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 Concepcion.
I made one visit to Concepcion 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 Concepcion. Although owner Jorge Alvarez had built Concepcion 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 only had 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..." Until the chef finds a new restaurant, you can find him cooking at Grand Prize Bar this Sunday at 6 p.m., where -- he says -- he'll be cooking "wangs, chori-burger and pozole ramen," among other dishes.
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. Check Eating...Our Words for more information on what exactly happened to the dairy -- which is 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.
And even though Guerrero is Ecuadorian, his menu at Alma will highlight Peruvian cuisine, says a press release:
Opening menu highlights include his take on traditional Peruvian favorites and hearty regional offerings, some of which he first began experimenting with at Samba Grille, like Antichucho Limeno, beef heart, huacatay sauce, choclo potatoes, panca powder, Scallop Tiradito, chicha morada, cured scallops, rocoto seeds, creamy Tiger's millk avocado puree; Arroz con Pato, duck confit, duck chicharron, green peas, aji escabeche, dark beer.
In addition to Alma -- which is now open -- Guerrero is already planning a second restaurant, called EVO. Says the same press release:
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Named to mark his evolution as a chef and honor the current renaissance of Latin American fare, EVO is intended to serve as an incubator and creative showcase for experiential dining in the category. Weekly small plate, plus four, six and nine-course tasting menus will be built around concepts of feeling and emotion as inspiration and be accompanied by changing sensory clues, ranging from audio and visual elements, that aim to reinforce the intended mood. Each tasting menu will have its own theme rich in history that will tell a story inspired by the staff's own lives.
EVO will occupy a 1920s-era Montrose bungalow at 1722 California and serves to bring the chefs' talents to the already popular Lower Westheimer restaurant corridor, where it will be a most welcome addition to the eclectic area.