Texas Hawthorn, the small tree that flowers in spring, thrives here.
And now Hawthorn :, the small fine-dining restaurant off Kirby, hopes to thrive here too. But it almost never took root.
The intimate, sharp-looking restaurant sprung from the failed Dorsia, a private club concept that proved as unworkable as the U.S. men’s gymnastics team at the Olympics. “There was no identity,” said Hawthorn managing partner Cory Graff. “People in Houston want to know what they’re going to get. It was confusing.”
After closing Dorsia in March, the partners retooled the space and theme. They planted Hawthorn — “we changed it into what we wanted originally,” Graff said.
Smart. An attractive space with seductive lighting, a knockout bar and a dining aesthetic aimed at sophisticated adults, Hawthorn has begun to bloom.
Chef Riccardo Palazzo-Giorgio, who put his heart and soul into his now-defunct Sabetta, has created an upscale but approachable menu of European and American standards with Italian grace notes. Think beef carpaccio, grilled baby octopus, steamed mussels, gnocchi in Gorgonzola dolce cream, lobster lasagna, veal chop Milanese and New York strip steak. If melon wrapped in prosciutto, crab cakes and roasted trout sound like supper club food, that’s the vibe Hawthorn exudes. With patrons sipping classic cocktails while a pianist tinkles the ivories Thursday through Saturday, you wouldn’t be wrong thinking you were comfortably ensconced in continental dining, circa 1956.
Except that Palazzo-Giorgio’s food, while bowing to his Italian heritage and CIA training, is infused with contemporary touches. His wild salmon comes with rainbow chard and farro. The sea scallop crudo is sprinkled with smoked sea salt. The free-range chicken breast is paired with yellow pear tomatoes, and the jumbo lump crab cake rests on a smoky roasted tomato-butter emulsion. Yet that continental touch is omnipresent: the mussels are steamed in pinot grigio; seared sea scallop nestle in veal jus; the duck breast is glossed in a port-laced jus with cherries; and the steak wears a halo of maitre d’hotel butter.
Palazzo-Giorigio is an advocate for the freshest and best: “You can’t start with mediocre and end up with great. It just won’t happen,” he said. “The things on the menu are simple, but they’re full of flavor.”
Under the supper club robe, Hawthorn is actually thoroughly modern.The “wine connoisseur-on-demand” program is an iPad menu that offers more functionality than other iPad wine lists diners might have encountered. One tap of any menu item offers patrons about 20-25 pairing suggestions. The device also allows you to email yourself the label and description of the wine you’re consuming as well as share you wine drinking experience on Facebook. Graff, former manager of Capital Grille and Distinguished Restaurant of North America Award winner, said he was initially concerned that his client base might not be the tech-savvy sort.
He was wrong. “They’re the ones who keep them the longest,” he said of his customers using one of his 10 iPad wine lists.
“I have to go to tables and ask for them back.”
Perhaps his customers know a good thing when they see it.
Hawthorn Restaurant: 3200 Kirby, 713-523-3600