The Garden Room at Ostia, the Montrose newcomer that is already attracting a loyal following with guests arriving on foot, on bicycles and in autos. (Photo by Shelby Hodge)
Chef Travis McShane returns to his hometown to share his concept of New American cuisine in his neighborhood concept eatery. (Photo by Lauren DeFrehn)
One of four intimate dining spaces in Ostia, designed by San Francisco-based Jon de la Cruz of DLC-ID. (Photo by Jenn Duncan)
Diners at Ostia have a ringside seat to the kitchen. (Photo by Shelby Hodge)
One of two patios at Ostia, this one flanked by pots of bougainvillea. (Photo by Shelby Hodge)
Ostia rocks on only the 10th night of business since opening.
Ostia interiors were designed by San Franciscoi-based star designer Jon de la Cruz of DCL-ID. (Photo by Jenn Duncan)
The wood-burning oven at Ostia
The Greenhouse by day (Photo by Jenn Duncan)
A detail of the Greenhouse dining space, one of four in Ostia. (Photo by Jenn Duncan)
Ostia chicken with salsa verde (Photo by Jenn Duncan)
Ostia grilled shrimp with harissa and grilled asparagus
Ostia steak with Romesco sauce (Photo by Jenn Duncan)
How could it be? Only 10 days after opening in a charming building on Dunlavy, Ostia is packed. The joint is jumpin’ as the crush of exuberant diners defies COVID-19 logic. The governor had just allowed restaurants to return to 75 percent occupancy, and even that was not enough to satisfy the pent-up demand for the magic that this Montrose restaurant was offering.
Diners — all with the necessary reservations — arrived on foot, in cars to be valet parked, and even on bicycles, giving Ostia the vibe of a New York neighborhood restaurant.
What is this instant success all about, we ask executive chef/owner Travis McShane. And in the middle of the pandemic?
“I don’t know how to answer that question, honestly,” says the University of Texas and CIA grad who earned his chops working with acclaimed chef Jonathan Waxman. “It’s fortunate. It’s fortunate that we picked a product that seems people want. If we don’t keep at it, success can be a fleeting thing.
“We’re just focused on getting consistency.”
McShane has a seasoned grip on what makes a restaurant a success. From a career start as a line cook at Barbuto in New York, he eventually advanced to become executive chef of the popular West Village hub and ultimately ascended to oversee all culinary operations and menus for Waxman’s restaurants in New York, San Francisco, Nashville, and Atlanta.
His path is one that echoes that of chef Aaron Bludorn, who departed his Michelin-starred post in New York to raise a family and open a namesake restaurant in Houston. However, their approach to cuisine differs somewhat, with McShane focusing on New American and seasonal with a fluid menu at Ostia.
We hope he keeps the divine pork chop with apricot mostarda and the melt-in-your mouth half chicken with lemon au jus, both dishes large enough for two, at Ostia. We loved the duck liver pâté with pickled long peppers and the roasted peppers and eggplant. Not so crazy about the bucatini, which was molto al dente and lacking in sufficient sauce. But we will give the latter a pass, as the restaurant had not completed even its second week.
“Whenever a farmer or a fishmonger brings us something new, we’ll print a new menu every day, kind of changing with the times. If I get tired of something, we’ll change it. If cooks are tired of prepping it, we’ll change it. If diners are tired of seeing it, we’ll change,” McShane tells PaperCity. “So it’s kind of always flowing, always morphing, and changing.
“It’s never going to be a wholesale menu change. We will just kind of slowly roll into new things. There will be some familiar things like the chicken and gnocchi that will stay, but a lot of the ingredients around it will change.”
We love the ambience of Ostia’s house-like structure with its four intimate dining areas, two patios, and the charming Greenhouse dining room opening to the outdoors and filled with plants that give it the vibe of a contemporary orangery. The rustic brick walls, polished cement floors, and wealth of light wood create an upscale ambience by today’s standards.
For the design, McShane tapped San Francisco designer Jon de la Cruz of DLC-ID.
“I’m thrilled to collaborate with Chef Travis in realizing his vision for Ostia,” de la Cruz said in a statement. “The inspiration for my first-ever Texas project came from Travis’ experiences cooking in different regions around the country. The overarching design is meant to capture the industrial mood in the West Village and the casual elegance of a coastal California bistro with a heavy dose of Southern hospitality mixed in for good measure.”
We would say that he succeeded.