La Vista 101 Marks Return Of Houston Restaurateur & Southern Goods Chef
La Vista 101 officially opens on Tuesday, May 29 at 1805 West 18th in the Lazybrook and Timbergrove area near the Heights. (Saturday, May 26 is the final soft-opening service.) It marks restaurateur Greg Gordon’s return to Houston’s restaurant scene. Gordon was previously the proprietor of La Vista in Briargrove, which shuttered in June 2017. Also back in the spotlight is executive chef John “J.D.” Woodward, formerly of Southern Goods, which caught fire in 2017.
(Southern Goods is still expected to reopen, according to its chef-owner Lyle Bento, but construction progress is moving slowly.)
La Vista 101 expands on its predecessor’s Italian menu, adds more Mediterranean flourishes and brings the bar and wine list to a whole new level. “It’s a completely different concept [but we have] the same desire to serve and take care of people,” Gordon said. “When I came up with the name La Vista 101, I was thinking about the idea of going back to basics, like in school. All my introductory classes were Whatever 101. And, just as a side note, my birthday, April 11, is the 101st day of the year, unless it’s a leap year. It’s also the day I executed the lease on this space last year. So, I liked that.”
For Gordon, keeping all the things people loved about the original La Vista, such as the food and the welcoming vibe, was essential. However, he also wanted to move forward, both for the restaurant and for himself. “It was time to evolve,” he said. “So, I needed to find people who could help me do that.”
One of those people, of course, is Woodward. “J.D.’s vision about food is similar to mine but he’s more current,” said Gordon. “I felt a little out of touch with [people in their] 20s, 30s and 40s. A lot has changed in the city since I opened La Vista 20 years ago. Food has changed and J.D. is someone who can take us to a new place.”
Before Southern Goods, Woodward also worked at Rainbow Lodge and Underbelly, picking up a love of pickling and infusing along the way. His simple preparations are about letting high-quality ingredients shine. At La Vista 101, diners can also expect smoked and cured ingredients woven through the dishes.
“Diners will taste influences from Italy, Greece, North Africa and Spain, as flavors from those areas have always spoken to me,” said Woodward in a press release announcing the opening. “Additionally, we’ll use bold seasoning and attention to the fuels and methods of the food’s creation to add depth and complexity to the dishes. Ultimately, I want to serve food that includes ingredients and preparations that are familiar to guests. The idea of food giving comfort and nourishment is very important to me and the drink menus will certainly contribute to that idea of comfort as well.”
Featured dishes on the initial menu include The Beef, Bread, and Bone, a decadent dish made with seasoned beef tenderloin served atop house focaccia and topped with bone marrow butter. For seafood lovers is grilled Spanish octopus, which gets an inspired twist thanks to the Middle Eastern touches that include pickled chiles, olive oil, hummus, za’atar and sumac. The goat cheese burrata with Tllicherry pepper, chevre, herbs and beets is a highlight on the appetizer list.
Other key staff members joining Woodward are Jeb Stuart, previously of Coltivare, who is La Vista 101’s general manager and also guiding the wine program. Morgan Mansur, most recently of Caracol, is leading the bar as curator of fine spirits and cocktails. The business manager is Phil Randolph, who Stuart says has handled the financial and permitting aspects for many restaurants in Houston.
When it comes to libations, La Vista 101 diners can expect a carefully curated approach. “We agreed early on that we would establish very consistent and correct executions of pre-Prohibition cocktails,” said Stuart. “I am so excited to have Morgan in charge of that. He makes a great Sazarac and Old Fashioned, and I think our guests are going to get behind this.”
For wine, Stuart said the list will be heavy on those that pair well with food. He’s also looking to gently nudge drinkers in new directions. “The list is mostly western European wines, with a sprinkling of domestic varieties. This is a real effort to make sure the wine on the table engages with the food and isn’t about defining your socioeconomic status.”
Carl Eaves, who gave BRC, Liberty Kitchen and Alice Blue their distinctive looks, designed the restaurant interior. “I wanted guests — and they are guests, not customers — to feel wanted, to feel a warmth when they’re here,” said Gordon. “The idea is that this is an enjoyable space. I want them to feel like they’re in my home.”
He also hopes visitors will love the whimsical touches, such as the audiobooks piped into the restrooms’ sound system and the Victorian-looking wallpaper that, upon close examination, reveals skulls in the pattern (a nod to Gordon’s own well-inked body). Bright light floods into the space from huge windows and the booths have blonde wood accents. There’s even a covered patio.
“We are going to provide the best experience we possibly can,” said Gordon. “We are so excited to bring this kind of neighborhood spot to Timbergrove and Lazy Brook. That area is expanding so rapidly and we are ready to have people there consider this their restaurant.”
La Vista 101’s hours are Tuesdays through Thursdays from 5 to 10 p.m., on Fridays and Saturdays from 5 to 11 p.m., and on Sundays from 5 to 9 p.m. Weekday lunch and weekend brunch service is debuting in the weeks to come.