Restaurants / Openings

Pop-Up Restaurant in Theodore Rex’s Houston Space Worships the Power of Vegetables — Littlefoot Makes a Big Impression

Rising Star Chef Gets a Moment to Shine

BY // 02.28.21

A time before iPhones and 5G, the 1980s is almost a prehistoric era. It’s when dinosaurs roamed the earth — at least they did in the hit animated movie, The Land Before Time, which came out in 1988. That movie brought us a dinosaur character named Littlefoot — and now Houston has its own Littlefoot, too

Littlefoot is the name of the pop-up restaurant that’s taken over Theodore Rex’s restaurant space temporarily. (Theodore Rex is, of course, one of Houston’s best restaurants, arguably its very best.) Justin Yu‘s restaurant is currently in hibernation. Littlefoot is taking its place until the end of April with Theodore Rex chef de cuisine Kaitlin Steets helming the kitchen.

Steets’ first week happened to come during the historic winter storm that paralyzed much of Texas due to power and water outages.

It was definitely an interesting start as we had one night of friends and family and then one night of regular service and then closed for five days,” Steets tells PaperCity. “So as much as it was not planned and a little inconvenient, it was kind of nice to have a little bit of time to reset and go into our second week.

“I think that by the end of our second week, we’re feeling pretty good.”

Yu’s Theodore Rex is one of the most ambitious restaurants in Texas and Littlefoot is no pushover either. Not with Steets, who was a James Beard Award semifinalist in the Rising Star Chef category last year, running the kitchen.

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Littlefoot serves two five-course tasting menus nightly — a degustation menu and a vegetarian menu. While the second and fourth courses are different, the other three courses are the same on both menus.

Steets understands the power of thoughtfully sourced and beautifully prepared vegetables. That’s why she has chosen to highlight Texas-produced fresh vegetables in all their delicious glory.

I would say that for me one of the most fun parts of my job is just getting to know all of the farmers and producers in the area,” Steets says. “It’s super important to us not only just to support them, but also I just think it’s the best product we can get. Really just using what is available and what season it is to really kinda guide the way of the menu.

“That’s honestly how I like to cook. That’s what I find fun. I don’t typically try to do dishes that highlight things that aren’t readily available in that season from people we know.”

For example, the second course on the current vegetarian menu stars Badger Flame Beets. Steets locally sourced the beets from Farm and Forage, an agrihood farm in Houston itself. Steets highlights the earthy vegetable at Littlefoot by enhancing its natural flavor through multiple techniques. Such as braising down the green tops and using a black garlic puree to really bring out the earthy notes.

“It makes it really fun to have ingredients that you know are already good to begin with,” Steets says. “It’s just how do you make them better and work with other things.”

This goes for all of Steets’s dishes. A dish that she’s really excited about is the Lion’s Mane Mushrooms. The specialty mushrooms are sourced from Flying Saucer Farms in Brookside Village.  Preparation of the mushrooms begins by confiting the whole mushroom before grilling it. The end result is a charcoal exterior and a creamy interior, making it very similar texture-wise to beef cheek.

“It’s really cool, but again the mushrooms themselves are so freaking awesome to begin with that we just wanna make them proud. As dorky as that is,” Steets laughs.

Theodore Rex’s Own Transformation

There have been changes to Theodore Rex’s interior in recent months. Such as opening up a tented patio to adapt to COVID times, transforming the waiting room into a dining room with a large table and spreading out the seating and decor so that diners have a socially distanced place to enjoy a meal.

The space is even lit differently for Littlefoot, making this pop-up feel like a distinct restaurant of its own rather than one just using Theodore Rex’s space.

Theodore Rex late night Houston
Theodore Rex will be returning after Littlefoot’s pop-up restaurant run.

“Maybe we are just the type of people who like to keep trying to see things from a different perspective food wise,” Steets allows. “So I do think we’re trying to use (Littlefoot) as a way to give us a little bit of time to have a newer, fresher version of the T-Rex menu when we do come back.”

Littlefoot is taking reservations through Resy for its five-course tasting menus until the end of April. The pop-up restaurant is open Fridays through Mondays from 5 pm until 10 pm.

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