Ask Ryan Lachaine, the Canadian-born chef behind Houston’s restaurant of the moment, how long he’s been planning his own restaurant, and he’ll tell you it’s been in his mind for years. “I knew I wanted to do something really small,” he says. There was only one problem: He didn’t really know how.
For the majority of his career, Lachaine had worked in high-profile, big-volume restaurants under celebrity chefs. After working for top toques like Sean Brock at Husk in Charleston, S.C., Donald Link at Herbsaint in New Orleans and Daniel Patterson at Coi in San Francisco, he worked as a sous-chef under Chris Shepherd at Underbelly (during which he won an Eater Young Gun Award in 2013) and did a stint with Bryan Caswell at Reef.
Finally, after years of taking notes on what worked, he took a leap of faith and started Riel—named after the founder of Manitoba, a nod to his Canadian roots. “I wanted to do 15 things and do 15 things well,” Lachaine says. While the physical aspect of the restaurant took shape, he traveled to places like Yardbird in Hong Kong and Beast in Toronto to see how these prized concepts created such tight, focused menus.
First and foremost, Riel is a neighborhood restaurant in Montrose. Yet it was clear even before it opened that it was going to be more than that. Mentions of Riel began emerging in issues of Food & Wine and Esquire, where it was heralded as one of the most anticipated restaurants of the year. Luckily, it delivered. Drive by any night of the week and the scene framed by the windowed facade—in which a well-heeled crowd can be seen dining beneath the subtle glow of pendant lights—makes you feel as if you’ve stumbled upon a secret, special gem.
Though the menu loosely follows Lachaine’s own personal narrative, paying homage to his Ukrainian heritage and Canadian upbringing, the gist of it—which also touches upon aspects of the Gulf Coast and Asian cuisines found in Houston—is about food that Lachaine loves and wants to eat himself.
Who would have thought that something as simple as borscht, the Eastern European beet-based soup, would be so captivating? Here, it’s made with veal stock and blended to a consistency just a tad looser than a chowder. Garnished simply with a dollop of creme fraiche and a sprig of dill, it’s masterfully executed—the perfect start to a meal that is anything but parochial.