When I initially read about this second stop on this particular restaurant journey, a combination of French, Italian and Spanish, I was a little concerned. These cuisines are rather distinct, and then there are the regional and local cuisines in each land, especially those in Italy. The neighbors France and Italy often work well together in some dishes; risotto and stuffed pastas are found on French menus more so these days, at least in this country. Spanish and Italian quite less so. But, I figured if anyone in town could pull it off, at least with a likely array of delicious creations if not complete coherence on the menu, it would be Shepherd. In practice, it makes much more sense that I believed that it could, and the dishes ordered were indeed each delicious.
The starters are mostly Spanish complemented by French items like terrines and seafood items like the brasserie-inspired classic cold seafood tower bolstered by those delightful Spanish canned seafood items. There is a pasta section (misnamed as secondo rather than primo, no matter) that’s properly Italian, of course, then the entrées are mostly French and Spanish along with a giant, great American steak richly bolstered by foie gras and truffles that is meant for several. The desserts feature a number of Italian names, but are modern American restaurant creations, and made by an excellent pastry chef, Victoria Dearmond in this case. The descriptions on the menu themselves are enticing. Charred octopus with an almond romesco, salsa verde, and squid chicharones; flounder with white gazpacho, almond and olive oil; and suckling pig served with a white bean puree, charred broccolini, red pepper mostarda are a few of the thirty or so dishes. The price points are lower than the steak concept; steak is necessarily expensive. Starters are under $20 except for the Spanish tortilla featuring caviar, the pastas are around $15 and the nearly half-dozen main plates are between $30 and $45. Under the heading of “Pièce de Résistance” is the Big Dog Tower (“3 layers! Loaded!”) for $190. You’ll need to ask. You can certainly spend a good amount of money here, but you don’t have to.
Coming after a few appetizers the new champagne bar a’Bouzy, we split a few dishes at One Fifth. The first was simply named Mushroom starter consisting of a mix of different small mushrooms that were variously charred, raw, pickled and roasted served with a black garlic puree; deeply flavorful, slightly earthy and vibrant, it was a wonderful first dish. It tastes much better than the accompanying photo might suggest. That was followed with the Burgundian snails en croute, snails and garlic in a small bowl covered with pastry, looking a lot like a gourmet chicken pot pie. It was even more delicious than the excellent mushroom medley that prefaced it. The third of the savories we shared was their version of pasta carbonara, one of Rome’s trifecta of pasta stalwarts. It was tastier than the exemplary version I had a La Carbonara in Rome a couple of summers ago, a restaurant known for its carbonara, recommended to me by Lynette Hawkins, proprietor of Giacomo’s, who lived in Rome while growing up and has a knack for traditional Roman cooking. One Fifth’s uses artisanal pasta made in the traditional pasta producing area of Gragnano near Naples, a deeply colored egg from a local farm, small, salty house-cured cubes of guanciale (pork jowl), and Pecorino Romano and Parmigiano Reggiano all working very well together for a properly rich, creamy and unctuous concoction. It seems that Shepherd was schooled in this dish at another Roman restaurant that obviously does a fantastic job with it.
We finished with an impressive multi-form dessert centered with a scoop of flavorful ice cream and tasty candied and baked accompaniments was nearly as enjoyable for me as the first three dishes.
The preparations at One Fifth feature obviously excellent ingredients combined intelligently and cooked seemingly perfectly. The results, often versions of classics here, feature exuberant but appropriate flavors, like Shepherd and team have long done at Underbelly, where the dishes always seem to be more than the sum of its very good parts.
Wanting to stick with the bubbly, an excellent minerally champagne, the non-vintage Voiron-Jumel Blanc De Blancs ‘Brut Zero’ for $71 selected by Wine Director Matthew Pridgen, worked very well with each of the first three dishes, making them even more enjoyable like a decent pairing should. The wine list is expansive, and eminently food-friendly, Old World-focused and well-priced, as expected from the lists Pridgen created at its predecessor and at Underbelly. There is more French than anything in this incarnation, but a whole lot for most wine lovers.
Given that this was the very first night of service, the quality of the dishes was especially impressive. The white-table-clothed setting is appropriate, and comfortable for fine-dining and the atmosphere is vibrant; in fact, both are exactly like One Fifth Steak. Service, as with its predecessor and at Underbelly, was excellent, friendly and professional, if still learning the nuances of each item. This is a restaurant that appeared to be sprinting out of the gate, and providing another superb and rewarding diversion for discerning Houston diners. It's one of the best restaurants to open this year, just like the first One Fifth.
One Fifth Romance Languages
1658 Westheimer (nearly at Dunlavy), 77006, (713) 955-1024
Open daily for dinner at 5:00
The Mushroom starter. It is far tastier than my photo indicates.