How do you get one of the Big Apple’s rising new chefs to move to Houston and open one of the hottest restaurants of 2020? Have him marry a Texan, of course.
Chef Aaron Bludorn, 36, was the executive chef at Daniel Boulud’s Café Boulud in Manhattan when he met Victoria Pappas Bludorn, 32. The Houston native (and local restaurant royalty) was working in operations for Boulud when they fell in love. After they were married in 2018, Bludorn decided to open his own restaurant, and she convinced him to do it in Houston.
“I played the long game,” laughs Pappas Bludorn. “We would come here for holidays and sneak away from family events to explore the city.”
“We would check out all the new restaurants,” adds Bludorn. “There was such a great culinary climate here, and Houston diners are so committed.”
Early last year, the couple was renovating the old Pass and Provisions space on Taft Street, preparing for both their first Houston restaurant and their first child, when the pandemic hit and everything shut down.
“It was terrifying,” admits Bludorn. “We were past the point of no return on the space. We didn’t know what was going to happen next.”
When the lockdown lifted, Bludorn studied restaurants worldwide to learn how they were adapting to the new restrictions. He made changes to his space by enlarging the patio and spacing the dining room out. It seemed to work, and Bludorn has been running at 50 percent capacity ever since it opened in August.
“I think it’s because of the changes we made for safety,” says Pappas Bludorn, who is the operations manager of the restaurant.
“We are blessed,” adds Bludorn. “The turnout has been better than we expected.”
The couple was blessed again when Pappas Bludorn gave birth to baby Gregory in November. Through it all, the chef has been working on refining his menu.
“I’d call it New American, and seasonal,” Bludorn explains. “All of our seafood is from the Gulf, and produce is from local farms.” He hits up farmers markets every week and is building relations with area farmers and ranchers. Though the menu will change with the season, look for some incredible signature dishes like beef Wellington, foie gras, lobster pot pie, and Gulf cioppino made with red snapper, crab, and shrimp. There are several Italian dishes featuring risotto and ravioli, and of course the requisite chicken, lamb, and New York strip steak with a twice-baked potato.
There’s also a “raw bar” in the dining room. “It’s like ‘The World’s Your Oyster Bar,’” says Bludorn. You can order oysters by the half-dozen or dozen and eat them raw, fried with capers, or roasted with watercress and parmesan. There’s also a seafood tower stacked with oysters, lobster tail, uni, tuna, and a half-dozen shrimp for real seafood lovers.
If all of this sounds like “special occasion” food, don’t worry—there’s also a burger on the menu. It’s dry aged beef adorned with “redneck cheddar,” a cheese made with Texas beer.
Bludorn serves up specialty cocktails and wines curated by wine director Molly Austad, featuring everything from French Chablis to a Napa Valley Cab.
About the only food you can’t get here is Tex-Mex, but that’s only because the chef has so much local competition. “Oh yeah,” says Bludorn. “I love the Tex-Mex in Houston, and also the crawfish boils in season.”
Or as Pappas Bludorn adds, “Tex-Mex—I don’t know how we ever survived in New York City without that!”
For more information on Bludorn, visit bludornrestaurant.com.
This article appears in the January 2021 edition of OutSmart magazine.