Restaurants / Openings

New Seafood Restaurant Brings Serious Chef Power to Rice Village — Navy Blue Is No Mere Encore For Aaron Bludorn

Your First Look Review

BY // 11.25.22

The much-awaited new Houston seafood restaurant Navy Blue has sailed into Rice Village, dropping anchor on Times Boulevard. It is more than a beautiful encore to chef Aaron Bludorn’s first Houston restaurant Bludorn. It’s a fitting homage to the man who raised this rising star in the culinary world.

It is christened with a name that harkens back to his dad’s naval career. The chef’s father Greg Bludorn served as a top gun fighter pilot flying F-14s on the USS Constellation while training the next generation of skilled U.S. Navy aviators to do the same. Navy Blue’s name pays tribute to the elder’s call sign, “Blue,” while the seafood-centric menu celebrates the bounty of the blue waters off the Gulf Coast and beyond.

An alum of famed chef Daniel Boulud’s kitchen (not to mention the Culinary Institute of America), Bludorn spent a decade working his way up to the position of executive chef at Boulud’s now-shuttered Cafe Boulud, where he met and married colleague Victoria Pappas (yes, of the Houston Pappas restaurant family) and moved to Houston during the pandemic to open Bludorn on Taft. Traveling in a pack, the couple brought along colleagues Cherif Mbodji (serving as their front-of-house partner) and Darryl Chan (creator of the spirits program) to play a part in Bludorn as well as at the new Navy Blue.

When it came time to find a top toque for Navy Blue, they pulled in another player in the pack Jerrod Zifchak and asked him to take the helm as executive chef. Zifchak comes to Houston with an extensive resume that includes slipping into Bludorn’s former role at Cafe Boulud, not to mention time spent behind the range at the lauded Michelin three-star seafood restaurant Le Bernadin in Manhattan.

An array of dishes at Navy Blue
An array of seafood dishes (and otherwise) at the splashy new restaurant Navy Blue in Rice Village. (Photo by Julie Soefer)

Step inside the 7,100-square-foot space reimagined by Courtney Hill Interiors and the Austin-based firm Föda Studios, where the operative was given to envision a space inspired by the ocean yet untouched by humanity. A tall white oyster-shaped wall was erected in the entry’s vestibule with sandy concrete breeze blocks. Beyond that, the 110-seat dining room pulls together organic elements, from driftwood-colored wide plank flooring underfoot to the warm tones of white oak spines that separate a series of long four and six-top tables while never obscuring their view of the kitchen or the diners seated around them.

Black wired pendants dangle overhead while plush navy blue banquettes invite a cozy tete-a-tete in the dining room and adjoining bar seating.

The Navy Blue Restaurant

The cheeky bar menu where all the drinks are $15 was developed by mixologist Darryl Chan and features cocktails like “Hold me closer Tony Danza” and “Chasing Penguins,” named for misheard musical lyrics. The sbagliato section of the list plays up the bitter (say Campari and Amaro) with a “mistaken” recipe twist, too. Chan also makes room on the menu for a couple of Tiki drinks, potent martinis and highballs, like the London Calling, which combines the flavors of the ritual of British afternoon tea in this delicious tincture. (Think a punch made with Earl Grey tea, cucumber, lemon, a touch of champagne and blackberry clarified with milk.)

Sommelier Molly Austad’s extensive wine list — which gravitates toward French imports — highlights 160 bottles, including an array of sparkling options along with white wine selections ranging from light- to full-bodied, as well as lighter reds.

Designed to focus on proteins that come by way of the ocean’s waters, starters include everything from shrimp and oysters prepared three ways to luxe caviar options, something we’re noticing popping up on quite a few menus of late.

With both chefs trained in French culinary techniques, dishes like the crispy blue crab brandade ($19) and mussel bisque ($21) lean on the gallic classics with an American twist. The brandade features four fried orbs of blue crab poised atop a smear of chipotle spiced romesco with mentaiko aioli (made from cod roe cured in salt and chili peppers). In contrast, the bisque features smoked mussels bobbing in a saffron stock thickened with a Yukon gold potato puree and topped with a crown of golden pate feuilletée.

Dine with friends and family and share a plate of pasta, or two or three. Available in generous full or half portions, the lobster ravioli arrived bursting inside with minced lobster meat scented with tarragon and topped with fried sunchokes and charred pearl onions ($32/$54), while the seafood risotto is brought to the table cooked al dente with lobster, cuttlefish and tomato confit ($26/$44).

The main event proffers steak-like meaty swordfish prepared “au poivre” with a green peppercorn sauce ($44) and a blackened snapper ($41) topped with ribbons of pickled vegetables. My favorite is the branzino with a cucumber relish and, beneath, a Greek yogurt sauce (skordalia) emulsified with olive oil, almonds and lemon juice ($39).

Key Lime Pie at Navy Blue
Pastry chef Marie Riddle’s delectable Key Lime Pie at the new Navy Blue. (Photo by Caroline Fontenot)

End your meal on a sweet note with executive pastry chef Marie Riddle’s delectable yet relatable desserts. From a terrine-like slice of carrot cake layered with cream cheese icing and topped with dollops of toffee sauce and a quenelle of ginger ice cream ($15) to a cool key lime pie, its tart custard cradled in a macadamia nut crust topped with bruleed meringue peaks ($15).

Navy Blue is located at 2445 Times Boulevard in Rice Village (713) 347-7727. It is open for dinner Mondays through Thursdays from 5 pm to 10 pm and Fridays thru Saturdays from 5 pm to 10:30 pm. Sunday dinner service is set to begin on December 4 with 5 pm to 9 pm hours. Lunch and Sunday brunch service will follow in 2023.

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