Much anticipated, Caracol is the new restaurant from Tracy Vaught and Hugo Ortega (Backstreet, Hugo’s, Prego). Located in the new BBVA Compass building on Post Oak, the cuisine is Mexican-focused seafood. (Aptly named, Caracol is Spanish for snail, although we didn’t see any snails on the menu.) This place has been jumping from the start, reservations are a must at least on weekends. We’ve dined there twice, both on Saturday evenings, and the surprisingly large space (particularly compared to its neighbor, Osteria Mazzantini) has been packed both times. There’s an ample bar area, with an outside patio that will be lovely when the weather warms up. We dined the second time at the bar (no reservations required), and it appeared all the seats were taken by diners.
It’s clear everything has been extremely well thought out, from the creative cocktail menu to the food offerrings. While there are plenty of wine choices (well-known sommelier Sean Beck guides this restaurant as he does the other Vaught/Ortega venues), we’ve thought the food worked well with the many tequila and agave cocktail offerrings; we’ve enjoyed the Gran Especial (classic margarita),Mountains to the Sea (a smoky, citrus mezcal and gin based cooler), and Past the Heather (a manhattan-style drink made with anejo tequila).
On both occasions, we sampled a number of small plates which seemed to be the approach taken by many of the diners around us. Dreams are made of the wood fired, cooked in the shell, parmesan crusted oysters; having had half a dozen on our first visit, we ordered a dozen the second time. The wood-roasted pork ribs were also two-timers for us as was the coal roasted eggplant puree. And on our next visit, we’ll go again for the crusty charred boneless pork foot with pickled vegetables. The conch ceviche was beautifully presented but we wanted a little more citrus and chile. The crispy tuna tacos were lovely bites of tuna, with guacamole and refried beans, in a soft flour tortilla. The chicharron crusted calamari was a creative twist on that ubiquitous dish that we feel obliged to try at pretty much every restaurant that offers it.
Service was excellent. It’s clear the waitstaff has been well trained. And management was walking the floor, keeping a careful eye on everyone. Feel free to valet park, but there’s validated parking in the very accessible covered garage attached to the building, with an elevator right near the restaurants.
2200 Post Oak Boulevard
It took us too long to make it to this restaurant within a restaurant at Haven. Cove Cold Bar is the baby of its chef, Jean Phillipe Gaston, who artfully presents his virtually all raw dishes in a glassed in area near the front of Haven. We called to make a reservation and the hostess graciously pointed us to a website where, at that time, for $95, we got a coupon for two six-course meals. We were told that reservations were only available when having a multi-course meal and that seating was at the raw bar. All that sounded good to us.
The menu is divided into a a number of cleverly titled categories — Smalls, Bowls, Pacific, Americas, Europe/Med/Africa, Four Legs, Dairy and Stickies — and the menu offerrings are well described within each category. Our coupon let us order from all of the categories except Bowls and Dairy. With three to four items in each category, we were able to try much of the menu which made for a great experience. Sitting at the raw bar, we saw the chefs at work, armed with sushi knifes and tweezers, fronted by a huge palette of a multitude of tiny items to grace the various plates.
Understandably, the focus is on seafood. There wasn’t a miss among all the plates we tried. Each dish was beautifully presented, with dabs of sauce and, depending on the dish, tiny pieces of chile, fruit, herbs, and veggies. There’s clearly been alot of research and thought put into each plate. Our favorites — sashimi (Pacific), citrus marinated lionfish (Pacific), quick cured salmon (Americas), and the marinated and grilled octopus with a wonderful arugula aioli (Europe). We enjoyed but weren’t as impressed by the two Four Legs items we tried — lamb heart carpaccio (kudos for the ambition and the effort to prepare the dish, starting with a frozen piece of heart, carefully sliced to order) and the classic steak tartare (overly seasoned). The chocolate mousse was a lush ending to the meal.
Service was great. They didn’t try to rush us. We ordered course by course. And sipped on some tasty cocktails and beer, all of which paired well with the raw items.
2502 Algerian Way
On Wesleyan, right next to Costco, adjacent to a large apartment complex, sits Pizzeria Solario, formerly a coffee shop, now turned casual artisanal wood oven pizza spot. There’s limited indoor and outdoor seating, with the outside patio quite pleasant when the weather cooperates. The wine selection, both by the glass and bottle, although limited, is reasonably priced. Beer is also served. When busy, parking can be limited, unless you walk from Costco.
Of the various appetizer and salad offerrings, our favorites are the olives al forno (marinated and baked in the oven) and the polpette (meatballs). We weren’t as impressed with the roasted peppers. We also enjoyed the tricolore and anchovy salad.
We’ve tried a number of the pizzas, with our favorites being the Carne (you got it, lots of meat) and the Fennel Sausage. The one of us who likes spinach is fond of the Spinaci (goat cheese, spinach, pine nuts). We weren’t as excited by the Tartufo (fontina, white truffle oil, truffle puree). New to the menu are some pasta offerrings that we haven’t tried yet.
Give this place a shot. We think the pizzas are right up there with Dolce Vita and the like.