Word travels fast in food circles. On a recent afternoon, Aura chef Frederic Perrier and his wife, Michelle, were standing outside the former Mongolian wok restaurant Shogi in Sugar Land Town Square, taking photos of the newly vacated site. That was at 2:30 p.m.
By 6:30 p..m, back in the Missouri City strip mall restaurant that the couple has made into a beacon of fine suburban dining — number 55 on my recent list of Houston Top 100 restaurants —the scuttlebutt had spread. "I heard a rumor you're going to open in Sugar Land!", said a longtime customer.
It's true. In September (if things go right), or October (if, as so often is the case, they don't), Aura will remove itself to a site a couple doors down from Escalante's, on the main City Walk drag of the new American Main-Street-style mixed-use development.
It won't be a lock-stock-and-barrel removal or a duplication, either. The Perriers are styling their new French restaurant Aura Brasserie Moderne; and this Friday afternoon, the chef was on a flight to France to do research on the brasserie style he loves.
It's an interesting switch. When Aura Sugar Land opens this fall, his Missouri City restaurant will become an Italian restaurant with French Riviera overtones, superintended by Perrier's onetime colleague Jose Alem, whom he is bringing in from Austin.
While the menu will go in an Italian direction, Aura's Missouri City faithful will not be left high and dry: some of the favorite French dishes, with their Texas/American flourishes, will remain on the menu. "It will be a big menu, not a small menu," says Michelle Perrier reassuringly. They'll call the restaurant Cuoco Pazzo (Italian for "crazy chef.")
If you're thinking that's familiar, yeah: it's the name of the differently spelled (and now defunct) Coco Pazzo, Pino Luongo's spot on the Upper East Side of NYC. The Perriers are taking back the original Italian spelling.
I hope that the Cuoco Pazzo menu still features the magnificent torchon of foie gras that lured me down to Missouri City from Houston's East End. Or the meticulous apple tart, as thin and glazed and delicate as they come, that is the stuff of dreams.
But no matter. I am eager to see what Perrier and company will dream up in both new ventures. My sense it that this is a rising tide in the far southwestern quadrant of Greater Houston, part of a promising swell that includes the new Blu restaurant by Bangkok-born chef Jett Hurapan, formerly of Gigi Huang's Asian Bistro in the Galleria.
Perrier's arrival could also fill the fine-dining gap left by Tony Vallone's Amici when it decamped from Sugar Land Town Square. If I lived in Fort Bend County, I'd be celebrating.