• St. Basil's Cathedral
    Been There Done That
  • One of the main sponsors of Fotofest's 2012 Biennial, the Garage Center hasushered in a thriving new era of contemporary art in Moscow.
    Photo by Roman Suslov

While FotoFest's Biennial of Russian photography may be behind us, the organization's partnership with Singapore Airlines has left Houstonians with a pair of affordable trip options to Moscow and St. Petersburg.

"The huge number of art museums and palaces in both cities was one of the main reasons we first started our Russia packages 15 years ago," said Edwin Choy of GloboTours, the company that arranges and customizes itineraries for the tours.

Explore Moscow's current art scene at the Garage Center for Contemporary Culture or Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography, both of which provided support for Fotofest.

Starting at $2149, the Moscow itinerary offers a six-day, four-night stay at the recently-built Lotte Hotel at the edge of the historic Arbat District, a tangle of old city streets that became home to countless artists and musicians in the 1960s and '70s.

Pre-arranged morning tours of landmarks like the Kremlin and the St. Basil's Cathedral free up afternoons to explore Moscow's current art scene at newer institutions such as the Garage Center for Contemporary Culture, a non-profit art space that served as one of the main sponsors of FotoFest 2012 Biennial.

Also not to miss is the Lumiere Brothers Photogallery with its newly-founded Center for Photography, which served as another major supporter for this year's Biennial. One of Russia's first galleries dedicated to Russian fine art photography, Lumiere opened in 2001 to focus on Soviet photographers and photojournalists. A museum, lecture hall and public library were added in 2010.

A second package option that starts at $3399 adds St. Petersburg into the mix with an eight-day, six-night tour covering both cities.

While Moscow represents a more avant-garde spectrum of Russian art, St. Petersburg has been the country's artistic heartbeat since Peter the Great founded the city in 1703 to compete with Europe's greatest cultural centers. While the Hermitage Museum is a must, be sure to see the legendary Pushkinskaya-10 — a hive of contemporary art and music located inside an abandoned Soviet apartment block — as well.

FotoFest caps off a successful Biennial with a look at work from Houston areaschools

Literacy Through Photography

After regrouping from the six-week barrage of talks, tours and reviews that made up this year's International Biennial, FotoFest turns its sights on Houston schools with its annual FotoFence show — a week-long exhibition celebrating the work of area students participating in the organization's Literacy Through Photography (LTP) program.

In advance of Sunday's opening reception from 2 to 4 p.m., CultureMap stopped by FotoFest headquarters at 1113 Vine Street for a preview tour of the exhibit with LTP program director Kristin Skarbovig. First, we had to resolve the issue of the event's mysterious name.

"The very first LTP exhibition in 1990 . . . was literally hung on a fence," she laughed. "It was when the Biennial was in the George R. Brown and as they took down the international art, they brought in student work and displayed it on this moveable fence."

The name stuck and the event has since been held each spring.

FotoFence 2012 displays a whopping 900 end-of-year student projects from nearly 30 schools that use LTP lesson plans designed to increase both visual and verbal literacy.

On view from Sunday through May 26, FotoFence 2012 displays a whopping 900 end-of-year student projects from nearly 30 schools that use LTP lesson plans designed to increase both visual and verbal literacy.

"Traditionally the very final lesson in the LTP curriculum is a photography and writing collage," Skarbovig explained. "The students have all studied art history at this point in the program so they've looked at Picasso and Braque and how artists combine imagery and text."

Projects ranged from small digitally-rendered assemblages to works pieced together with hand-cut prints and construction paper. The only parameter is that a corresponding personal essay must be integrated into each piece.

"The written portion is always inspired by the photography — and vice versa," she said, motioning towards a set of the exhibition's most pared-down projects, which employ only a photograph of the student and a brief self-reflective paragraph for a rather powerful result.

"Students have several major exercises that influence the work they do throughout the school year," Skarbovig noted. "The main task is 'reading' photographs, learning how to look at visual imagery and analyze and comprehend it in the same way you'd examine text. They also reverse the process to explore written words with photography."

She stresses that the curriculum is geared to enhance writing and critical thinking skills with the development of personal creativity a happy byproduct of the year-long process.

This year's FotoFence stretches across two floors of the Vine Street Studios complex FotoFest calls home, offering one of the largest exhibits of student work the organization has ever staged. Free and open to the public, Sunday's opening reception from 2 to 4 p.m. includes music and talks as well as a variety of food options.

  • Early estimates indicated that there were 275,000 visits to FotoFest exhibits.Around 10 exhibits at Houston's major museums remain on view.
    Photo by Chinh Phan
  • The Biennial's always-popular opening night party drew an astounding 4,000guests this year — a cool thousand more partiers than the 2010 launch party.
    Photo by Chinh Phan

FotoFest by the numbers: International Biennial draws record attendance

A perfect storm

With the exception of a few remaining participating galleries, the 14th FotoFest International Biennial is pretty much behind us since the last of its main exhibits closed last Sunday.

Covering the breadth of Russian photography from the death of Joseph Stalin to the present has been no small task. In fact it's taken six weeks and three massive curated exhibitions just to scrape the surface of a corner of modern art relatively unknown to Western audiences.

Here's a quick look at the past month and a half of programming and events . . . through the magic of numbers.

4,000 revelers and 275,000 visitors

According to FotoFest spokesperson Vinod Hopson, the Biennial's always-popular opening night party drew an astounding 4,000 guests this year — a cool thousand more partiers than the 2010 launch party.

"Overall, the last six weeks have greatly exceeded our expectations," Hopson told CultureMap. "Judging from our early estimates, we're counting at least 275,000 total visitors."

400 collectors, 82 works and a 10% increase

On March 20, FotoFest’s celebrated International Fine Print Auction offered up 82 framed works donated by artists across the globe, including 30 noted Russian photographers like Oleg Dou, whose print sold for $17,000.

"Overall, the last six weeks have greatly exceeded our expectations," said FotoFest's Vinod Hopson. "Judging from our early estimates, we're counting at least 275,000 total visitors."

Madeline Brophy of Heritage Auctions in Dallas oversaw the event, which brought out 400 collectors and eventually raised $366,500 for FotoFest's education outreach program Literacy Through Photography. In total, the event saw a 10% jump in dollars raised compared to the 2010 auction.

94 Russian nationals

Not only did the Biennial include 34 artists from the former Soviet Union, but it also drew 60 Russian dignitaries from some of the nation's leading institutions like the Garage Center for Contemporary Culture, the Iris Art Foundation, Stella Art Foundation, ROSIZO, Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography, Photographer.ru, as well as the Russian Federation's Ministry of Culture.

"Thanks to support from both Singapore Airlines and the city of Houston, we were able to secure travel arrangements for a large number of Russian artists and cultural leaders," Hopson noted. "It was really a perfect storm sponsorship this year."

500 artists and 165 reviewers

Easily one of the most popular aspects of the Biennial, FotoFest's portfolio review sessions are the artistic heartbeat of the event, providing photographers with one-on-one review sessions with arts professionals from around the world. This year, more than 500 artists met with 165 reviewers representing 31 cultural institutions, 26 publishing houses and magazines, 10 photo festivals, six agencies and two online platforms.

120+ gallery exhibits (10+ still on view)

The 2012 Biennial enjoyed more than 100 participating spaces, including a number of which are still showing FotoFest-branded exhibits like the Art Car Museum, the Menil Collection, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Museum of Contemporary Craft, Project Row Houses, De Santos Gallery, Heritage Society, the Station Museum, the Holocaust Museum, Hannah Bacol Busch, Gensler and the Museum of Printing History.

  • Our Bike Scramble group grew along the way, as cyclists joined in.
    Photo by Whitney Radley
  • Works by Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr. at the Station Museum of Contemporary Art.
    Photo by Vinod Hopson
  • Photographs by Andy Freeberg in the lobby of the Bank of America Center.
    Photo by Whitney Radley

Sweating for your art: FotoFest bike tour provides a whole new, free perspectiveon the stunning photos

Work For It

FotoFest is racing toward end of its massive 2012 Biennial. Feel like you haven't taken advantage of the countless events and photography exhibits?

We have a solution: The FotoFest Bike Scramble.

Beyond offering a behind-the-scenes tours of participating spaces by FotoFest exhibitions coordinator Jennifer Ward, guests receive a fast-track admission into participating galleries and a street-level experience of the city. And it's completely free.

Non-cycling participants are welcome to caravan, but the sights, sounds and smells from the bike lane are arguably crucial to the experience .

The requirements are few (a bicycle, a helmet and a little bit of stamina), and FotoFest press and website coordinator Vinod Hopson follows in a support vehicle for any stragglers. Non-cycling participants are welcome to caravan, but the sights, sounds and smells from the bike lane are arguably crucial to the experience.

And we know: Last Saturday, CultureMap went along for the ride on the first segment of the day's tours. The Downtown Route started just after 9 a.m. at FotoFest's Vine Street Headquarters Gallery, with complimentary coffee and breakfast and a brief tour of the The Young Generation exhibit.

Guided by Matt Adams, the route took us next to the nearby photography studio of Frank White, whose series entitled From Russia With Love depicts photographs of Russian children who have been adopted by American parents.

Stop three took our cycling cavalcade to the Allen Center for the sprawling Discoveries of the Meeting Place, where three Texas photographers can be counted among the 10 most interesting finds from the 2010 FotoFest Biennial. Included in the exhibition are Houston's Pablo Giménez Zapiola, Dallas-based Nancy Newberry and Austinite Bill McCullough.

After viewing Pixels + Silver, a collection of works by 15 Houston photographers in the lobby of Total Plaza, we made the long bike ride down to the Station Museum of Contemporary Art to see Artifactual Realities.

That exhibition proved worthwhile. It includes the works of 11 artists, but most immediately apparent are the protest photographs of Russian artist Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr. and local artist Ernesto Leon, who has documented the Occupy Houston movement.

Heading back north to end the route and the three-hour tour, the last stop offered a glimpse of Andy Freeberg's photographic series, Guardians, set inside a gallery of architect Philip Johnson's postmodern Bank of America Center.

From there, most of the group continued on for the next two routes, which led through the Museum District and Montrose, stopping along the way for a food truck picnic lunch at the newly-opened Asia Society Texas Center and briefly joining in on the Menil Community Festival.

A second Bike Scramble will be held this Saturday, replacing the Museum District tour with a jaunt along the Washington Corridor and through the Heights. Spots are limited — RSVP online or by calling (713) 223-5522.

If you prefer transportation on more than two wheels, the Exhibition Expedition scheduled for Thursday includes bus transportation, guided gallery tours, dinner and cocktails.

  • Valera and Natasha Cherkashin, from the installation, The Fall of Empire,1994-1997
  • Houston Ballet artists Jun Shuang Huang and Katharine Precourt in Theme andVariation, choreographed by George Balanchine
    Photo by Amitava Sarkar
  • Marsha Drokova with Vladimir Putin
    Putin's Kiss: The Movie
  • Gregory Maiofis, A Taste for Russian Ballet, 2006
  • Valera and Natasha Cherkashin, Kazakstan

Russian fever grips Houston: How FotoFest is changing the city

The Arthropologist

Anybody else have the urge to hole up with Dr. Zhivago with some blintzes and a shot of vodka? Or is it just me that has seen a fixation on Russia framing the FotoFest Biennial 2012

It's been a terrific chance to take in the imagination of an entire region. FotoFest's theme of Contemporary Russian Photography, through April 29, is spread across Vine Street, Spring Street Studios, Winter Street Studios and Williams Tower (and more than 100 other spaces), and includes more than a 1,000 photographs from 147 artists.

But, my Russian season started with Stalin. Let me explain.

In a rare glimpse of the National Theatre, Sundance Cinema offered a screening of John Hodge's The Collaborators in January, staring Alex Jennings as Bulgakov and Simon Russell Beale as Stalin. The play, set in Moscow in 1938, tells the story of dissent writer Mikhail Bulgakov, who is commissioned to write a play about Stalin's youth, called Young Joseph, to celebrate Stalin's birthday.

Although Hodge's play is as funny as it is tragic, we do get the idea that it was a troubling time to be a writer during Stalinist Russia, which explains the still chilly images in After Stalin "The Thaw" The Re-emergence of the Personal Voice-The late 1950s-1970s at Williams Tower. It may be one of the smaller FotoFest shows, but it packs a wallop. It also may be the only place where, in all of the shows, you see a Russian smile, but mind you, it's a guarded one.

As a child of the cold war myself, the reign of Nikita Khrushchev brought with it another set of complexities that defined mid 20th-century international politics.

By the time FotoFest opened I was in the mood big time, and ready to catch up with the flurry of artistic activity evident in The Young Generation 2007-2012 at Vine Street.

Setting us up for a deeper look into pre-revolutionary Russia were a stellar pair of Chekhov productions, Uncle Vanya at Classical Theatre Company in January — Chekhov's 1897 commentary on the wealthy Russian aristocracy — and The Seagull at The Alley Theatre in March, which chronicles the romantic lives of a group of actors and writers at a summer home.

Both plays give us Russia on the threshold of change.

Then, Main Street Theater (MST) took up the cause with Tom Stoppard's trilogy, The Coast of Utopia, occupying MST's stages January through March. Stoppard's trilogy spans 1833-1866, and follows the lives of anarchist Michael Bakunin, literary critic Vissarion Belinsky, literary giant Ivan Turgenev and revolutionary thinker Alexander Herzen, four men who lived out their hopes and dreams for a different future for Russia under Tsar Nicholas. Impending turmoil has never been this poetic.

By the time FotoFest opened I was in the mood big time, and ready to catch up with the flurry of artistic activity evident in The Young Generation 2007-2012 at Vine Street. I had a refreshed sense of the history in their collective DNA. The emphasis on portraiture reveals an ever evolving sense of Russian idenity, the very theme that anchored the Stoppard plays.

I wasn't remotely surprised to see ballet making its way into FotoFest. For dance people, it's our Russian connection. Ballet may have not started in Russia, but they sure polished the art form up, and most of the classic story ballets had their start in Russia, surviving the revolution better than the other arts. Anna Skladmann's eerie series Little Adults, featuring portraits of children of the new wealthy class in opulent settings, places a young aristocratic boy holding a gun with a white tutu ballet scene in the background.

Gregory Maiofis' witty and surreal Taste for Russian Ballet, depicting a ballerina performing for a bear, was the very first image that struck me at Perestroika Liberalization and Experimentation - The mid/late 1980s-2010s Fotofest show at Spring and Winter Street Studios.

While I was there I visited with Valera and Natasha Cherkashin, whose luminous images of famous statues representing the various Russian republics resemble religious icons. When the couple created this series of painterly images, it was not a popular time to be looking backward. Yet, they evoke the shattered cultural identity that would follow.

Later that evening, Le Roi des Aulnes (The King of the Forest), a video by the Russian collective AES +F, stopped me in my tracks. Based on a mythological creature featured in a poem by Goethe and a novel by Michel Tournier, the video places 200 children from elite ballet and sports schools in Catherine II's opulent palace in a biting commentary on how children are exploited as corporate messengers.

Once you take in the three exhibits that make up Contemporary Russian Photography, head on over to Debra Colton Gallery for Focus on Russia I, Olga Tobreluts and Focus on Russia II, Oleg Dou. Both shows run through April 28.

I plan to wrap up my FotoFest adventure at the the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston with a set of Russian films, including the 1929 classic silent film, Man with a Camera, a marvel of early cinematic editing (showing Sunday at 3 p.m. and 5. p.m.); Lise Birk Pedersen's Putin's Kiss, winner of a cinematography award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, on April 22 at 3 p.m.; and Cyril Tuschi's Khodorkovsky, an indictment of the Russian political and judicial system, on April 22 at 5 p. m.

Dance's Turn

As FotoFest packs up its global tent, Houston Ballet takes up the cause with a string of ballets giving another glimpse of mother Russia. Don't let the title of Made in America (May 24 through June 3), fool you. The program features Balanchine's Theme and Variations, his tribute to Imperial Russia, set to Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Suite No. 3 for Orchestra in G major, Op. 55 (1884). The Russian choreographer may have defined modernism in American ballet, yet he often turned to Russian themes and composers.

Miller Outdoor Theatre presents the Houston Ballet's production of Giselle May 11 through 13. Giselle premiered in Paris in 1841, but it's the 1884 Russian version that gave this ballet its legs. Houston Ballet's production was set by Russian legendary ballerina Ai-Gul Gaisina, lending a glorious Vagnova style.

Houston's Russian season concludes with Houston Ballet's production of Ben Stevenson's Romeo & Juliet, with one of the most powerful ballet scores in history by Sergei Prokofiev, created in 1940 under Stalin's reign of fear.

The month is still relatively young and there's still time to take much of this in. I just returned from my second pass through at Vine Street, which was considerably different without the 4,000 photo lovers who showed up at the opening.

I plan to return to the other locations as well, soaking up mother Russia one image at a time. I suggest you do the same.

AES+F - Le Roi des Aulnes (The King of the Forest)

Let Prokofiev and Houston Ballet sweep you off your feet with Romeo & Juliet

  • Mark Chen, Sugar Factory
  • Mark Chen, Power Plant, Arizona
  • Mark Chen, Downtown Houston
  • Mark Chen, Glacier Point, Yosemite
  • Photographer Mark Chen
    Courtesy Photo

Haunting photographs that are true to the eye: See Houston artist Mark Chen'srevolutionary work

Rare Birds

Houston photographer Mark Chen took some time out of his schedule to give me an informal walk through of his current show, The World: Landscapes and Cityscapes, now showing through April 29 at Sculptures By Design Art Gallery. The gallery is one of many here in Houston participating in FotoFest's 2012 Biennial.

This year marks the 14th such biennial of photography and photo-related art presented by the Houston-based non-profit arts and education organization — and pictures like Chen's show why it matters.

As it always is with photography, reproductions on the Internet or in the pages of catalog are one thing, but seeing the work in person, with your own eyes, is a whole other experience.

"Our eyes are very adaptive," Chen explains. "If something is bright, the pupil shrinks, and vice versa. The camera doesn't do that. It just measures the average."

Through the magic of the photography software Photoshop, a technique called "bracketing," and paying meticulous attention at the time of a shoot to the natural light, Chen's majestic, mysterious landscapes, and chilling, skewed glass and metal cityscapes, are as close as a viewer can possibly get to being at the site of a shoot and seeing the subject with Chen's own eyeballs.

"Our eyes are very adaptive," Chen explains. "If something is bright, the pupil shrinks, and vice versa. The camera doesn't do that. It just measures the average."

The final prints are closer to what Chen actually saw at the time of the shoot than what his camera initially captured.

During my walk through, Chen asked me if I had a favorite among his photos on display. I immediately pointed to a photo titled "Power Plant, Arizona." It's a powerful image.

In the near distance, across a flat expanse of Arizona desert, humming in rich, earth tones, gray and black smoke released by the smokestacks of a power plant rises to match the colors of the cloud cover above. The sun is nearly masked by both the clouds and pollution.

It's a cliché to say this, but the image is beautiful — and disturbing. Maybe there's a way to describe it that includes a broader range of emotional responses. Or maybe I'm just reading too much into it.

Chen says he has two major interests: the wild and natural, and the purely artificial, that is, environments solely created by humans yet, as in his photos of downtown Houston, eerily empty of the physical presence of those humans. He told me "Power Plant, Arizona," as well as another image titled "Sugar Plant" (included in the slideshow for this column), is actually a new direction for him.

Chen, a 22-year resident of Houston, is very interested in downtown's architecture and mix of different skyscrapers. He finds the skyline "beautiful," and wants to shoot more of it. But as a child, born and raised in Taipei, Taiwan, Chen had no interest in that city's architectural congestion and chaos. And tellingly, one of the first things he photographed was the moon.

At the age of 14, Chen borrowed a camera from a friend, simply because he found the device intriguing, and attached it to a telescope so he could photograph the sky at night.

This hands-on inventiveness has served Chen, who has no formal training in photography, throughout his artistic career. We talked a bit about digital software, and the fact that as incredibly helpful and versatile as these tools are, the quality of the resulting work lies in the creativity of the artist who uses them. I told Chen that when I first installed and started using the popular music software program Ableton Live, I immediately realized that its potential included the power to make everyone who uses it sound completely identical.

This hands-on inventiveness has served Chen, who has no formal training in photography, throughout his artistic career.

The time and effort you put into using such a program, is what you get back. But maybe all of the arts are like this.

Chen's wife Olive is the cellist for Houston's Trio Oriens, a classical ensemble I wrote about last November. Music is an integral part of the Chen household, and has been a part of some multi-media collaboration between Mark and pianist and composer Hsin-Jung Tsai. A recent video titled Orchid combines Chen's animated photographs of calligraphy as painted by his mother Shiaw-Lan Chen with a beautiful composition by Hsin-Jung performed by Trio Oriens pianist I-Ling Chen.

A friend of mine, a fine jazz guitarist, probably describes the video best: "This is complete."

Next up for Chen is a trip to Boston and New York City. He'll spend two days photographing Grand Central Terminal, including its chandeliers and the brass handles of the rails of its stairways. I'm guessing the ceiling of the main concourse of Grand Central, which depicts an evening sky and includes the signs of the zodiac as they appear in the stars, will catch Chen's eye as well.

The World: Landscapes and Cityscapes is at Sculptures by Design through April 29. Gallery hours run from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays or by appointment (713) 623-0550.

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Hill Country town puts a Texas twist on Carnival season for 18th-annual Cowboy Mardi Gras

Cowboy Mardi Gras

New Orleans may be top of mind for Mardi Gras, but Texas has its fair share of Fat Tuesday festivities. While Galveston's may be the state's oldest celebration and San Antonio wins points for actual floats (courtesy of the River Walk), one little Hill Country town has put its own spin on the annual event for almost twenty years.

Known as the "Cowboy Capital of the World," Bandera hosts a three-day Cowboy Mardi Gras that attracts over 15 thousand people from all over the world to the town of 839 residents. Featuring traditional cajun bands, country music, a Cowboy Mardi Gras parade, costume contests, gumbo cook-off, and more, the 2023 iteration takes place from February 9 to 11.

Bandera is located a little over two hours from Austin, a pleasant trek for those looking for a colorful start to Carnival season. This year's event honors James and Stella McGroarty, former owners of Bandera's 11th Cowboy Bar, who will act as the 2023 Cowboy Mardi Gras Parade Grand Marshals.

With a 20,000 square foot bar and 70-foot stage, the bar is one of the largest music venues in the Texas Hill Country, housed in a historic wood-framed building with a porch out front and expansive outdoor venue area out back. James McGroarty acquired the bar in 2006, transforming it into the destination it is today and elevating the town's annual Cowboy Mardi Gras Parade to the party it is today.

In July 2022, D. Foster, Melinie Ivey, and Richard and Sasha Sutton purchased the bar from McGroarty, planning to carry on McGroarty's legacy.

"We are so honored to take on the tradition of the 18th Annual Cowboy Mardi Gras Parade," says Richard Sutton in a release. "Bandera is a remarkable town that knows how to throw one hell of a party and we're looking to carry on that tradition."

“James McGroarty has said that 11th Street Cowboy Bar is all about providing the best Country Western music experience in Texas and sharing drinks with good friends," adds D. Foster. "He wanted to make all things in Bandera bigger than life. This is why we bought the bar and we want to carry on James McGroarty's legacy."

This year's lineup of live music will feature a variety of artists including Deanna Carter, Gary P. Nunn, Dale Watson, Jake Worthington, and many more. Find a full lineup of music and daily activities at cowboymardigrasbandera.com, as well as ticketing information. Tickets for the festivities start at $75 in advance or $85 at the door.

Photo by Tessa Kolodny

The three-day celebration brings over 15,000 people from all over the world to Bandera.

Houston's Top Chef Season 19 star joins NYC veteran to open Heights 'New Asian American' restaurant

Top Chef star's new restaurant

One of this year’s most eagerly anticipated new restaurants has opened its doors. Jūn begins dinner service on Tuesday, February 7.

Chefs Evelyn Garcia and Henry Lu have teamed up to open Jūn. Best known for her run to the finals of Top Chef’s Houston-based, Season 19, Garcia also served as the executive chef at Decatur Bar & Pop-up Factory, where she earned praise for her Thai dishes, and as the chef-owner of Kin, the stand she operated at the Politan Row food hall that evolved into a regular vendor at a number of Houston-area farmers markets.

Prior to returning home to Houston, Garcia worked at a number of prominent New York restaurants, including Jean George Spice Market and Kin Shop, which was created by Top Chef season one winner Harold Dieterle. Lu brings a similarly impressive resume from New York, including time at Pearl and Ash, Brooklyn’s Llama Inn, and as the executive chef of the Four Happy Men Hospitality Group.

Together, the two friends have created a restaurant they’re describing as “New Asian American.” It includes a range of influences that blends their diverse professional experiences as well as their time living and eating in New York.

“[The menu] showcases our background as first generation children with an eclectic upbringing and having both worked in New York City restaurants,” Garcia writes in an email. “We think of food in a similar way, which is why it's so effortless for us to create together.”

Jūn’s menu includes a wide array of dishes, including a charcuterie board with house-cured meats and smoked rye bread; beef tartare with toasted rice; and carrots with salsa macha, Salvadorian cheese, and quail egg. Entrees include a whole roasted fish that’s seasoned with guajillo and fried chicken that’s marinated in shrimp paste.

Top Chef fans may recognize the shrimp aguachile, which is similar to the snapper dish Garcia created to win the challenge in episode six. Similarly, the lamb with curry takes inspiration from the brisket curry she served in episode five that had Padma Lakshmi raving “Where have you been all my life? This is the curry I’ve been looking for.”

All that eating happens in a 57-seat dining room. Located in the former Steel City Pops/Central City CoOp space at 420 E 20th St., Garcia explains that one specific design feature sold her and Lu on the space.

Courtesy of Jūn

Chefs Evelyn Garcia and Henry Lu have teamed up at Jūn.

“The location has always had the bones for a beautiful restaurant in my eyes so when it was brought to us as a potential location we were ecstatic,” she writes. “We both have only worked in open kitchens in New York, so just the thought of us having a completely visible kitchen is what sold us.”

They worked with Houston’s Gin Design Group (The Lymbar, Mala Sichuan’s Heights location) on the interior. Local artists, including Sierra Estes and Demi Mixon Kahn, have their work on display at the restaurant.

Garcia and Lu introduced Jūn with a series of pop-ups over the past few months. Word of mouth from last week’s invite-only, friends and family services has been overwhelmingly positive. All that’s left is to open the doors. So, chefs, do you feel ready?

“We prepared, prepped and even prepped our staff for what's about to come. Eventually, you have to let it all just happen,” Garcia writes. “One thing we know for sure is that we are able to adapt and pivot as we need when these doors finally open.”

Jūn opens for dinner nightly at 5 pm. Weekend brunch service will begin in the coming weeks.

Be the matching puzzle piece for Shila, a smart foxhound mix at the Houston SPCA

Adoptable Dog

Did you discover a love of puzzles during the pandemic? So did Shila, the three-year-old foxhound mix that's currently at the Houston SPCA.

Thanks to her breed instincts, Shila loves to learn and is happiest solving treat puzzles, playing games, and digging into a challenging bone-type chew. Stuffed toys, however, might not last long.

She also excels at learning new commands, having already mastered "sit" and "back up." Another bonus: She is completely crate-trained.

Shila tends to do best around more mellow dogs, and always wants to be by her humans' side.

Thanks to Houston Texans punter Cameron Johnston and his wife, Tia, who are sponsoring Shila, her adoption fees are completely covered.

That includes Shila's microchip, spay surgery, up-to-date vaccinations, a free sample bag of Hill’s Pet Nutrition, and a free post-exam from any VCA Animal Hospital.

You can meet Shila and all the other adoptable pets at the Houston SPCA, which is open every day from 11 am-6 pm.

spca adoptable dog shila

Photo courtesy of Houston SPCA

She's crate-trained and good at learning commands.