El Big Bad Is Coming Soon: Divine Tequila Cocktails and a Chef-Driven Philosophy

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Photos by Mai Pham
From top left: Hibiscus-infused tequila agua fresca; chimichurri-grilled Texas redfish; fruit margarita; mangalitsa chicken tamale topped with Oaxacan mole

Located on the prominent corner of Travis and Prairie in the building that used to house Cabo's, El Big Bad, the offshoot of Lea McKinney and Steve Sharma's wildly successful El Gran Malo, is almost ready to open. The gorgeous copper-topped bar is in place downstairs. The large, inviting patio is just waiting to be populated. The menu has been created by consulting chef Randy Rucker, and the two key players on the food side -- executive chef Ben Rabbani and sous chef Mark Parmley -- have been hired.

"You need to open soon!" I exclaimed as I stepped onto the restaurant's wide wooden upstairs patio. A light breeze drifted around me in lazy playfulness, making me want to hang out and admire the twinkling lights of downtown instead of going back downstairs.

"We're waiting on the murals to be completed," replied Sharma. "And a few other things," he replied enigmatically. Even so, you can tell that Sharma and McKinney are more than ready to get the party started. And to give expectant fans something to look forward to, they recently held a "snapshot" dinner, offering two seatings of a seven-course cocktail pairing dinner for $95, just to whet our appetites for what's to come.

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Photo by Mai Pham
A third-generation jimador flew in from Mexico to demonstrate the harvesting of an agave plant.

To make the event even more special, El Big Bad partnered with Herradura Tequila, which flew in a third-generation jimador -- a farmer who harvests agave plants -- to kick off the dinner with a live demonstration. Guests watched in amazement as the jimador used a special tool to break down the spiky leaves of the plant before breaking open its core.

And then the festivities began. If you've been to dinners put on by the El Gran Malo team, you'll know that their drinks are seriously badass. El Big Bad is no different. Their libations are extremely creative. They taste awesome. They're deceptively light but pack a strong punch. And they'll make you very, very happy.

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Photo by Mai Pham
Herradura silver tequila flanked by red and green sangrita chasers resemble a Mexican flag.

This is no doubt how my friend Minh and several of the other attendees felt throughout the evening, starting with a shot of smooth Herradura Silver Tequila, which was served with delicious housemade red and green sangrita chasers to create a palette of red, white and green shot glasses: the colors of the Mexican flag.

The shots were paired with a first course of gulf shrimp aguachile made of lightly poached shrimp that had been marinated in a chile water of serrano, cilantro and shaved red onion. Resembling a ceviche but much milder and less tangy, the shrimp had an almost plain taste, until the bright pops of chile spice came into play. It was a shrewd pairing, allowing the tequila to shine next to the intensely herbaceous flavors of the two sangritas.


Location Info

El Gran Malo

419 Travis St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

El Gran Malo - CLOSED

2307 Ella, Houston, TX

Category: Music

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9 comments
Fishel
Fishel

Prediction: with the tailwind from the Gran Malo name this place will last 1.5 years before closing, pretty much close to the same fate as midtown's attempt at better Mexican/Tex-Mex, Xuco Xicana.

All this stuff is admirable from a culinary standpoint but will sail over the heads over 90% of downtown workers and those nearby. Hope I'm wrong, but I'm not.

rynocerous
rynocerous

Nothing about that menu is any sort of twist on Tex-Mex.  It really is a twist on traditional Mexican food.  Pozole, for instance, is about as traditional Mex as you can get.  

jimbo1126
jimbo1126

Where are the tacos? The nachos? The featured food items look really great, but I hope there are some more accessible items on the menu for the typical after work crowd. They don't have to be run of the mill, but they need to be something people will eat with a drink in the bar.

rcastle
rcastle

Tamale with globs of sauce. Why hide the tamale?

Tell_us_more
Tell_us_more

Writing that the dinner "was all about the drinks" completely misses the point. Anyone who went to Cabo knows the patio is fun, and anyone who's been to Gran Malo knows they make good drinks. How was Rucker's attempt at Mexican food? Did it taste good? I'm sure they comped your ticket, but was it a good value for $95? CultureMap made it sound like kind of a mixed bag, but I would really like your take.

maladia
maladia

Looks good! Whether the place actually opens might be a crapshoot with Randy Rucker involved. He excels at theoretical restaurants above all else.

Mai Pham
Mai Pham topcommenter

@Tell_us_more This was a blog and not a critical review, hence, I wanted to capture the spirit of the event, which was, for me, all about the drinks. I admire Randy as a chef, and I've actually gone in for tastings with him prior to this dinner, tasting dishes that were super exciting -- a pozole verde, several versions of a whole grilled redfish, fantastic salsas (like, 10 different kinds) a hearty menudo, and small touches, like guacamole topped with caramelized garlic, or refried beans made with black beans. 

I felt like this dinner barely scratched the surface of what El Big Bad will be once it opens. Each of the dishes showed promise but the drinks won the night. There were things that I enjoyed and things that could have been improved upon. I wanted more acid in the aguachile. Likewise, the mango puree and beet salad was sweet on sweet, and I would have liked more spice or acid. But I loved the textures of the puree against the firmer, slick beets. While the Oaxacan mole was perfection - rich with deep flavor -- there wasn't enough of it on my chicken tamale, which absorbed a lot of the mole.  Also, I wanted a moister, less mealy tamale. The chimichurri redfish was marinated well, but needed to be more charred on the outside for a crisper skin. The churros were funnily shaped but the spicy hot chocolate sauce was addictive. Like I said, strictly speaking about that particular dinner -- the first seating --each of the dishes had its memorable points.

Mai Pham
Mai Pham topcommenter

@maladia It's going to be awesome. And Randy's involvement is going to make it even more so. Had the opportunity to do some tastings of the menu in development, and swooned over something as simple as refried black beans. 

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