Yum, Fried Bubble Gum

Top 10 State Fair of Texas foods

It's a scene straight from the streets of Buenos Aires, where Argentinian tango is not only the national dance but a national pastime. "It reminds me of a milonga," I said as I took in the surrounding scene, thinking of the tango dance clubs all around Argentina. There we were, in the heart of downtown Houston, in the bar adjacent to a grocery store, no less, and lo and behold, a bona fide milonga was taking place.

MKT Bar is one of those places that might be easily overlooked because of its association with a grocery store. At night, however, the space turns into a full-service wine bar/cafe, with dimmed lights and daily entertainment (they have a full calendar, with local artists, DJs, etc.). Each time I've visited, it has felt like a cool hangout in some hip city. On that Tuesday night, the city would have been Buenos Aires. On other nights, I could have been somewhere in San Francisco, Seattle or Vancouver.

Tuesday and Thursday nights also happen to be steak night, another reason I'd made it a point to visit MKT Bar that night. For $12, you get a six-ounce grilled steak topped with chimichurri sauce, a mound of thin onion rings, a potato and a Mediterranean side salad. For the price paid, the quality of the food we received was remarkable. My steak was the perfect size for a midweek meal, the chimichurri sauce adding a good dose of garlicky herbaceousness that is typical of Argentinian steak preparations. The accompaniments were fun to eat, and the side salad was fantastic — cool and crisp, with olives and feta cheese, tomatoes and red onions. I'd ordered a lovely glass of sparkling rosé that night as well, another bargain at $7 for a generous pour presented in a fluted glass.

Bubblegum — the new food group in the health pyramid.
Taryn Walker
Bubblegum — the new food group in the health pyramid.
Deep fried mac 'n' cheese sliders
Mike Mezeul
Deep fried mac 'n' cheese sliders

I had my dancing shoes with me that night, but by the time I arrived at 8 p.m., it was too late for the beginner lessons. It didn't matter. It was enough for me to sit at the bar with my girlfriend, both of us enjoying good conversation and banter with our bartender as we dined on steak and listened to the sultry sounds of tango filling the air. Mai Pham


Openings & Closings
Adiós Concepción, y bienvenidos Alma

Although there are only four items in this week's roundup of openings and closings, all of them are rather big deals (arbitrarily speaking, of course — there's still a presidential election going on and all that). Starting with the news that chef Jonathan Jones is out at Concepción.

I made one visit to Concepción and looked forward to making many others — Jones's food was an expanded yet streamlined version of the pan-Latin American cuisine he had begun experimenting with at Xuco Xicana. Housemade morcilla with the plush warmth of nutmeg, fresh and musky huitlacoche, stunning ceviches and the silky, hummus-like sikil pak made with pumpkin seeds (an old Mayan recipe) all stood out as some of the best dishes I'd eaten all year.

However, it was clear that Jones wasn't receiving the kind of support that he needed to make a go of it at Concepción. Although owner Jorge Alvarez had built Concepción out of the maddeningly inferior Oceans that previously occupied the big white house on West Alabama (it's not even fair to call it a rebranding, as Jones's ceviches were so superior), they never got around to getting a sign for the restaurant — which still bore the Oceans name — and support staff was limited. The night that I went, two waiters were being run ragged by a full dining room. Another night, a fellow food writer reported to me in confidence, she was told that the kitchen had only three burners working. And once I heard news that trusty general manager Matthew McLaughlin had left, it seemed likely that Jones would follow soon after.

When asked what happened by a fan on Twitter, Jones's only response was: "The sky fell..."

In other sad news, local dairy Way Back When will no longer be selling its excellent milk or dairy products in Houston, although it remains open and operational. The dairy was notable for providing the milk used in Greenway Coffee & Tea's coffees, the milk sold at Revival Market and the ice cream made by Fat Cat Creamery.

In better news, the newest location of local chain Barnaby's has finally opened in the old Convey space downtown. The corner restaurant space on Market Square always provided attractive views and a good location, but never had the right tenant. With Barnaby's in the spot, I predict the little corner unit will finally get the traffic it's long deserved.

And although we were all bereft when Samba Grille closed in July (well, at least I was), there's more good news to be had this week: Chef David Guerrero has resurfaced, and quickly — but far away from the downtown location of his South American steakhouse. Guerrero has already opened his first new concept, an "intentionally casual and approachable" Peruvian restaurant called Alma in the Energy Corridor of far west Houston. Alma occupies the space vacated by Chatters, which — like Convey — was located in a charming corner space that never saw the crowds it deserved.

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