If nothing else, you must go have a drink (a delightful non-alcoholic shrub, to be exact) on Lillo & Ella’s patio because it is too picturesque a Heights scene to miss. Even tucked inside the almost-as-picturesque indoor dining room, the Lemon Shrub was refreshing—the sparkling vinegary acidity a perfect foil to a light sweetness and mellow, muddled cucumber. It left me curious to come back and sample the rest of the mocktail menu—Black Peppered Pineapple and Calamansi Citrus shrubs—not to mention the cocktail menu.
Lillo & Ella, the year-old joint venture from Chef Kevin Naderi of Roost and his uncle Barry Gozlou, aims to serve Asian-inspired fusion street food, and they do it with some interesting successes, mostly in the small plates arena. The Burmese Samosas enrobed the typical spiced potato and lentil filling in elongated crispy-soft shells with bubbled exteriors that echoed the long, delicate wonton strips served alongside the Ahi Tuna Tartar (which was a party of ingredients, most notably enlivened with some toasted peanuts). Served with a mild, runny cilantro chutney, the samosas were perhaps my favorite dish of the night—but only because it feels cliché to talk about the tasty, deeply-charred XO sauce-doused Brussels Sprouts dotted with pistachios and whole mint (like most other roasted Brussels dishes in town, be prepared to sacrifice your daily sodium allotment for the ultra-saltiness).
It’s almost not even worth asking what the Grilled Fish of the day is—just order it, and savor the cheddar grits with bits of shitake submerged in their buttery depths. Skip the Vegetable Pad Thai, which, for $16, was a disappointing muddle of flavors.
Though the menu seems to rotate out dishes with the seasons, the Nutella Pie has been a reliable dessert staple. Though it sounds and looks heavy as a brick—accompanied by a generous puddle of caramel and a ball of Cloud 10 banana and palm sugar ice cream—it’s pleasantly light in reality, with an almost a mousse-like texture. Deeply toasted cashews provide an odd, but delicious garnish. If you’ve never enjoyed the forbiddingly dense and ultra-rich characteristics of many traditional cheesecakes, you might try the Green Tea Cheesecake, which veered into uniquely soft and sticky territory, served alongside a pile of fruit and an addictive white chocolate sauce.
A tasting was enough to ensure that I’ll be back for another drink on the patio, steadily making my way through the selection of small plates.
Lillo & Ella
2307 Ella Blvd
Houston, TX 77008