The Heights restaurant market is so hot that even an allegedly cursed location has a new lease on life. Since Stella Sola closed three years ago, the space, which was also home to a fine dining restaurant called Bedford, has been empty. Ronnie Killen briefly flirted with the idea of opening a second steakhouse in the location, but ultimately abandoned the idea and threw himself into building his meat-centric empire in Pearland.
Could a desirable location in the middle of the Heights be so tainted by its history that no one would touch it? Enter Hernan Garcia. As the owner of three establishments in Mexico City and a partner in the development of 1252 Tapas in The Woodlands, Garcia is no stranger to the restaurant industry. Where others saw difficulties, he saw opportunity.
"This part of the Heights is amazing. For us, it’s been great. My partner even wants to live here."
"The site we just saw it one day. We loved the Heights, and we said, ‘well, this is amazing,'" Garcia tells CultureMap. "They say it’s cursed or whatever. I was, like, this is a great place. This part of the Heights is amazing. For us, it’s been great. My partner even wants to live here."
On Monday, Garcia opened Black & White in the space. Billed as a dual concept restaurant, White is a casual, Mexican-inspired seafood restaurant; Black is a more formal, Mediterranean style affair.
"We decided the project was so big. At first we thought about only doing seafood. I said, no, it’s going to be overpowering. If it isn’t full, people may think (the restaurant) isn’t doing good," Garcia says. "How about if we do a divorced restaurant with two sides? We started working on that. (The name) Black and White just popped in my head."
White & Black menus
The White Label menu features a mix of shareable items that include raw and cooked oysters, tacos and tostadas. True to the logo seen at its entrance, octopus appears in many forms. The mollusk, which seems to be having a moment at restaurants across the city from Coltivare to Peska to SaltAir Seafood Kitchen, can be found in three dishes: carpaccio, fried and ceviche (on a tostada).
"Most of the White menu is seafood," Garcia explains. "It has a little bit of a Mexican punch, but it’s not Mexican. I don’t like it to be Mexican, because then people will say Tex-Mex. Once you start saying Mexican, people will categorize it, and we’re trying to get away from there."
Regardless of which side diners choose, Garcia intends to keep prices reasonable.
Conversely, the Black Label menu has a more Mediterranean flair that trades on the chef's experience cooking for Michelin-starred restaurants and hotels in Spain and incorporates Spanish, Italian and French flavors. Look for roasted duck, grilled pork chops and bouillabaisse. A group may choose to indulge in a special paella that's designed to feed four to six people ($150).
Regardless of which side diners choose, Garcia intends to keep prices reasonable. The White Label share plates run between $10 and $15; even the fancier Black Label cuisine stays under $40, with the exception of an 18-ounce ribeye and a 12-ounce grilled lobster tail ($45 and 52, respectively).
"One of the sayings we have here is honest, real food," general manager Eric Anderson says. "We priced it at a point where we’re not gouging the market. From here to Memorial, you’ll see oysters run $3.50 to $4. Here, you’re looking at $2.50 and under . . . I’d rather have this placed packed every day and people love it than to be the high end."
That pricing extends to cocktails, too. Anderson has created a roster of drinks priced under $10 that build on familiar concepts with a twist; his Negroni Royale pairs campari with sweet red vermouth but using sparkling white wine instead of gin to for a lighter flavor. Another blends roasted blueberries with basil and bourbon. Garcia also decided to keep his wine markups low.
Perhaps the biggest challenge will be convincing people to treat the space like two separate restaurants. Decor, menu and service style will help differentiate them, but Anderson says he's already considered what happens once the restaurant has established a group of regulars who are familiar with both sides.
"At the beginning, we’re going to try to hold true to the fact that it is separate on both sides," he says. "That being said, the customer is always right. If you’ve dined with us before, and your wife loved the white side, and you loved the black label, I don’t have a problem taking care of that."