La Fisheria Opens Tomorrow as Houston Welcomes a Mexican Celebrity Chef to the City
Most Americans wouldn't know chef Aquiles Chávez if they saw him on the street, even with his trademark handlebar mustache and Jack Sparrow-style dreadlocks tucked under a straw hat.
Photos by Katharine Shilcutt Chef Aquiles Chávez and co-owner Ena Niño. See more behind-the-scenes photos of La Fisheria and the taping in our slideshow.
But ask anyone in Latin America about Chávez and they'll immediately grin and say, "El hombre con el bigote!" as they twist the ends of a mock mustache on their own faces. Throughout Latin America, Chávez -- who is the star of two reality shows, with a third in production -- is as famous as Anthony Bourdain.
And he hopes to accomplish the same level of fame here in the United States, starting in Houston with his brand-new restaurant: La Fisheria (4705 Inker), which opens to the public tomorrow, February 11.
It was at La Fisheria that I met Chávez yesterday afternoon, accompanied by his co-owners in the restaurant and a Colombian production crew from the Fox-affiliated station Utilisima. Utilisima is the South American version of channels like HGTV and the Food Network in the U.S., and Chávez's two shows are very similar to No Reservations and various live cooking shows. His third show, currently filming, is called Aquiles in Houston and follows the chef as he and his family have packed their bags and moved to Houston permanently to open La Fisheria.
For the purposes of filming, Chávez and his team had assembled a glut of diners that packed the still-closed restaurant for a mock service. The audience included fans of Chávez's, members of the Latin American business community and an assortment of Latin chefs, including Arturo Boada of Arturo Boada Cuisine, Ruben Ortega from Backstreet Cafe and Hugo's, Roberto Castre from Latin Bites and David Guerrero from Samba Grille.
The tables and chairs at La Fisheria are made of reclaimed wood from the shipping crates that Chávez and his team used to get their supplies to Houston.
"What do you think of the name? La Fisheria?" Boada asked me as we ate lunch with boom mikes overhead and cameras in our faces.
"I think it's a bit silly, honestly," I responded. Boada nodded his head in agreement.
"In Houston," he said, "you have to keep a name simple, short." He paused, then added: "Sexy. La Fisheria is not sexy. It sounds...fishy."
But the name is there, for better or worse: It's branded throughout the place in a way that may be off-putting to Texans who aren't familiar with Chávez nor his level of fame throughout the rest of the Americas. Despite this, the restaurant is effortlessly charming and welcoming, splashed with bright hues of citrus and aqua and decorated in a way that reminds one of a beach house in Veracruz.
This is how Chávez and his team intended it: as a monument to not only Veracruz but all of the colorful, casual places in Mexico that evoke feelings of vacations and happier times.
The entrance features a wall of ivy, watered by a series of PVC pipes that has the unintended effect of sounding like a softly babbling brook. It's truly lovely.
In spite of its casual demeanor, though, Chávez and his team of chefs mean business: This is a chef-driven restaurant, as laid-back as it may seem. The quality of the ingredients and the starkly modern presentation of the dishes suggests that La Fisheria could eventually be one of the best "upscale" Mexican restaurants in town, a point Boada also agreed with. Time (and consistency) will tell, but every one of us came away surprised with how much we loved both the restaurant and the cuisine.
"We liked everything," Ruben Ortega told me after our lunches were over and the cameras were busy filming Boada for an interview segment. In particular, he'd loved the roasted cacao foam used as the base for Chávez's bread pudding dessert with macerated berries, high praise from one of the city's best pastry chefs and an expect in cacao himself.
Roberto Castre, who makes the best Peruvian ceviches in town at Latin Bites, was equally impressed, especially with La Fisheria's own ceviche: a pile of plush red snapper mixed with fat kernels of corn, slices of radish and a dusting of chile powder -- made in-house, of course, like nearly everything else here.