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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Fork in the Road: Caracol (Houston, TX)

“Have you been to Caracol yet?” has become a pretty common question asked around Houston these days.  Hugo Ortega of Hugo’s and Backstreet Café fame, has opened his new seafood-inspired restaurant in the Stewart Title building on Post Oak.  As I walk in, the interior stuns me.  Sure, it’s a very large space, but breathtakingly gorgeous. 

Recognizably, Ortega has outfitted his staff in matching Mexican shirts and black pants and there is plenty staff around, so service is not lacking.  We arrive on the early side (by 7pm, the noise level is pretty loud) and I start with a Paloma.  Tequila and just the right amount of Tajin infused soda for spice. 

An intense menu offers traditional appetizers as well as entrees, but also includes an impressive count of ceviches, soups and other Spanish starters.  Most of our diners chose an appetizer and entrée, but ordering two tapas size dishes certainly satisfies the most hungry diner. 

My friend, Liz, had suggested we order the Gulf wood-roasted oysters.  She was right…these did not
disappoint!  These dozen bivalves are served sizzling hot with chipotle butter and I could have easily had another few.  

The Chilpachole de Jaiba soup preparation was constructed beautifully around a blue soft shelled crab with mini masa dumplings floating about.  The flavors could have been a bit more complex, but enjoyable nonetheless. 

Again, the butterflied snapper steamed in a basket with adobo sauce was average when it came to seasoning.  In my experience, adobo sauce is rich and spicy which was not the case here, but the fish was expertly cooked.  

A chickpea stuffed masa pancake with the tangy avocado salad was delicious and filling.

Crispy duck, duck molote and chard with red pumpkin seed sauce was not the most visually appealing dish, but of all the entrees, had the most complexity.  

The chocolate dome was cracked open with a mallet where you find a frothy coconut filling inside.  It was a nice little surprise.

To be forgotten was their version of bananas foster with flavorless bananas and a dollop of vanilla ice cream.

While I leave Ortez’s restaurants completely full, I’m never fully satisfied.  The sides always make up for any lull with the food.  I am partial to the refried black beans; they would be part of my last meal on Earth.  The charred brussel sprouts are on skewers with a sweet sauce underneath.  There is always room for improvement in the seasoning regard, but at least it’s always consistent when it comes to cooking proteins and that’s why I always return.

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