An Evening of Highs and Lows at Cuchara

Categories: Local Spotlight

moleverde0708.jpg
Photo by Minh T. Truong
The mole verde at Cuchara
It's taken me a little while to visit Cuchara -- although I had heard good things since it opened, it never sprang to mind to try. I looked online prior to my visit and the menu had some interesting offerings, the Mula de nopal, grilled cactus filet stuffed with panela cheese, quesadillas de huitlacoche (corn with black mushroom) and the charalitos, deep-fried small lake fish were certainly interesting enough. I went into Cuchara with an open mind and a curious palate but left rather disappointed. I also confirmed that one should never go to a Mexican restaurant with a Mexican friend who can throw down tamales, posole, mole and everything else in the kitchen like it's nobody's business, because nothing will compare.

The space that Cuchara occupies is prime real estate. The huge windows that open up into the lively streets of Montrose make it a perfect spot to linger over cocktails. And Cuchara really uses this open feel. The beautiful, colorful murals, created by the owner's sister, that adorn the walls, the bar and the ceiling truly adds a sense of whimsy to the minimal, almost industrial aesthetics.

deepfried0708.jpg
Photo by Minh T. Truong
The deep-fried lakefish
They do not take reservations but our party of seven didn't need them even though it was a Friday night. We got a coveted spot next to the window. We started with cocktails, most of them tequila-based and ordered appetizers. The chicharrones ($8) were your standard fried pork rinds but somehow were extra crispy without being at all greasy. The mousse de aguacate ($8), avocado mousse, was light and creamy and just slightly sweet, the queso fresco sprinkled on top added the perfect salt balance, I did note that the menu said the mousse came with tortilla fritters but I'm pretty sure what we got was just your run of the mill tortilla chips. And the deep-fried lake fish that I was anticipating were the best thing I had that night ($8), they too were perfectly fried, crispy but not greasy, a squeeze of lime and the smoky, just enough heat, salsa helped to brighten it up. I popped those suckers whole one after the other enjoying every last crunchy bite. Those at the table that were at first hesitant to try them, became quick converts.

My entree, however, wasn't nearly as satisfying - the mole verde ($16), green mole with pork tenderloin, was delivered to our table with each component, the mole, beans, rice and white corn puree, in its own miniature pot. The presentation was great but it did make it very obvious that you weren't getting much for what you were paying. The pork was extremely tender and fell apart as you picked up the pieces but the mole lacked flavor, I couldn't taste the cumin, and there was no herbal accents. It was just...creamy. The rice was also overcooked and the beans were nothing special.

While everyone had raved about the appetizers, no one was jumping up and down about their entrees. Dessert was also hit and miss, the tres leches was dry but the spicy chocolate stuffed fritters with Papantla vanilla ice cream was inspired. The whole evening was a series of highs and lows.

I'm not sure if I would return to Cuchara, there is just far too many places to get amazing Mexican food, my friend's kitchen for one, Lucy, you've ruined me for all Mexican restaurants.

Location Info

Cuchara

214 Fairview St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant


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19 comments
lolissotelo
lolissotelo

You probably didn't taste the cumin in the mole verde simply because mole verde doesn't have cumin. Ask Lucy. Food critics should investigate before writing...

Keene38
Keene38

I like Cuchara more for their appetizers and quick (but not inexpensive) lunches, not to mention their cocktails. For entrees I head to Hugo's. Or for different apps and more cocktails I like La Fisheria. Cuchara is certainly a welcome newcomer to my neighborhood though.

paval
paval topcommenter

I really think that the writer has taken my initial comments in a much better way than the heated debate this has turned into. As we say in German: "Lets leave the church in the village". We are talking about mole and tortillas here, not world politics, prism or US-Russia relations. 

Undoubtedly Montrose is becoming a high dollar dining experience and there will be a lot of people that will be disappointed when they have to pay and the portions were not anywhere to the accustomed Texas size. Cuchara does not give away free chips and salsa and i am sure some people are disappointed at that too. 

But as in most other cases, areas like Montrose develop in a cyclical way. lets hope that places like underbelly/hay merchant, Cuchara and some others of the Montrose area survive the next down cycle and will be around the next ten to twenty years. I refuse to live (or at least eat) in Houston if all we have in ten years are Landry's, Luby's and Darden restaurants to name a few. 


Lumiere155
Lumiere155

Half eaten?! Really? Trust me the pic was taken when the food came out(do you want me to talk about the portion sizes) and what I think is that 80% of the restaurants in Houston are Tex Mex. Now, I do have to give them credit for a few creative dishes on their menu BUT you do not call tortilla chips - corn fritters. Despite their fresh ingredients the mole was not special, it was very close to Doña Maria’s green mole.  

Again, the $$ for the food received was not worth it.  And no one here on this article mentioned that failure was wished upon Cuchara; just that it could make some improvements. Obviously, you two like Cuchara, so by all means continue supporting. I just rather support other businesses that have been in Houston WAY longer than this one and whose food is authentic. Take Hugo’s for instance.

And instead of you all trying to rip Minh a new one about mentioning her friend, you should be bright enough to see she is only making a reference to ANY home cooked meal(taste best) VS a restaurant especially when it comes to Mexican food. And this is coming from a Mexican.

MadMac
MadMac topcommenter

Are you reviewing the restaurant or your friend's kitchen skills? Did you originally intend this as a line/item comparison?

And, honestly, if your friend's "ruined you for all Mexican restaurants," you may want to consider another gig, like horticulture or another city, like Milwaukee. You make some good points--based on those good points, I'm not chancing this joint--but referencing the esteemed friend, (who we don't know, don't care jack diddly about) in your openning paragraph and your closing line undercuts credibility.

GunsandTacos
GunsandTacos

I agree with Paval. Cuchara is an excellent restaurant, and should absolutely not be lumped in with other Mexican restaurants in Houston. I think their food is outstanding, and I feel that we're very lucky to have interior Mexico City cuisine in this city. 

Also, I'd like to add that the food presentation at Cuchara is top notch, and these grainy phone camera photos of half-eaten bowls of rice do this restaurant a great disservice. 


brittany1362
brittany1362

I'm with you, Minh.  We live in the neighborhood and were anxious to try Cuchara and ended up leaving a little underwhelmed.  Cocktails were good, apps were good.  I did not enjoy the mole verde, though I did enjoy the avocado mousse and pureed corn (and cocktails.)

Mostly I just feel like the food was a little pricey to just be "OK."

paval
paval topcommenter

Did you not review the Mula de nopal and the quesadilla de huitlacoche, which you mention in the beginning of your piece? Probably two of my absolute favorites and recommended dishes to new-goers at Cuchara (another one is the Chileatole) and that you cannot find in almost any of the other "Mexican" restaurants that you unfairly throw in the same pot as Cuchara (it is like throwing all the Chinese places in the same pot, when you have more than marked differences between American-Chinese, Sichuan and Cantonese. Or throwing Vietnamese in the same pot as Thai under the label "Asian". I would expect that from an average Joe in Texas, but not from a Houston Press Food Writer who follows traditions and style of people such as Rob Walsh and Katharine Shilcutt). 

Cuchara is since its inception trying to offer inner Mexico cuisine to a population accustomed to, reared with and also spoiled by Tex-Mex as Mexican cuisine. Anyone trying the likes of Hugo's, Taqueria La Macro, El Hidalguense,  Tacos del Julio, Jarro Cafe and Cuchara, that there is a huge difference between those "Mexicans" and the likes of Gringos, Paparruchos, Sylvias and other places I do not have to go anymore since divorcing my American wife.

Cuchara also serves about the best margaritas in town, and this from someone who actually despises that cocktail because before Cuchara I always discounted it as a product of laziness and bad taste, made with cheap tequila, chemical laden sweet and sour mix or equally chemical laden Margarita mix, and bottom shelf orange liqueur. Cuchara's is made with fresh lime juice (like in daily by hand squeezed fresh), really good Espolon tequila, cane sugar piloncillo or panela. 

I strongly believe that the role of the critic and reviewer is to educate the public. This would demand for a critic to be fair, compare apples with apples and not with pears, praise the good and rant about the bad (with actually knowing what good and bad are. Critics tend to go for more than one visit to a place for that reason. All restaurants, as individuals do too, have good and bad days, so visiting more than once is compulsory in order to have a balanced view of a place one critiques), study the dishes and beverage offerings of the restaurant in advance, etc.

And contrary to what the impression on my person may be, I am not affiliated to the restaurant, I am not even a regular of Cuchara, because for my income level Cuchara and most of Montrose restaurant world is slightly out of price range, but good restaurants in my book do not need to be a weekly happening, as I also like to cook and experiment in my own kitchen from time to time and have friends over. The dishes I commented on are the ones I will eat when there and enjoy a good beer at the bar (indio being my favorite) and also drink a good espresso, as that is also something you cannot find too much in the city. A place to dispense, in good European tradition, an espresso of a quality as Cuchara does in the evening hours.

I feel that for fairness reasons you should visit Cuchara a second time and try the quesadillas de huitlacoche, the chilatole and the mulita de nopal that you announced in the beginning of your text. Also do not take so many people with you. It only is distracting you from your initial purpose as well as naturally making service slower to your table when so many mouths want to be fed. 

I believe most food writers from the Press and other places take a maximum of one or two other people with them to pursue their original intention, the write up of a restaurant, while using the companions as a diversion technique to not arise suspicion of the restaurant being reviewed. 



MadMac
MadMac topcommenter

"And instead of you all trying to rip Minh a new one about mentioning her friend, you should be bright enough to see she is only making a reference to ANY home cooked meal(taste best) VS a restaurant especially when it comes to Mexican food. And this is coming from a Mexican."

Great. What's your business hours? Oh, you don't have a restaurant? Well, see, I read these articles for two reasons, one, I'm goofing at work; two I'm looking for RESTAURANTS to check out or avoid. You might be the best cook since Gabby Hayes but if you're not in BUSINESS, then it means RJS in a restaurant review.

lolissotelo
lolissotelo

Chips have flour. Corn tortilla fritters are made with corn only

Bruce_Are
Bruce_Are topcommenter

@MadMac  

I was thinking the same thing.  It is unlikely that this friend, Lucy, can actually cook as well as Minh thinks, and even if she can we can't really use that reference for guidance.

Plus, I think Minh's affection for Lucy is beyond gastronomical.

MadMac
MadMac topcommenter

The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

mt623
mt623

wow, thank you for your passionate commment.

I'm not a critic, I am actually just your average Joe with an opinion, who is fortunate enough to have the opportunity to write about MY opinion on the places I go, experiences I have and the meals I eat,  and actually have people read it. If something I write gets such a response as yours, it challenges people to try the restuarant and form their own opinions so I appreciate it. I think I may go back -- there was a lot I enjoyed and I think Cuchara is doing great things.

aftershock561
aftershock561

hello my name is branden, i was wondering if u had huitlacoche on your menu? if so do you have a dependable supplier because i grow it on my farm in florida and sell it frozen year round.. If you have an interest please reply back with any .....burnsfarm.huitlacoche@gmail.com

lolissotelo
lolissotelo

I have been to Cuchara several times and feel right at home. My mother was a cook in Acapulco and paid for our education that way. The cooks in Cuchara remind me of my mother. A comment such as "I couldn't taste the cumin in the mole verde" (which doesn't have cumin unless you consulted the TexMex cooking book) diminishes the quality of the work of cooks that know what they are doing when the writer has no idea what they are writing about. Sad that an "average Joe" has the power to express about THEIR experience and make it sound like they are professionals in what they write about.

paval
paval topcommenter

@mt623  

Thanks for your reply. 

As I said in previous writing I would strongly recommend going to eat out with smaller groups if your intention is writing about it. Kitchen and FOH staff tend to give better service to smaller groups. And other people on the table can distract, alienate you from the larger good at stake. 

 I live in Houston for seven years and restaurants like the reviewed as well as the others I named raise my hopes for this city, where many take quantity of restaurants as a sign of quality. Contrary to the constantly repeated Mantra of the Houston fans of Houston being a foodie mecca, Houston can easily take more quality and authentic restaurants such as Cuchara and the others in the category "Mexican". 

If these restaurants are critiqued in what I see as unfair reviews they will not make it. Feast is probably one of the best examples. Most so called "foodies" went to that place when it was hip but never finished understanding it and accepting it for what it was. "Liver at Feast, yeah great, innovative and all, but I prefer my liver fix at Luby's - kind of comments."

 As long as Luby's, Landry, Darden and other corporation restaurants are still the ones being full on the weekends, places like Cuchara, Underbelly, Oxheart, need the support of the critics in explaining to the general population that the latter are not anything like the former. Because if not more of the oh so hopefully expected greats in the Houston dining firmament will shutter just as Feast did.

paval
paval topcommenter

@BobbyFreshpants @paval

I am certain that in most restaurants it is the intention of everyone in the staff to give the best service to any size of group or even to a single diner. And even if the restaurant tries to serve everyone in the same quality, it is unrealistic to expect that on a Friday or Saturday evening, a group of 8 diners will get the same service as a two or four top. I have worked restaurants in plenty and even if we tried the hardest, a 8 top would always come with some minor or major disruption, shortcoming of some kind. 

That being said, I still maintain that going with 8 pals to eat, then take pictures with a cell phone cam, and write up a experience report dressed in a critique, is not the fairest way to go. Fortunately the writer has taken my comments the way they were meant to be, constructive, and intends to go again.  

I am sorry if my lack of proper English may have given you the impression that I am suggesting a nonsense such as an announced restaurant visit, though I could not discover any indications in my text, but of course that would defeat the purpose of a critique. 

 

BobbyFreshpants
BobbyFreshpants topcommenter

@paval shouldn't the kitchen and staff give the same service to everyone? Not just those in small groups?

I dont think Underbelly or Oxheart need anymore support, they receive national recognition and are nearly always full. 

Restaurants like Roost always get good reviews from regular patrons and foodies alike. I feel like what you are saying is that critics should let the restaurant know when they are coming so the restaurant can wear their Sunday best but that defeats the purpose of the review.

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