddy’s Burger, a juicy Angus beef cheeseburger developed initially at a popular Grant Cooper summer burger pop-up which we are told will soon find a restaurant home of its very own.

Want to dine like the rich and famous all for $34? Then start with the caviar and chips. A generous portion of farmed lumpfish roe that’s a glossy and inky black-looking dupe for the pricier osetra (also available with tater tots for $99) is poised alongside a crème fraiche onion dip with long crisp planks of potato chips dubbed surfboard chips.

The charred octopus is not to be missed. (Unless you’ve watched the Netflix series My Octopus Teacher, then take a pass.) Created at all the Big Vibe Group’s restaurants with a slightly different twist at each, here the octopus speaks with a Spanish accent with sous-vide cooked and charred octopus coated with a black truffle and chili crunch with crumbled chorizo on the side along with a Yukon gold boiled potato sprinkled with paprika and accented with crème fraiche ($32).

Graffiti Raw Caviar and Chips
Graffiti Raw’s caviar and chips is served with a generous portion of farmed lumpfish roe that’s a glossy and inky black-looking dupe for the pricier osetra.

Salads include a fresh take on the familiar Caesar. At Graffiti Raw, the light, tasteful salad is made with little gem lettuce leaves tossed with a miso-spiked Caesar dressing with crispy garlic chips and shallots ($16). Crudos range from a pink tartare with salmon, yellowfin tuna spiced with Fresno chili and salsa bruja served with plantain chips ($25) to a crispy rice and tuna crudo with a rice cake drizzled with sesame oil, the yellowfin tuna finished with a ponzu sauce, jalapeno and avocado slices ($14).

The ceviche I tried was the “ffiti” stack, short for graffiti, natch. Composed in a clear cylinder, you’ll spy layers of shrimp, octopus, tuna, avocado, red onion and cucumber. At the table, the cylinder is slowly lifted off the towering display, and you are offered three different condiments/sauces to flavor it — I chose the spicy piquin sauce — poured atop.

If you’re sharing dishes with your dining companions (I highly recommend it) then move on to mains like the spaghetti rustichella ($33), spaghetti tossed in a lemon and Calabrian chili mixture. It’s topped with uni raised in Santa Barbara. A more unique pasta I haven’t enjoyed in some time.

The crab and shrimp fried rice made with sushi style rice is tossed with fresh Thai basil and chili, scallions, and finished, as one traditionally does fried with an egg ($36) Other options include steak frites ($42), a New York black angus strip, pork ribs with poblano mole ($32), and a simply grilled seven-ounce catch of the day (market price). Finish with house-made ice cream ($6) or traditional tres leches ($10).

Graffiti Raw is open Sundays from 11 am to 9 pm, Mondays through Thursdays from 11 am to 10 pm, and Fridays and Saturdays from 11 am to 11 pm. The restaurant is located at 1001 California Street, Suite 101 in Montrose Collective. You can make reservations online through Resy, or over the phone at (713) 750-9590.

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