Restaurants / Openings

Chef Takes On The Heights’ Most Cursed Restaurant Location with Family Not Fear

10-Year Lease Shows These Brothers are Bold — With the French Food to Match

BY // 12.01.17

For chef Manuel Pucha, creating esprit de corps in his kitchen was a piece of cake. Pucha opened his brand new Maison Pucha Bistro in The Heights on Tuesday with the help of his co-owner brothers.

In the spirit of fraternité, pastry chef Victor Pucha and beverage director Cristian Pucha flew in from New York, eager to set up shop at 1001 Studewood, a somewhat notorious restaurant locale (the more superstitious may say it’s cursed). The three brothers are putting a subtle South American twist on the food at the new restaurant, honoring their native Ecuador. The Puchas’ mother owned a cafe in their hometown Deleg before the move to New York.

Manuel Pucha had lived in New York with his family for years before relocating to Houston. Once in Space City, Chef Manuel set out to hone his culinary skills working alongside chef Phillipe Schmit at Bistro Moderne and Phillipe Restaurant, and ultimately heading up the kitchen at La Table. Now, Pucha is striking out on his own with a little help from his family.

The three brothers, or “Three Musketeers,” Manuel Pucha’s fitting French nickname for the trio, all live together in a house in Katy. “It’s like déjà vu all over again,” he tells PaperCity.

The culinary crackerjack approaches his dishes with a painter’s eye. His years studying painting show in the bright flavors and the thoughtful presentations on his plates. When it comes to art on the canvas or in the kitchen, “Inspiration and creativity are important, but experience and creativity are even better,” Pucha says.

The beet and goat cheese salad at Maison Pucha Bistro reflects this philosophy. The salad — sliced golden beets, pistachios and rounds of black pepper-herbed goat cheese flank a bed of fresh arugula, all drizzled with red wine vinaigrette — is balanced and surprising.

The sophisticated, classic appetizers, entrees, and desserts are meant to be enjoyed on a casual outing or on a special occasion in the Wine Room. Classic French onion soup, steak tartare, coq au vin, and the bouillabaisse are just a few examples of the traditional cuisine.

Pucha was thorough in deciding the balance of his meals. The flavors at the restaurant break down to roughly 70 to 80 percent French, 10 to 15 percent American, with a five percent splash of Ecuadorian. He’ll gingerly roll out more Ecuadorian influences as he gets a feel for his diners’ tastes.

The South American elements hail from Ecuador, from chocolate to coffee, both organic. His Berkshire pork chop brine’s tequila anejo is infused with the wild berry uvilla found in the Andes.

Currently, Maison Pucha Bistro is open for dinner Tuesdays through Fridays, from 5 pm to 10 pm. The Heights restaurant’s hours will soon expand to encompass happy hour, lunch and even brunch. The brothers are pushing to get the new schedule in place before Christmas, hopefully within the next two weeks.

“We want our customers to know we’re here and to look forward to coming back after the holidays,” Pucha says.

Ecuador will influence brunch more than any other meals. Chef Manuel’s dreaming up his personal take on eggs Benedict. Mashed plantains serve as the base, and béarnaise sauce spiced up with yellow peppers, potentially aji amarillo, replaces the typical Hollandaise.

A meal at Pucha bistro can end with a delicate and decadent chocolate souffle. You don’t even need to feel guilty about it — somehow, the creamy confection is 100 percent gluten-free.

What Cursed Location?

Despite the allegedly cursed reputation of 1001 Studewood (it’s been home to three different ambitious restaurants that closed — Bedford, Stella Sola and the quickly gone Black & White), Chef Manuel knew it was the perfect venue for his vision the first time he saw it. The oft-shuttered building appealed to him instantly. The outdoor patio, the openness of the interior, and its tall windows are a welcome opposite of the darkness of New York basements and subways, he notes.

The chef saw the Studewood space on a Wednesday. He signed a 10-year lease that Friday. “I’ve been that happy twice in my life. The first time, I was getting married. The second, I was signing that lease,” he says.

The new restaurant means the Historic District’s denizens no longer need to head out to The Galleria or downtown to enjoy high-end French food. The Pucha brothers hope Heights locals will soon become regulars.

The brothers put their all into the restaurant. It’s their name on the door, their logo, their reputation, their legacy. They want to live up to expectations, and with more than 60 people down for reservations this weekend, they’re off to a good start.

“Life is harder than ever, but it’s also better,” Pucha says.

As for the legacy, the next generation, the chef’s children, are already showing affection for the restaurant business. His 10-year-old asks if he should be working the floor. Meanwhile, his 4-year-old insists on breaking eggs for breakfast and puts plastic cooking sets and tools on his Christmas list every year.

It sounds like this restaurant family plans to make itself right at home on Studewood for a long time.

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