Openings & Closings: Blind Items and Other "Fun" Activities

A busier week than last gives us some bad news, some intriguing news, some good news and a couple of interesting blind items. Let's get that bad news out of the way first.

Samba Grille closed last Saturday evening after service. The downtown restaurant -- which won our 2011 Best of Houston® award for Best Steakhouse -- had always struggled to find the right amount of traffic with its Bayou Place location. The closure comes just as Bayou Place had been made "whole" again by Napoli filling the long-vacant Mingalone location next door.

Said chef David Guerrero on his Facebook wall last Friday evening: "I left my soul, heart and passion in this place. Thanks to everybody who showed me love and support and who believes in this cuisine." CultureMap indicates that Samba Grille may be reopening in a new space, however, citing rumors that the investors are looking for a spot which could offer better crowds to the deserving restaurant. Guerrero's own post on Facebook seemed to indicate a return, too: ""We'll be back soon," the chef wrote on Friday. "Salud."

In better news, Alison Cook takes time away from reviewing at the Chronicle to report a bit of breaking news: Fantastic French restaurant Aura is moving from Missouri City into Sugar Land's Town Square. But what will happen to the old Aura location?

"When Aura Sugar Land opens this fall, [owner Frederic Perrier's] Missouri City restaurant will become an Italian restaurant with French Riviera overtones," reports Cook, "superintended by Perrier's onetime colleague Jose Alem, whom he is bringing in from Austin." The new Sugar Land location will be styled Aura Brasserie Moderne and hopes to open this fall.

Also opening soon is the first Houston location of Elevation Burger on Kirby near Highway 59. According to a tip left on Swamplot, the opening has been delayed while the structure housing the burger joint has been thoroughly remodeled. Which is great and all, but...where is the parking, again?

Swamplot also reports that the construction of the giant new Alamo Tamale Company facility is underway in Northside off the Hardy Tollroad. Writes the real estate blog: "The 23,000-sq.-ft. Alamo Tamale Company development at 809 Berry Rd. just west of Irvington will include a bakery, a reception hall, a restaurant and cantina, a dessert bar, and -- yes -- an on-site tamale-construction facility. Plus: a drive-thru meant to accommodate about 20 tamale-pickup vehicles."

In intriguing news, a big celebrity chef is heading here from out of the state -- and it's not David Chang.

Eater reports that Caesars Palace restaurateur Bradley Ogden is moving from Las Vegas to Houston. Eater Vegas writes that there are several possible locations for Ogden's new Houston spot, which will be called Ogden Pub: "[T]here are 'three letters of intent on spaces, two across the street from each other five minutes from River Oaks and the other near the new Exxon construction south of The Woodlands.'"

Expect Ogden Pub to be "quick," "casual," "communal," "fun" and "farm-to-table," the last two descriptions remaining the most ambiguous of the bunch. Doesn't all food come from a farm somewhere and eventually end up on a table? And what's your definition of fun? Mine involves whipping tennis balls at little kids who won't sit down at restaurants.

Now for those promised blind items...

I received an e-mail from a source regarding a restaurant for sale on "Lower Westheimer near Montrose," which is described in the confidential listing as a "$325,000.00 Turn Key operation, including all FF&E" as well as a "great opportunity for an experienced chef and/or operator to purchase a highly acclaimed, full service, turnkey restaurant."

The ad further states that the restaurant currently offers a "favorable long term lease in a stand-alone building located in the heart of the 'Foodie-Centric' Montrose/Lower Westheimer area" and even has "exclusive parking." Which restaurant is for sale? Let the games begin!

My guess would be Bambolino's, which is the only one left of the original 17 locations in town -- and which occupies a very substantial piece of real estate on a very hot strip of land along the Westheimer curve. It's still owned by the Laurenzo family, which is hard at work opening a brand-new El Tiempo next door to Ninfa's on Navigation. Could they be looking to jettison an old brand that's no longer working for them?

Meanwhile, the owners of two very popular bars -- one of which is more of a cantina -- have been looking at spaces downtown for a third concept, reportedly near the space where the OKRA charity bar will be moving in. It wouldn't be their first foray into the downtown market, which means that I have much higher hopes for this place -- should it actually even open -- than I would most other downtown ventures. As Samba Grille can attest, downtown is a tough market.

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