The trend of chefs moving to Houston from other cities to open restaurants isn't new. Philippe Verpiand arrived from San Diego to open French restaurant Etoile; Chris Kinjo came from Atlanta to open MF Sushi.
In that sense, Luis Roger of BCN Taste and Tradition is following a familiar path for the restaurant he expects to open in mid-September. But, as the restaurant's name implies, Roger is also bringing a bit of a twist. He's moved here from Spain, along with his wife and three children, to bring Spanish fine dining to Houston at a converted house near the intersection of Richmond and Montrose.
Roger plans to source his seafood primarily from Spain with supplements from the Gulf and other fisheries.
While a previous write-up touted Roger's connection to celebrated Spanish chef Ferran Adria based on an internship after he graduated from culinary school, the bulk of his experience comes from a 10-year stint at the executive chef at the celebrated Mas Anglada winery and resort. Seven years ago, Roger met Ignacio Torras, the local businessman who would, after years of cajoling, lure him to Houston and become Roger's partner in BCN.
"We're going to offer 100 percent Spanish food," Roger explains, but the word "taste" in the restaurant's name goes beyond the way dishes are seasoned.
"We tried to give the experience also, with the taste. We’re talking about the decoration, the balance of flavors in the food, the design . . . In another country, the taste would be different. We want to share with Houstonians the taste and tradition of Spain."
That food will come from the various regions of Spain, including Basque, Andalucía and Galicia. As Roger is a native of Catalan, the menu will feature a few more dishes from that region, but not to the exclusion of anything else. While Houston has its share of tapas bars that serve Spanish cuisine, Roger thinks BCN's style of Spanish fine dining will be new to Houstonians.
The "tradition" part of the name refers to the values that Roger and Torras share; Roger began his culinary education by watching and tasting his grandmother's work in the kitchen. "We cannot offer tradition without several specific ingredients from Spain," Roger adds. He's currently evaluating vendors from New York and Philadelphia but estimates he's rejected 95 percent of what he's tried.
"They taste good, but they’re not the quality I’m expecting," he says.
On the plus side, Roger calls Texas beef "wonderful" and plans to use it, as well as local produce, in his dishes. On the other hand, Roger plans to source his seafood primarily from Spain with supplements from the Gulf and other fisheries.
As befits BCN's fine dining atmosphere, Roger expects his customers to be mostly business people and food enthusiasts, but, as a father of three, he adds that "I do love seeing kids and teens going with their parents to a nice restaurant and becoming educated."
BCN will initially open for dinner with lunch to follow. Roger says he's open to brunch once the restaurant is established if diners express interest.
The space, a converted house that's been expanded to allow for the kitchen and bar, will seat about 45 in the main dining room, with 10 at the bar and private dining rooms upstairs. Diners enter through the rear of the house, where they can see BCN's small garden. Roger has secured valet spots at the neighboring gas station and car wash, because street parking along the residential street will be very limited.
"Taste and Tradition" doesn't just refer to the menu. Roger has a specific style of service in mind and atmosphere he wants to create at BCN, starting with a mostly Spanish-speaking wait staff led by longtime RDG + Bar Annie general manager Paco Calza.
"For my staff, I am focused on values: Cleanliness, politeness, being on time," Roger says. "After that, the skills, I’ll take care of that. As long as they come on time, clean, nice, the rest is easy."
Roger explains that as long as the staff have a common set of values, he thinks everything else will work out. "I’m not offering a lot of money, because this restaurant is small. I’m offering knowledge and opportunity and passion. If we are united and we work hard, the money will come. I’m sure of that," he says.
Reaction to a series of test dinners and trial runs has been good so far, but Roger knows there's still work to be done.
"I’m very auto-critical," Roger says "Even though most of the people are very nice, we are working very hard. We won’t open until we are ready. We are getting close."
For example, Roger has learned that having tables larger than six people causes an unacceptable noise level inside the restaurant. "We are thinking of all these details that at the end will make a difference," he says.
Ultimately, Roger wants people to say, "The food at BCN is good, and the experience is excellent."