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Meaty New Restaurant

New Houston restaurant breaks the CityCentre chain reliance with some serious meat

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Sal y Pimienta raw steaks chops meat June 2014
Choose from tomahawks, flank steak, tenderloin and more at Sal y Pimienta.  Photo courtesy of © The Epicurean Publicist
Sal y Pimienta Caprese salad June 2014
Caprese salad gets a dash of lump crab meat.  Photo courtesy of © The Epicurean Publicist
Sal y Pimienta Gianfranco and Maria Percovich June 2014
Gianfranco and Maria Percovich have plans to open a second Sal y Pimienta.  Photo courtesy of © The Epicurean Publicist
Sal y Pimienta dining room June 2014
A look inside the dining room.  Photo courtesy of © The Epicurean Publicist
Sal y Pimienta mesquite wood-burning stove June 2014
The wood-burning stove gives meats at Sal y Pimienta a distinctive flavor.  Photo courtesy of © The Epicurean Publicist
Sal y Pimienta raw steaks chops meat June 2014
Sal y Pimienta Caprese salad June 2014
Sal y Pimienta Gianfranco and Maria Percovich June 2014
Sal y Pimienta dining room June 2014
Sal y Pimienta mesquite wood-burning stove June 2014

When Flora & Muse closed last year, some people wondered whether a locally-owned, stand-alone restaurant could compete in CityCentre against well-funded chains. One new restaurant has decided to try, and it's counting on a meat-centric menu to win diners over.

Meet Sal y Pimienta (salt and pepper in Spanish), a new South American restaurant that opened last month next to The Tasting Room. Owner  Gianfranco Percovich, a native of Uruguay, brings his experiences from opening The Woodlands location of Americas and as a founder of Galleria restaurant Tango & Malbec to Sal y Pimienta. Billed as a more casual concept than either of those restaurants, S&P offers a diverse menu that includes sandwiches, pastas, milanesas and pizzas. It's all backed by a South American-oriented, reasonably priced wine list selected by Percovich.

 For $56, diners get six different cuts and more than enough meat for two people. It's served on a special tray that contain coals to keep everything warm.  

Still, as with most South American concepts, grilled meat is the star of the show. Seasoning, of course, is limited to salt and pepper, but sourcing is broad. Diners can choose from suppliers such as locally-raised 44 Farms or all natural beef from Uruguay.

Having trouble deciding? The staff will wheel out a meat cart with a variety of cuts to peruse. 

Those who crave variety would be well-served to order the restaurant's parrilla. For $56, diners get six different cuts and more than enough meat for two people. It's served on a special tray that contain coals to keep everything warm. 

At a media tasting Tuesday night, that parrilla and a 24-ounce tomahawk rib eye ($92) were two of the meal's highlights. Each meat is cut on the platter and arrived properly cooked, despite their different thicknesses. Each also had a distinct flavor, with the flank steak and Argentinian-style sausage being two of the highlights. Still, the Tomahawk stole the show thanks to its crusty exterior and big, beefy flavor. Sal y Pimienta serves four different tomahawks, including a larger version of the 40-day dry aged tomahawk ($124) we sampled, a 30 to 34-ounce Texas wagyu ($124) and a massive 38 to 42-ounce Certified Black Angus ($92). 

The appetizers also delivered, particularly the flaky empanadas that showcased fillings including sweet corn, chicken and beef and the prime pork lollipops wrapped in pancetta and served in a spicy citrus sauce. Another starter of veal tongue is slow cooked for three hours and served cold, allowing the thinly sliced veal's natural flavor to come through and be complemented by a simple topping of egg and spices. The only dish that fell flat was a flounder ceviche that had an appealingly firm texture but needed more citrus flavor to give such a mild fish a little more zing.

While the restaurant only opened for dinner when it first opened, it has recently expanded to add a three-course executive lunch ($21) and Sunday brunch. Breakfast during the week is still in the planning stages, but would help further enhance S&P's appeal. 

Sal y Pimienta faces some serious competition in CityCentre from the Texas de Brazil churrascaria across the street and the Capital Grille located nearby, but the combination of lower prices, a more low-key atmosphere and a much broader array of options should help it hold its own. The Chronicle reports that Percovich and wife Maria are already looking to add a second location, and it feels like the sort of concept Houstonians have embraced. 

It remains to be seen whether an independent restaurant can survive in CityCentre, but Sal y Pimienta's well-executed menu gives it as good a shot as any place that's tried.

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