The price for crude oil is currently under $30 a barrel. Houston has more industries than oil and gas (the medical industry is also a big part of our economy), but there’s no denying how significant the energy sector is for us.
With fewer discretionary dollars allocated for dining, for restaurants, 2016 will be about survival of the fittest. Provided the quality represents good value, low-end and mid-range restaurants are best equipped to sail troubled economic waters. It is the upper echelon with entrée prices of more than $15 that needs to start worrying.
To that end, Sunday night's Fire & Smoke event, hosted by Texas Monthly barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn, was a stroke of genius. It was the sixth installment in a series that has been hosted in various Texas metropolitans and the second one for Houston. The dinner brought together hot new restaurant State of Grace (3258 Westheimer) and Roegels Barbecue Co., whose own star has been shining brightly as of late.
It was a true collaboration of restaurants related by nothing more than love of southwest Texas food culture — and the ability to brilliantly execute representative dishes. Roegels is a humble joint that never would have been able to host such a large group of attendees, so the event took place at State of Grace.
Outside, the Roegels barbecue trailer smoked bobwhite quail, Louisiana-style barbecued rabbit and pork belly and, according to Russell Roegels, “put a little smoke” on oxtail that State of Grace braised. Dense sausage, also made by State of Grace, also got a hit of wood smoke before appearing on a tray alongside glorious blue crabs, big, shell-on shrimp and some admittedly small-tailed crawfish. (It’s still very early in the season.)
The smoked meats made their way to the kitchen, where they were finished, made into various platings and given some proper companions, like a baked potato salad with a lot of interesting texture thanks to the inclusion of sunchokes. The pork belly was used in smoked pork belly puffy tacos, one of four passed appetizers.
So, this wasn’t a dinner in which it was “Here’s my dish and here’s this other place’s dish.” This was a dinner in which two restaurants joined forces and the cuisine of both was elevated by collaboration. Dessert was Misty Roegels’s stellar banana bourbon pudding — and that was all that was needed to cap off a beautiful evening. (Frankly, I can’t imagine any diner would have had room for anything more.)
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There’s another collaborative dinner on the horizon. Peli Peli is joining forces with The Tasting Room in Uptown Park for a wine dinner on January 26 from 7 to 10 p.m. Six courses with wine pairings will be presented by the restaurants’ respective chefs, Paul Friedman and Michael Pellegrino. The menu, which is available online, features five classic Peli Peli dishes, which incorporate South African elements like peppadew peppers and kingklip, a fish rarely seen outside of that country, and one dish from The Tasting Room. The wine pairings, though, flip the script, with The Tasting Room selecting five of the six pairings.
Peli Peli co-owner Thomas Nguyen explained how the concept came about:
“We were already thinking of doing a wine dinner for 2016, so I reached out to Jerry Lasco [of Lasco Enterprises, owner of The Tasting Room] to see how he felt about a collaborative wine dinner, and he loved the idea. His customers have never had his wine paired with our food, so it would be a new experience for many people. We realized that we share a similar customer base too, so we felt a synergy would be there and that we could benefit from cross-promoting each other. Especially with the market going the way it is, everyone is looking for ways to market to new people.
As you know, Houston is at the forefront of the restaurant scene and we are so diverse. I think we can all benefit from cross-marketing and collaborating with each other more.”
Creative collaborations like these serve to introduce diners to not one restaurant, but two at the same time. Big fans of one will meet the other. People who know both will be eager to see what the joint venture has wrought. This type of out-of-the-box thinking will be an important strategy in getting diners to restaurant tables this year.