“Best Resort in Texas” Debuts Spacious Restaurant Patio, Presidential Suite & More
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The Houstonian Hotel, Club & Spa, which was recently named “Best Resort in Texas” by Travel + Leisure, is getting close to finishing a years-long refresh. It just debuted a new patio, restaurant, catering menus and a special suite that was previously home to famous occupants. Nestled on 27 wooded acres at 111 North Post Oak, the resort showcased many of the new offerings on Tuesday, October 4 at a red-carpet VIP event. Here’s a rundown of the 43-year-old campus’s latest features.
The Houstonian’s Bar Gets a Spacious Patio
While The Houstonian has no shortage of outdoor spaces, including a winding, padded trail, a picturesque gazebo and pools, it did lack a big patio for drinking and dining. Previously, there were only a few two-top tables and chairs running the length of The Bar’s windows. (Yes, the bar is named The Bar.)
Using some of the front green space, The Bar now boasts a spacious rectangular patio that seats up to 50 guests. It’s the first change to the entrance since the hotel opened in 1979. A large raised flower bed anchors the space, and there is a variety of seating arrangements and styles surrounding Indonesian teak and granite tables, including lounge chairs and benches.
The patio is available for both public dining and private events. During the fall and spring, it should prove an ideal place for enjoying The Bar’s cocktails, 14 wines by the glass and extensive collection of whiskies, cognac and brandy. For food, The Bar’s menu offers bar bites and a selection of dishes from TRIBUTE, the full-service onsite restaurant. Those currently include Route 71 Farm Stand Salad, Tacos de Suadero and Nachos de Carne Asada and an eight-ounce Texas Black Angus filet mignon.
A Real Presidential Suite
Some hotels have “presidential suites,” but The Houstonian has one actually used by a President. While many of the second-floor rooms are still being remodeled, a special one already has a waiting list of reservations: Room 271, one of the two onsite former residences of President George H.W. and First Lady Barbara Bush. The Bushes initially lived in The Manor House during George’s vice presidency, staying there 10 to 15 times a year. At the time, it was available as a VIP guest residence. About four years into George Bush’s tenure, The Houstonian converted Manor House into a restaurant, so from that point on, the Bushes instead stayed in Room 271.
There are framed photos throughout the suite showing George Bush conducting official business in the room, as well as of the couple just relaxing with family. It was during their time at The Houstonian that the hotel acquired Barbara Bush’s famous chocolate chip cookie recipe, which is available online.
While living at The Houstonian, the Secret Service required that the Bushes’ room have certain security features, including bulletproof glass and a second egress. That led to one of the suite’s most interesting features: a window with a built-in escape hatch. (No, guests may not try it. It’s quite a drop to the bottom without a ladder, anyway.)
A Total Refresh for the Guest Rooms
Guests who haven’t stayed at The Houstonian Hotel recently will appreciate the immaculate remodeled rooms. This process started about two years ago, and at this point, only the north wing of rooms is left. It seems as if every need has been considered, including push-button panels to control lights individually or by room, an electronic indicators for “do not disturb” and another for when housekeeping is needed, and electrical outlets and USB charging ports at both nightstands and the reading desk.
While there are no longer mini-bars, there are refrigerators for guests to use. Keurig coffee makers, conveniently set up on slide-out drawers, are accompanied by K-Cups from local Houston roaster Katz Coffee, while stand-up glass showers are outfitted with BLVGARI bath products from Italy and a natural-fiber loofah. (I can attest that the BLVGARI shampoo and conditioner left my finely textured, tangle-inclined hair remarkably soft and pliant.) Guests can also head downstairs in the mornings and request freshly brewed coffee from the host stand at TRIBUTE.
The room walls are painted a restful, muted cornflower blue. Larger suites are outfitted with a plush leather sofa and a dining table for two, perfect for an intimate room service meal. Of course, the prior amenities remain, including cozy bathrobes and slippers for use during your stay (also available for purchase), an iron and ironing board (rare among hotels), luggage stand and ice bucket and glasses.
A New, Exclusive Restaurant
There’s a new restaurant inside The Houstonian Club, the luxurious onsite fitness and health center. Simply called The Kitchen, it features dishes by executive chef Marcus Hollander, whose prior experience includes working as executive sous chef under chef Maurizio Ferrarese at Hotel Granduca and as banquet chef and executive sous chef at The Woodlands Resort. Hollander has been prepping for this opening since February, ordering equipment, picking out china and working on recipes and menus during construction. To get guest opinions in advance, his new dishes were served as specials at nearby outdoor dining spot Arbor Grill. Hollander describes the menu inspirations as “Cajun, Asian and mostly healthy, simple, elegant food.”
Unlike TRIBUTE and The Bar, which are both located at the hotel, The Kitchen is only available to club members and hotel guests. There are many reasons to stay at The Houstonian Hotel; the ability to dine at The Kitchen is now another one. The restaurant patio overlooks two of The Houstonian’s pools, and the view can be tranquil or entertaining, depending on what’s going on. The Kitchen itself is geared toward peaceful dining, as it’s on the adults-only side of the club. Kids must be 14 or older to dine with their families.
Most eateries at athletic clubs offer healthy cuisine, but it is often staid, spartan and unimaginative. What distinguishes The Kitchen is that Hollander and his team haven’t forgotten the little luxuries that make dining experiences special, such as wine and well-crafted entrées. “Club members want to eat healthy — but not always,” explained Cher Harris, president of club services. “Sometimes they want to treat themselves,” added Seliece Womble, director of public relations and marketing.
Houston Food Finder was invited to sample some of The Kitchen’s dishes, including righteous Slow Braised Short Ribs accompanied by big cubes of crispy polenta fried so deeply and expertly they resembled fried potatoes. The short ribs were accented with deeply caramelized onions and a lush black garlic sauce.
The “healthy” dishes are just as beautifully executed as the more indulgent ones. Eating kale is often like chewing bitter, leaf-shaped tire rubber, but Hollander’s Kale & Fennel Salad is so good that I pressed him to tell me how he made the kale so palatable. “We soak the leaves in water beforehand,” he explained. “That removes the bitterness.” The judicious application of citrus vinaigrette also brightens the flavor, and shaved fennel, toasty pine nuts, lardons and an entire half of a perfectly ripe avocado all make good companions.
Another wholesome dish reflecting Hollander’s goal of “elegant simplicity” is the Acai Bowl, and it is more interesting than it sounds. Acai sorbet is the foundation for neatly placed rows of housemade granola, sliced bananas, strawberries and blueberries. Droplets of drizzled ginger honey gleam, giving the colorful fruits a jewel-like sparkle. Sliced almonds and toasted coconut flakes give the dish a bit of extra crunch.
The Thai Curry Salmon with coconut red curry sauce and vegetable mélange over steamed white rice displays pitch-perfect execution of a fish that is perhaps overused these days. A golden, seared exterior protects a blissfully silky interior. I was fearful the vegetable-filled curry sauce was going to be a clunky charlatan that relied on curry powder, but instead it was redolent of lemongrass, makrut lime, coconut milk and a gentle heat that most people should be able to tolerate.
Sreten Cicic, the club food and beverage manager (previously with D’Amico’s Italian Market Cafe), describes the drink program as “lean, clean, crisp and young.” “We have an enthusiastic crowd here, so we wanted to compete with other nearby places. We’ve got cocktails and an extensive liquor list, including various bourbons and tequilas. We’ve also got Texas pride, so we’ve got a collection of Texas bourbons that we’re building on,” Cicic explained.
The wine list offers about 65 options — including Sancerre, Sauvignon Blanc, Bordeaux and Burgundy — that range from affordable to high-end. As the weather cools, expect seasonal sangrias to be added. For those who avoid alcohol, there are also mocktails and zero-proof wine and beer.
Hotel guests and The Houstonian Club members can make reservations online. The Kitchen’s hours are 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays, 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturday and 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday. Those interested in club membership or tours can call (713) 316-2729.
All-New Catering Menus, Including Barbecue
During the event, executive chef Neal Cox and chef de cuisine Jeff Boudreaux showed off Big Sam, a dual-axle pit trailer named for Sam Houston that was custom-made by Pitmaker in Humble. The chefs served bites of brisket mac and cheese to guests attracted by the wafting wood smoke. Various compartments held dozens of briskets and rack upon rack of ribs. The pit also includes a large storage cabinet for the stacks of post oak needed to fire the pit. The barbecue trailer is available for catering gigs, and the Big Sam menu includes prime brisket, glazed pork ribs, wood-fired oysters and pork belly burnt ends. There are also sides such as Central Texas Potato Salad, Smoked Queso Macaroni and Creamy Cilantro Coleslaw.
There are four other “experiential” menus. Three are built around TRIBUTE’s food themes of Texan, Louisianan and Mexican cuisine, and the other is the Legacy Lounge menu, which pays homage to the Bushes. The Texas menu options includes seafood campechana, Mini Brisket Stuffed Potatoes, Texas caviar (black-eyed peas enlivened with corn, roasted chiles and more), chicken fried steak and Post Oak Grilled Ribeye. From the Louisiana catering menu, you can select starters such as Crab and Corn Beignets, boudin balls and two entrées, served from an interactive station, that can be chosen from selections such as Smoked Cajun Pork Loin and redfish on the half shell.
The Mexico-themed menu includes favorites such as Tijuana salad (the real Caesar salad invented by Italian Caesar Cardini while staying in Mexico), pozole rojo and snapper Veracruzana. Some of the most-interesting selections are ensalada de tomate y aguacate (heirloom tomato salad with pickled red onion, avocado panela cheese, pepitas and creamy cilantro-lime dressing), costilla en adobo (braised beef short rib in guajillo and pasilla sauce) and chicken enmoladas with mole, queso fresco and crema.
The Legacy Lounge menu was created with nods to both what the Bushes liked to eat and significant moments in George H.W. Bush’s tenure as President and Vice President. His fondness for pork rinds was well known, so those appear on the menu as a small bite with Valentina aioli. There’s also Kennebunkport Crab Cake with lemon-basil aioli, a nod to the Bushes’ summer home, and Peking Duck Roll with hoisin, which is a callback to George Bush’s time as the de facto ambassador to China.
Additionally, The Legacy Lounge is not just a menu option; it’s a space. Formerly the Concierge Room (which sadly is gone), it’s an ideal size for wedding parties (it’s even outfitted with a dressing and lounge room called The Pearl Suite in honor of Barbara Bush’s favorite gem). There’s a custom menu for that room, too, which includes tea sandwiches, smoked salmon, a Bloody Mary bar and prosecco pops. On the other side of The Legacy Lounge, the State Room is perfect for business meetings of up to 24 people and fully outfitted for presentations.
How to Enjoy The Houstonian for Yourself
The Houstonian Hotel, Club and Spa have always had a great deal to offer, but with the extensive additions, upgrades and remodeling, the campus is truly revitalized for a modern audience with high expectations. Maybe not all of us can afford a club membership or need to cater a big party, but it’s at least worth looking into staying at the hotel a night or two. The Houstonian frequently runs special theme packages, and many amenities are part of the stay. As of this writing, for example, the Unwind & Dine Package includes a one-night stay, $50 credit for TRIBUTE and two cocktails for $489. Along with that, it costs nothing extra to relax in the great room, work out at The Houstonian Club (don’t forget to make that reservation for The Kitchen when you reserve your room), swim in the pools or walk the winding, nearly mile-long padded trail through lush greenery. Even parking is free if you skip the valet and use the garage. There are frequently events, too, especially around the holidays.
Unlike many hotel stays, which only gets you a room and maybe some bad coffee from a machine of questionable cleanliness, being at The Houstonian is truly a getaway. It’s highly likely that you’ll leave more refreshed and less stressed. Go online for reservations, a full list of amenities, restaurant menus and more.
Disclosure: for purposes of this article, the author accepted a stay at The Houstonian to check out the extensive new offerings.
Phaedra Cook has written about Houston’s restaurant and bar scene since 2010. She was a regular contributor to My Table magazine (now closed) and was the lead restaurant critic for the Houston Press for two years, eventually being promoted to food editor. Cook founded Houston Food Finder in November 2016 and has been its editor and publisher ever since.