The graceful John F. Staub home, known as the Manor House, on the grounds of the Houstonian Hotel, Club & Spa, has seen its share of celebrities, dignitaries and even a president entertained in its handsome rooms.
For the past 30 years, it has been a where-the-elite-meet destination - a private dining restaurant for members of the Houstonian Club by day and a private function venue on nights and weekends. Since it was renovated and launched as the Manor House restaurant in 1986, it has essentially held members-only status.
Until now. This month, the Houstonian decided to make the Manor House restaurant open to the public in celebration of the historical treasure's 30th anniversary. The move allows foodies to experience a menu and level of service that are steeped in tradition: a rarefied style of dining that exists in only a handful of restaurants in Houston (think Brennan's of Houston, Tony's and the restaurant at La Colombe d'Or Hotel).
Executive chef Neal Cox, who oversees all culinary operations at the Houstonian, including the Manor House, calls the menu Gulf Coast Creole built on French technique.
"For the most part, when people walk into the Manor House there's a degree of presentation and taste that is so classical," said Cox, who has been with the Houstonian for nearly six years and whose résumé includes work at Churrascos, Américas, Trevisio and Pappas Bros. Steakhouse. "We've made a market for ourselves for people looking for that."
It's sumptuous, gorgeous stuff.
Beginning March 1, Cox is offering a new lunch-only menu. It will include classics such as lemon sole meuniere with jumbo lump crab, haricots verts and almond popcorn rice; steak tartare with Yukon potato chips and mache salad; Cobb salad; Southwest Caesar salad with roasted corn, black beans and toasted pepitas; and smoked salmon eggs Benedict.
But Cox also has invested the spring menu with flavorful new dishes including Gulf snapper with Pontchartrain sauce and griddled Johnnycake; filet Oscar with jumbo lump crab, asparagus and Bearnaise sauce; and veal short rib with fava bean risotto. He also has added crawfish bisque, asparagus salad with lardons, and baby kale salad with farro, spring vegetables and heirloom tomatoes.
It's a menu as rich as the history of Manor House itself. The 1955 structure was designed by Staub as a residence for Texas oilman Lawrence Reed. In 1971, the parcel of land that included the home was sold to Tom Fatjo for the construction of the Houstonian. In 1982, it was redesigned as the hotel's presidential suite, used by a number of celebrities and dignitaries (the King of Spain; Jack Nicholson's pad while he was filming "Terms of Endearment"). George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush later used it as a residence while Bush was director of the CIA. As president, Bush returned to the Manor House for the 16th G7 summit, held in Houston in 1990 and attended by United Kingdom Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and French President Francois Mitterand (economic treaties were signed in the Botanical Room).
Since 1986, when it became the Houstonian Club's private venue, it has been the site of sumptuous weddings and other special occasion events.
But when the hotel began plotting how to mark the Manor House's anniversary, the decision to open it to the public - so that more Houstonians can experience it - seemed appropriate.
"We knew it would be a great change for the whole property; to open it to all Houstonians in its 30th year means more guests dine and more guests experience the history here," said Steve Fronterhouse, hotel general manager. "The timing was right."
Guests can experience the Staub rooms with their Peruvian mahogany floors, rich textiles and English manor décor. It's a stately, dignified spread but entirely welcoming. And with a menu designed to remind people that graceful dining exists amid our fast, casual restaurant realm."
We want people to know that there's still a place dedicated to this type of food," Cox said. "We're staying true to the roots of Manor House and what we've always done - creating memories."
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