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Seared scallops with candied bacon

Scene, and Herd

by John DeMers | Photography by Debora Smail | Houston magazine | October 29, 2013

With rowdy laughter, the table of 12 next to me starts passing a blow-up adult toy above their heads, an ersatz buxom blonde dressed in a leather two-piece that would make Miley Cyrus blush. Drinks are shaken and stirred, wine is poured, plates of food are set down; another memorable evening has begun at Mr. Peeples. Under the banner of “Seafood Steaks Style,” the newest Midtown attraction is a mammoth and meandering complex of grown-up experiences in the former headquarters of the Boy Scouts of America.

“We wanted great cuisine and great service,” says owner Lucky Chopra, a radiologist and entrepreneur whose sideline business, Landmark Houston Hospitality, created 51fifteen inside Saks Fifth Avenue and Hearsay, the popular lounge on Downtown’s Market Square. “Beyond that we set out to be very different. Really, we wanted to be over the top.”

Like more and more well-funded restaurants these days, Mr. Peeples is inspired by bars and nightclubs. And that doesn’t simply mean that alcohol rules. It means that experience rules in a way that many serious chefs would consider cheating. It’s a spectacle of light, sound, decor and too-much-booze. And, oh yes, there’s also food.

Though I never visited the old Boy Scout HQ, the job done to it by Houston-based Carlos Castroparedes, who also did the W Hotel in Scottsdale, seems extraordinary. For his part, the designer says Mr. Peeples is “Houston meets New York meets Vegas meets Los Angeles meets Dubai,” and I guess that about covers it. What the building clearly had was space—four stories of 10,000 square feet each, including the basement, constructed around an atrium a la Hyatt and ripe for some kind of theme-park reinvention.

Experiences now flow from this atrium, with its crystal chandelier, huge and shimmering, suspended above it all. There’s a long barroom to the left as soon as you enter, and a dining room with an open kitchen on your right farther in; it’s filled with splashes of light and shadow that keep us from knowing what color anything actually is. A tower of wine—1,600 bottles in a square shaft of glass—rises into darkness amid slivers of purple light.

Food at Mr. Peeples seems more a team effort than is typical. For their executive chef, Chopra and Co. brought in company man Pedro Silva, who created the menu at Hearsay as well as at 51fifteen. But then they put the plate-to-plate details in the hands of Rick Guerrero, a guy whose familiar Hispanic surname belies exotic roots in Guam and experience in Hawaii. As though the energetic swirl of chef jackets glimpsed via that long open kitchen weren’t enough, they also brought in pastry chef Johnny Wesley from Killen’s Steakhouse in Pearland and Benjy’s on Washington to handle the sweeter side of things.

Surprisingly for a seafood restaurant and steakhouse, the appetizers at Mr. Peeples are a particularly impressive course. Guerrero’s bio comes through loud and clear in the magnificent Hawaiian-style poke of ahi tuna. The lobster and crab campechana is also amazing, along with another Latinized version of basically the same thing, lobster and crab tostadas.

Recalling those Vegas and Dubai references, entrees tend to be excess on a plate. The steaks are fine, especially the New York strip and, if it’s your preference, the Wagyu offered at the scariest price of all, “MKT.” The Mr. Peeples ethos is best captured by “Lobster 3 Ways,” a menu box featuring the expensive likes of thermidor and risotto. You can pay even more to add what the menu calls Extra Delights (sauces) and Companions (sides). Among the latter, the bacon-wrapped fingerling potatoes and the scalloped potatoes are my favorites. Best desserts follow your preferences, from the simplest creme brulee to a lemon meringue tart made unexpected by blueberry sauce and a scoop of ice cream kissed with olive oil.

Mr. Peeples may not be for everyone. In truth, to maximize your experience, you’d have to be hungry for boldly splashy food served up in a complementary space surrounded by young party people who seem to have taken a wrong turn at the Venetian. But if you’re up for it, this is a uniquely fun scene. And, heck, you don’t even have to bring a date; an inflatable one may just come floating into your arms.

Mr. Peeples
1911 Bagby St.; 713.652.0711

Dinner Monday-Wednesday, 4-10pm; Thursday-Saturday, 4-11pm. Happy hour 4-7pm. Sunday brunch 11am-3pm.

Appetizers, $13-$18; soups/salads, $8-$10; entrees, $25-$65; sides, $7-$10; desserts, $9.

Why Go
The main thing on the menu here is sensory overload. This is fine-dining cuisine and service set in a wild, bustling, stage-lit setting of black, red and gold, accented with glowing graffiti.

Valet at the entrance for $8, plus self-parking in the restaurant-owned garage across the street, in addition to whatever’s legal on this busy corner of Bagby and Pierce in Midtown.

Comfortable and casual in the early evening. As the night gets later and the music louder, necklines plunge and the dark designer jeans become more snug.

Get the Shaft
The “tower of wine” is notable not only for its 1,600 bottles, many from revered vineyards in France and Napa, but also for giving new life to the building’s former elevator shaft.

Déjà Vu Brunch
With a knowing nod to the old La Strada, Mr. Peeples has introduced a boozy Sunday brunch with a DJ and dishes like Cap’n Crunch French toast and lobster crepes.