Houston Restaurants Serve up a Blank Canvas

February 1, 2009 by  
Filed under Blogs, The Glamorous Life / Jo Barrett


Houstonians may eat out more than residents of any other major U.S. city, but it’s not all about the food. Ambiance adds to the dining experience and many Houston restaurants offer distinct art exhibits to compliment their cuisine.

Prego, the casual, Italian Trattoria in Rice Village commissioned Gremillion &Company to do a permanent installation by John Pavlicek, the Houston artist who specializes in mixed media on canvas using collage, tissue, paint, and graphite. Pavlicek’s multi-colored piece wraps around one of the main dining room’s focal walls.

Prego specializes in custom-made pastas and fillings, and the menu changes seasonally. The restaurant’s Rice Village location attracts families and students, and the art provides a unique backdrop appealing to a wide variety of tastes.

Another Village favorite, Benjy’s, gets a fresh new look every few months thanks to a revolving art display. Gremillion &Company carefully selects the pieces to ensure the scale of the art is appropriate for the space. Benjy’s prefers to exhibit edgy art from a variety of Houston and international artists.

Fernando Casas, a top Bolivian painter who has lived and worked in Houston for many years, displays his work in the Benjy’s intimate space. Casas approaches his artwork from a philosophical perspective. Currently, a self-portrait of the painter sitting in a chair, abstracted almost to the point of cubism is on display.

Open since 1995, Benjy’s offers diners standouts like Ahi Tuna, crunchy chicken, and blood orange margaritas amidst an eclectic mix of art on the walls. They recently opened a second location on Washington Avenue.

In the Heights, Lance Fegen, Chef and co-owner of Glass Wall, takes a different approach. He exhibits his own work. The self-taught painter’s art pays homage to his other life as a surfer; bright, airy scenes of surfboards and waves.When H TEXAS visited Glass Wall, Chef Fegen was offered a lump sum by a local art enthusiast to purchase his entire art collection.

One of the paintings inside Glass Wall is an original by Ashton Howard, who is known for crushing coral and other organic sea ingredients into his paint. The surfer turned internationally renowned painter depicts a giant wave, known as a glass wall — hence the restaurant’s namesake.

The Glass Wall’s menu, inspired by the natural lifestyle of coastal regions, changes often to incorporate seasonal ingredients. Fan favorites include custom made soups, old bay crab cakes, seared tuna mignon and beef short ribs.

Mo Mong restaurant offers display space for fledgling painters. After opening his Montrose charmer eleven years ago, founder Viet Hoang wanted to share his love of art with Houstonians. Hoang took inspiration from the Menil Collection’s clean design and tranquility, neutral lighting, and pine wood flooring. His restaurant mirrors the ambience of the museum. Mo Mong features a gallery-like atmosphere, with local art hanging in the contemporary lounge area and the intimate dining room upstairs.

A well-known urban hideaway, diners can enjoy Pan-Asian flavors including Vietnamese spring rolls or mango martinis while being captivated with innovative art from local Houstonians. “Food and art are similar,” Hoang says. “Both are creative, based on a mixture of ingredients blended together for presentation.”

In January, mixed media paintings by Matt Messinger adorned the restaurant walls. This month, Mo Mong features local artist Justin Garcia. At 23, he is an ambitious mixed media artist who specializes in portraying the human condition. Garcia uses a mixture of oils, acrylics, and glazes with steel, glass and stone to convey his message. Boheme café and wine bar in Midtown has displayed Garcia’s art, where it was captured in scenes shot for the indie film, “Pretty People.”

Mo Mong’s staff selects and showcases one local artist each month. Artists with 15 tasteful and non-offensive paintings may call the restaurant or email at art@mo-mong.com to make an appointment to present their work for consideration.

Houston’s artful dining scene lures both art and food lovers. After all, what better aesthetic is there than enjoying a masterpiece on the wall, while eating a masterpiece on the plate?

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