Visiting about a week after opening, Night Heron appears to be a good fit for the neighborhood and visitors to the Menil. The highlights of the visit and seemingly the strong point of the restaurant were the cocktails, which wisely borrows that expertise from its siblings Coltivare and Eight Row Flint. My friend, who lives a block away, couldn’t wait for me to try the place, she had been the night before for just drinks and had a grapefruit cocktail that she raved about and ordered it again to start, the usually simple Salty Dog. This one, like the other updated and refined versions of classics on their menu, was a modernized and improved version. Featuring a honeysuckle vodka, grapefruit juice and a slice of the fruit for garnish and aroma, black pepper, vanilla, and pink salt, it was terrific, refreshing and a far cry from the Salty Dogs I consumed in my youth. I opted for a much more bitter option, a Manhattan, in regards to the daily atorvastatin. Served neat and with two Luxardo-like cured cherries, this version opted for bourbon in place of rye and amaro for the Angostura and madeira instead of sweet vermouth, this was different than the Manhattans I have been enjoyably imbibing a Public Services and elsewhere, but excellent. The sixteen or so cocktails on the menu come with the provenance of each – the Bloody Mary comes courtesy of Harry’s New York Bar, Paris, 1920s, for example – and are described as: “the canon of America’s classic drinking culture. There are infinite ways to spin these classics. What follows are our favorites.” These output from these two pages are reason enough to visit Night Heron, if you like those sorts of things.
As for the rest of the adult beverages, the restaurant offers something nearly unheard of these days: most of its wine by glass are priced at $10 or less. About 70% of the roughly sixty bottles offered are food-friendly Old World wines. The beers are mostly hoppy and alcoholic, with a handful of Belgium classics in the form of a saison, a dubbel, a Flemish red ale that is the favorite of Antwerp, and the Trappist Orval.
The food at Night Heron, all meant for sharing with the possible exception of the cheeseburger, seems also meant as accompaniment to the various drinks. Most of the ones we ordered worked the other night. The star, by far, was the Salt & Pepper Pork Ribs that comes as four spare, lean ribs in a bowl. It’s not an impressive sight, but the taste is terrific, moist and nicely incorporating the lemon and sumac the menu states are in the preparation. The Singapore Chili Clams were the second best, a preparation of numerous clams made with fermented black beans and a tomato-y broth with mint and some spice. As tasty as the broth at the bottom of the bowl was, frustratingly there was no bread to sop it up, a similar misstep that Coltivare did, or does, make. The waiter, earnest if often absent and still learning the ropes of the newly opened spot, suggested we use some of the Fried Curry Spiced Potatoes for the broth. It did not do the trick as well as some bread, and those small potatoes, charred and dull, were a disappointment. All of its minimal spice were in the mild ketchup that came with it. More enjoyable was Turmeric Chicken Frites made with a noticeable buttermilk marinade along with some dill and yogurt. Its taste was enjoyable, subtle, and judiciously sized. It was a welcome bar snack and a ways from Raising Cane’s. The last dish was even more lackluster than the potatoes, Jasmine Rice Congee. Though the congee, rice porridge inspired by those served in Vietnam or China, came with mushrooms, almonds, a little bacon, plentiful scallions and a poached egg, it was a bland rice porridge, as rice porridge is apt to be, after getting past the nicely cooked egg. For some reason it was served in an oversized portion. A small cup would have been sufficient.
Though I would have liked more spice in the dishes, I have to applaud the kitchen for embracing subtlety and nuance. Very nicely, the food items run from just $4 for a snack of olives to $16 for a take on jerk chicken.
I’ll be back, and I think my friend is quite excited about it. And Night Heron is a very welcome neighborhood restaurant, and a cool place, in general. It might not be the best restaurant in the immediate vicinity with the Bistro Menil right there. Or, maybe it is not really worth the drive across town, well, maybe for the cocktails, but a worth a reasonable drive, especially when drinks are involved. Drinking responsibly, of course.
1601 W Main (at Mandell) (713) 527-8010