First Look at Cuchara

Categories: Restaurant News

La Cuchara 012.jpg
Photo by Katharine Shilcutt
Taquitos made with flour tortillas are stuffed with white cheese and fried hibiscus flowers.
There are no chips and salsa delivered to your table at Cuchara. There are no enchiladas or quesadillas on the menu, although there are margaritas and mole. That's because Cuchara isn't your run-of-the-mill Tex-Mex restaurant. Like fellow new kid La Fisheria and warhorse Hugo's, this is Mexican food of the most interesting sort.

The food served at Cuchara is not purely Mexican, but rather a modern interpretation of the country's native cuisine, especially the cuisine found in the coastal state of Veracruz. And although the restaurant has barely been open for a week, the service and food were already remarkably up to par when I dropped in last Tuesday night for a quick dinner before flying out to D.C. in the morning. (What good Texan doesn't want Mexican or Tex-Mex as her final meal before spending a few days in another city?)

In fact, the only problem I foresee with Cuchara is in its choice of name. I have lost track of how many people have parroted back "Cucaracha?" to me in a quizzical, incredulous voice. This being Houston, cucaracha is a far more common term here than soundalike cuchara, which means "spoon" in Spanish, and it's just way too easy to get the two words confused. Sorry, guys.

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The bar, with a cocktail program from Chris Frankel and Alex Gregg, was already busy on a Tuesday night.
On the bright side, Cuchara looks as though it's going to be a very welcome addition to the corner of Fairview and Taft in Montrose -- a corner which already houses popular neighborhood spots like Ziggy's and Boheme -- and should do quite well in the walkable area as another neighborhood restaurant, like Barnaby's or Tex-Chick just down the street.

I also imagine that Cuchara will do much more than walk-up business, though: Its menu is intriguing enough to draw diners from all over the city, diners who are eager to explore chef Adriana Avendaño's modern Mexican cuisine through such dishes as taquitos stuffed with fried hibiscus flowers and white cheese or huachinango a la Veracruzana with strikingly Creole flavors.

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Huachinango a la Veracruzana.
The huachinango (red snapper) was my favorite dish on that Tuesday night, although I am still hard-pressed to make that choice: Everything we had was good, and the kitchen is still too young to really make any judgment calls this early on.

But I can tell you that I expect great things out of Avendaño and her staff (which, judging from the open kitchen, seems to be an army of abuelitas making masa from scratch). I liked the format of the huachinango: heavy on tomatoes, peppers and onions, the bright sauce was a natural pairing for the fat, fluffy fish.

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Brunch features plenty of micheladas and molletes.
That's a more traditional recipe, however -- and Cuchara has plenty of nontraditional dishes to challenge your palate, from a chilled, silky avocado mousse soup that negates any need for guacamole to suflé de chicharrón -- pork rind souffle -- which I didn't get to try, but which I'm headed back for soon. I'm also eager to check out Cuchara's brunch, which is only on Sundays, but which adds a few more dishes than are normally available on the dinner menu and adds a few more cocktails, too.

As Chronicle food critic Alison Cook mentioned last week, Cuchara's cocktail program is currently being overseen by Chris Frankel and Alex Gregg -- both formerly of Anvil Bar & Refuge. The two men have created cocktails as interesting as Cuchara's food, like a nearly amber-colored margarita blended with Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaḉao in place of Triple Sec and simple syrup made from dark brown panela in lieu of sugar. They're serving interesting industry favorites, too, such as a mescal-laced Division Bell with bitter Aperol and sweet Maraschino to balance it all out, a drink first made by Phil Ward of Mayahuel in New York City but which plays just as well to Houston audiences.

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The cocktails and bar menu appear to be as much of a draw as the food so far, and it seems as though Cuchara planned it that way: The large, open dining room is split right down the middle, with dining tables on one side and the expansive, warm-toned bar (which has an almost Nordic, mid-century look to it) dominating the other.

Wherever you sit, though, you'll be anchored by the exuberant, Haring-esque murals of artist Cecilia Beaven, sister of co-owner Ana Beaven and Mexico-based muralist -- art which keeps intact the tradition of murals inside Mexican restaurants while cheerfully turning that tradition on its ear. Look above you in the bar, and you'll even see one suspended from the ceiling.

There's also a small lounge area, which will be instrumental in accommodating the overflow I imagine showing up en masse to Cuchara on weekend evenings. I hear there's already a wait, in fact, and Cuchara hasn't even held its grand opening party, which will take place this coming Saturday, September 15. And one day soon for brunch, I'll be happily waiting for my next meal at Cuchara too.



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Location Info

Cuchara

214 Fairview St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

La Fisheria

4705 Inker St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Hugo's

1600 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant


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8 comments
ceci.farfan
ceci.farfan

I tried this place twice and Jeff is right plus really bad service!!!! They need to improve the service. BAD.

jeffbalke
jeffbalke topcommenter

I tried this place last week and while I did like the food overall, it seemed expensive for what was being offered. The margarita, at $9, was not bad, but it filled less than half the glass and it wasn't a huge glass. I don't need a Pico's large or anything like that, but this was downright ridiculous.

 

Conversely, I was blown away the first time I ate at La Fisheria and found their prices to be a little high but reasonable considering the food and the portions.

dunstan
dunstan

After seeing some interior/coastal Mexican places come to Houston, and specifically inside the loop, I'm hoping we'll find that real Chinese does the same thing. How welcome would it be to have a place that prepares and hangs out roast duck, quail, pork and the rest, along with some dumplings, buns and veggies (pickled and otherwise) that are available in Chinatown.

paval
paval topcommenter

Only half ass Spanish speakers or semi-illiterates will mistake or misread "cuchara" for or as  "cucaracha". People that use expressions such as "mucho bueno" or "mucho cerveza".

My Spanish teacher would turn around in her grave if she would hear what even Mexicans do to Spanish nowadays. "Taxas" (taxes) for impuestos, troca (truck) for camioneta, etc.

As far as I remember the sign on Fairview shows a spoon on it, so does the homepage. So even for people that are less letter and more picture oriented it should be clear that cuchara cannot mean cockroach.

 

o.floresalvarez
o.floresalvarez

 @paval Since we're being picky about word usage, the phrase is "turn OVER in her grave," not "turn around in her grave..." Just saying. 

kshilcutt
kshilcutt moderator editor

 @paval You forgot "aseguranza" for insurance. That one drives me batty.

paval
paval topcommenter

 @o.floresalvareztranslating idiomatic expressions can be difficult. I am sorry for the mistake.

paval
paval topcommenter

 @kshilcutt I forgot that one indeed. Also drives me crazy. But I have heard worse. I just cannot even dare to repeat them, unless I want my Spanish teacher to become a spindletop ("trompo") in her grave.

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