Openings & Closings: Adios Concepcion y Bienvenidos Alma

Categories: Restaurant News

concepcionceviche.jpg
Photo by Nicholas L. Hall
Hope you enjoyed Jonathan Jones's ceviche at Concepcion while you could.
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:

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.



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Location Info

Concepcion - CLOSED

819 W. Alabama St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Grand Prize Bar

1010 Banks, Houston, TX

Category: Music

Revival Market

550 Heights Blvd, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Barnaby's

1701 Shepherd, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Convey Sushi - CLOSED

801 Congress St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Samba Grille - CLOSED

530 Texas Ave., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Chatter's Cafe and Bistro - CLOSED

1275 Eldridge Parkway, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

My Voice Nation Help
20 comments
byeee
byeee

I tried to go to brunch at Concepcion today and was told that it is closed.  That is twice in one year.  Jorge Alvarez = poison to the industry.

Wuwu
Wuwu

,,,,,folks don't get your panties in a wad...let's just list the facts....horrible location..like beyond bad, how many restaurants have failed here....signage, are you kidding me??? so cheap you have the old sign on the east side and the new concept on the west side, horrible marketing job, get a grip on your business.....next, this chef is a jack ass, anyone in the food scene knows this, XOXO was an abortion gone way way wrong...and lastly not enough depth on the menu to carry this conept over the goal line...what I find most disturbing is folks who get in the biz have no idea what they hell they are doing, its simply just a dream and vision and the all FAIL!!  If most people who think they can do this would just save their money and NOT do it you would not see such a high stupid failure rate of crap concepts in Houston....

moncho233
moncho233

im confused by "Shilcutt's" blog. i just had dinner at "concepcion", everything was great. great cocktails, food, and service.  i've always been a fan of jj's food, but the guy never lasts any where he goes. i guess it's everyone else's fault. slinging ramen at a bar?! what a sad way for a chef's career to end.    

Wuwu
Wuwu

Concepcion....LOL....like I said.....

truculence
truculence

Jorge Alvarez has proven himself a pretty lousy businessman IMO. How do you take a great old house with a wonderful patio in a close-in neighborhood, and fail not once but twice?

dunstan
dunstan

 @Wuwu horrible location, huh? why is that? In Montrose, minutes away from the Museum District, Midtown and Downtown? From parks, theaters, museums and the commercial center. On a major street. That's a bad location I'll take anyday. The restaurant before Jorge took it had a decent record of business, both event and individual diners, before they started going silent and neglecting it. 

kshilcutt
kshilcutt moderator editor

 @moncho233 I am super confused by all the extraneous quotation marks being thrown around, but I apologize if I made it sound like Concepcion was closed. Although it doesn't say that anywhere in the article, I can see how the headline itself would be misleading. My apologies.

vonHaupstadt
vonHaupstadt

 @moncho233 what are you "saying" exactly? can you "flesh it out" a bit more, without further offending a chef who's "widely" reputed as a great talent, but has some babysitting issues, and in light of the owner "jorge alvarez" who is said to be more interested in real-estate than "food", while being not so great at either, despite a sexy latin sheen and confidence borne of wealth that's been profiled in "top-notch" publications that don't "shy" from criticism? 

labratcher2
labratcher2

To all of you commenting on this article I hope you do understand that these are people you're speaking of. People with families who's livelihood depends on their business (including JJ) I don't think any of you personally know Jorge Alvarez nor what his background or knowledge is. There's only one way to learn a business and it's by putting yourself out there and trying to learn. Jorge had brushed himself off and tried again and that's more than I can say for a lot of people. He's a young guy trying to make a living in an tough industry full of crooks, opportunists, finicky critics and people with terrible work ethic. As far as JJ's, his reputation preceeds him. He's a talented guy but how would the customers know that when he didn't ever want to come to work? Get the facts before you blog

moncho233
moncho233

 @kshilcutt i clearly told you we were not closed before you posted this on  your paper. get your facts straight. you are out of line. 

labratcher2
labratcher2

@kshilcutt @moncho233 The article falls under your openings and closing column and clearly states 'Adios Concepcíon'. Please clarify how that is open for any interpretation other than a closing? Where do you get your information please tell?

moncho233
moncho233

 @kshilcutt "misleading"? it clearly states, "openings and closings: adios concepcion bienvenidos alma".  with all sincerity, you posting an apology for the misnomer speaks highly of your character. if the status of 

"concepcion" is still of importance to you, it would be great to post the point of view of ppl who are invested financially, emotionally, and have obligations to a community. not just from an individual who squanders opportunities and was only a part of the team for three months. thank you again for the apology. 

moncho233
moncho233

 @vonHaupstadt i don't know the owner of "concepcion", nor "beavers", "max's wine dive", "xuco xicana",. i enjoy these places bc they are near my home. the common denominator is, they are all still open and jj is not a factor. i only commented bc "shilcuttt" posted that "concepcion" is closed,which it isn't. i'm confident when i say that everyone in this community is delighted to have this building around. this could have been a highrise if it weren't for these guys. i don't know what "flesh it out" means. fact: he is slinging ramen noodles at a bar, and it is sad. what the hell is a "wang". 

labratcher2
labratcher2

...especially when that's your so called job!

rrrr
rrrr

 @moncho233  @vonHaupstadt Moncho is the bartender/"manager"/lamprey at the end of Jorge Alvarez' smallest appendage, at Concepcion and should not be trusted with delivering the truth.

labratcher2
labratcher2

@BrittanieShey @labratcher2 'libel' as written or published. All falls under defamation.

labratcher2
labratcher2

I think the word for that is slander. Google it and it's repercussions.

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