One of Houston’s Very Best Restaurants Undergoes a Drastic Change

Meat’s Out and Seafood and Veggies Are In

BY // 06.21.17
photography Julie Soefer

When James Beard Award-winning chef Chris Shepherd‘s Houston restaurant Underbelly exploded onto the scene five years ago, it transformed both the local and national culinary scene with its bold vision: use whole animals, local produce, and fish from surrounding waters to tell the story of Houston food.

But following a half decade of rotating seasonal menus dominated by bovine-centric dishes, Shepherd is ushering his Westheimer restaurant into a new era.

This week marked the start of Underbelly’s revamped summer direction, which completely eliminates the use of whole steers. Instead, Shepherd will focus more on seafood — sourced from Southern waters from Galveston to Virginia — and vegetable dishes while sourcing sustainable beef as needed from 44 Farms.

Underbelly will continue to butcher whole pigs, goats, chickens and fish.

“No one wants a giant beef shank in the middle of a hot Houston summer, but in the past we’ve had to serve it because we had an entire cow in the butcher shop cooler,” Shepherd says. “Our cooks want more variety, and frankly, so do your guests.”

On the refreshed menu: the UB seafood tower, ceviches, crudos, crispy Royal Red shrimp atop Thai-style summer squash salad, and fish collar Ssam alongside a variety of vegetable-heavy plates.

While a bevy of new dishes now fill Underbelly’s menu, one thing that won’t change is Shepherd’s commitment to telling Houston’s story through myriad cuisines, a fitting mission considering Houston’s diverse collection of cultures from around the world.

“We’ve had a broad focus for the last five years, and now we’re going deep. I want my cooks to know the history of Bo Ssam or Masala,” Shepherd says. “It’s more than just adding flavor to a dish, it’s the thought process behind the dish, understanding the history and culture.

“Underbelly has always been a learning kitchen, and I’m asking the cooks to take it a step further.”

If all goes well, the new menu may even last past the summer. But don’t fret, Shepherd’s signature Korean braised goat and dumplings are here to stay.

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