With the sudden closing of downtown Houston’s award-winning Samba Grille in late July 2012, David Guerrero was left wondering where histoque would take him. Just days later, the acclaimed, 30-year-old chef found himself in new territory as the partner in two restaurant concepts designed to showcase his culinary talents and the evolving cuisine of his native South America.
Guerrero’s transition from hired hand to chef/owner began earlier this week with the soft opening of Alma, the Spanish word for soul, at 1275 Eldridge Parkway. In the heart of the city’s burgeoning west side, which has been increasingly catering to the sophisticated, international tastes of Energy Corridor residents and employees, Alma serves as a showcase for Guerrero’s ongoing exploration of Peruvian food. The cuisine, which meshes influences from Africa, China, Italy, Japan and Spain, has not only been generating local excitement through premier venues like Latin Bites and The Lemon Tree, but alsoglobal interest surrounding the country’s gastronomic explosion.
Open for lunch and dinner, the intentionally casual and approachable Alma focuses on classic dishes, incorporating seasonal and exotic South American ingredients and executed with the contemporary flair and attention to detail for which Guerrero has become known. Opening menu highlights include his take on traditional Peruvian favorites and hearty regional offerings, some of which hefirst began experimenting with at Samba Grille, like Antichucho Limeno, beef heart, huacatay sauce, choclo potatoes, panca powder, Scallop Tiradito, chichi morada, cured scallops, rocoto seeds, creamy Tiger’s millk avocado puree; Arroz con Pato, duck confit, duck chicharron, green peas, aji escabeche, dark beer.
Desserts will be orchestrated by friend and former Samba Grille co-worker Alejandro Bremont, who trained under Martin Berasategui at the legendary chef’seponymous, Michelin-rated restaurant in the Basque Country of Spain. And the experience will be further complemented by a selection of signature cocktails.
The contemporary space is both warm and inviting with soft cream-washed walls adorned with Peruvian artifacts, souvenirs and a rotating selection of vibrant canvases by Bolivian-born, Houston-based artist Javier Duran. The 2,200-square-foot restaurant features an open concept kitchen and encompasses two primary indoor areas – a dining room with seating for 120 and cebiche/Piscobar – plus an expansive patio. Guerrero has personally created a playlist of Andean-lounge music that accentuates the ambience.
Slated to debut later this fall, EVO is a dream come to reality for the young chef. 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 smallplate, 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. The restaurant and bar, which will inhabit a refashioned and recently expanded, 1920’s era Montrose bungalow at 1722 California Street directly behind Da Marco, adds yet another destination component to the booming and eclectic food & beverage scene along Lower Westheimer. Guests can expect a design forward interior and exterior treatment.
According to Guerrero, “While I was born in Ecuador, the lush flavors of Peruvian food and the groundbreaking work of its current crop of top chefs have been a key influence on my personal growth. I am so grateful for the opportunities that Samba Grille provided me to grow in an executive chef capacity, but this new partnership and role will allow me much more opportunity to explore new tastes and techniques with the ultimate goal of providing Houstonians something theyhaven’t seen before.”
Guerrero joined Samba Grille in 2011, when he was hired to transition the menu from it soriginal rodizio and steakhouse leanings to a restaurant focused on South American fine dining, which included regular multi-course tasting offerings. Prior to his time at Samba Grille, Guerrero was part of the opening team at Houston’s Philippe Restaurant, where he served as head tournat chef. In 2008, he worked under chefs Eric LeGros and Dominique Bocquierat Au Petit Paris as a sous chef to cultivate his classic French technique. Before that Guerrero spent time in New York as head saucier atfamed Manhattan restaurant Citarella and assistant pastry chef at the award-winning Highland Pavilion in New Jersey.
Alma is open for lunch Monday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and dinner from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Happy Hour is available in the bar and patio only from 5:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.—drink specials include: Pisco Sours, Rocoto Sling, Tocacheand Muerte al Orujo. For information or reservations, call 281.293.0001 or visit www.almahouston.com.
Information and image provided by Studio Communications.