Spirited Adventure

By Robin Barr Sussman

Photography by Trevor Gerland


Poitín in the Washington Avenue Arts District is pouring kicked-up cocktails and dishing global fare full of personality.


With names like Balls Out Burger and Poitín, it’s clear restaurateur Ian Tucker likes catchy titles for his eateries—ice breakers, if you will. For his newest venture, the Irish expat prepared for mispronunciations by spelling out the name phonetically on the menu: PUUT-cheen. It’s named after a centuries-old clear distilled beverage born from Irish moonshine—a notoriously potent spirit that you’ll find blended into cocktails at this Sawyer Yards newcomer.

The restaurant name also reflects the bold direction of the eclectic menu designed to appeal to immigrant cultures in Houston, spanning the globe from Asia to South America. It’s ambitious, indeed, but exec-chef Dominick Lee, formerly with Kiran’s, keeps the menu concise and sources quality local ingredients to create seasonal, thought-provoking dishes. “Poitín celebrates the diversity of Houston with its menu, cocktail program and its overall unpretentious atmosphere,” says Tucker, a 16-year veteran of the restaurant biz back in his native Dublin.

Pull up a chair at the curved 28-foot bar, which is reminiscent of a classic New York City hotel, for unique noshes like Pick Ya Flavor crunchy pork skins or the terrific hummus drizzled with parsley oil and garnished with savory braised lamb. Wash it down with a cold craft beer or a sustainable wine curated by sommelier Shannon Nöelle Crow, a 13 Celsius alum. A large bar, not to mention the etymology of that name, call for a high-level cocktail program, and this all-female team of veterans, including Bar director Christa Havican and Beverage Director Sarah Cuneo, are filling up gorgeous stemware with inventive libations to complement the cross-cultural menu. The smoked (literally smoking) old-fashioned, Key lime pie martini (an Irish invention crowned in meringue), and the P&T, a riff on a gin and tonic starring poitín, already have a cult following.

The modern industrial space with floor-to-ceiling windows, a back-lit wine bottle wall and art deco elements seems as sprawling as our metropolis, but expect plenty of semiprivate nooks and cushy banquettes with Downtown skyline views. Snag an oversize Hollywood booth and start with the seafood charcuterie, a fun display of various fish bites. For large seafood plates, Thai-style whole fried market fish with sweet and spicy chile sauce, papaya salad, grilled mango and sticky rice is a showstopper. “It’s so popular that we order 140 pounds of whole fish per week,” says Lee. Also expertly fried are the piquant cornmeal-dusted crispy okra sticks drizzled with buttermilk sauce, lending a cool and creamy finish.

Carnivores might gravitate toward the hefty chef’s cut Texas wagyu steak with vibrant South American accents of chimichurri, papas rellenas and sweet dulce de leche carrots. But vegetarians are not left out. Anyone who thinks polenta is a tame Italian dish will appreciate Lee’s thick heirloom polenta (on steroids!) flavored with fennel, herb-infused ricotta, Parmigiano-Reggiano and hen of the woods mushrooms. Skillet-basted cauliflower steak with chipotle aioli and grilled beans is another hit for the lean and mean.

Denizens are toasting the new sweet and savory weekend brunch menu with cocktails including the espresso martini, milk punch or Corpse Reviver #2. Silky house-smoked gravlax draped over dark rye brioche with whipped cream cheese, chives and radishes is a smashing partner for the Bromosa—Champagne with a flight of fruit juices ($18). Elevated with pork fat and charred cherry tomatoes, the barbecue shrimp and roasted grits (a nod to Lee’s Louisiana heritage) is another must. For something sweet, the French toast a l’orange, exotically flavored with five spice powder, vanilla-tinged tonka bean, oranges and orange blossom maple syrup, is an epic treat. Split this bad boy with a friend and raise your glass to adventurous eating. And don’t worry if you pronounce the name of the restaurant wrong.