Peanut butter and jelly. Chocolate and crisp wafers. London dry gin and dry vermouth. Lyle Bento and Greg Perez?
Bento is a well-traveled chef who has worked with some of the biggest names in Houston and is someone who has run his own lauded restaurant (Riel). Perez is a well-traveled beverage professional who recently co-created one of Houston's coolest and most cultured bars (Monkey's Tail). They've partnered up—thanks to an introduction from local beverage professional Linda Salinas—on a number of concepts under the banner of Night Moves Hospitality, and their first move is Space Cowboy at Heights House Hotel.
"We're trying to play with that quirky name—neon, bright, colorful. But even though we're not country cowboys, that's what Houston is," says Perez. "We're trying to fill that inquisitive 'What does that mean?' kind of bar space. We're trying to be a pleasant surprise."
So, like PB&J and a martini, does the partnership make for one amazing product?
Space Cowboy is hanging by the pool with one ... two ... okay, a lot of watermelon martinis (trust us). It's snacking on one ... two ... okay, many orders of lechon, so warm and crispy outside and yet soft and buttery inside. There are refreshing island-inspired bites—taken from Bento's Hawaiian childhood—like fish tacos, ahi poke with wakame salad on gem lettuces, and artful spam musubi with tamago shaped by a Spam container. There are thoughtfully balanced cocktails like a Campari, rum, and mezcal adventure called El Pajaro and a wildly inventive and shockingly crisp piña colada called Clarified #10.
Add it all up and, yes, chances are strong that the partnership of Bento and Perez will pay off.
Space Cowboy has a lot of Monkey's Tail in it, from its casually Houstonian aesthetic of burning neon and tropical indifference amid the hubbub of a boutique hipster hotel, to the way its slyly boozy beverages play alongside its massively flavorful light bites. And like Monkey's Tail, it's great for a date night, an afternoon hang, a last call, or a light summer party. That's to say it's a bar made for everyone.
It also has a new contender in the ever-changing local burger battle. Bento says his Boom Boom Burger is so simple it hurts: two centimeters-thin patties, (crappy) yellow American cheese, caramelized onions, and a jumpy boom boom sauce that will remind you of comeback sauce. That said, there's a little masago in the sauce, which is very faint and tells you that what Bento says is very little work is actually a lot more work.
Ultimately that's the vibe at Space Cowboy. It looks and feels easy and cool, but so, so much work went into everything. If you hang out and study the grub and booze, you'll notice it as well. It'll make you excited for the pair's next adventure, the mix of cocktail bar and gritty Southern comfort grub of Trash Panda Drinking Club, set for the old Edison & Patton space. One dish that might end up there is a riff on a bucket of fried chicken, but it's Cornish game hen.
Both Bento and Perez laugh when they talk about that dish, like it's some big joke they're just going to toss into the ring. But don't be deceived: When these two pros combine their forces, it's obvious they're taking everything very seriously ... and chances are strong that it's going to work.