Hugo Ortega's Caracol Opens; Expect Crowds
For those who speak Spanish, the word caracol is instantly evocative of seafood. It translates to conch, or shell, and in addition to rolling off the tongue, the word has special meaning for Hugo Ortega and his wife, Tracy Vaught, of Hugo's and Backstreet Cafe.
Photo by Kaitlin Steinberg Caracol, the newest member of the Ortega/Vaught mini-empire, is open for business.
"Hugo's brother used to be the chef at Victoria House Hotel in Belize," Vaught explains. "We went down several times to visit, and Hugo really wanted to learn how to make the ceviche de caracol. Down there they have a lot of conch. We watched a wedding on the beach and they lined the aisle with conch, that's how much they have. It's sort of a nice memory for Hugo, making that dish with his brother."
Now, the two-time James Beard Award-nominated Ortega has opened Caracol to showcase his skill with seafood and bring a different type of Mexican cuisine to Houston. The new space officially opened on Monday, December 16, and has already been drawing crowds eager to try Ortega's takes on seafood from all three of Mexico's coasts.
"We've done a lot of travel over the years, and we end up eating a lot of seafood in Mexico," Vaught says. "We've been to many, many coastal towns, both touristy and off the beaten path. We love researching that and learning about the dishes that are traditional in each region."
Ortega and Vaught brought in chef Daniel Bridges, most recently of the Bellagio in Las Vegas, to assist with the opening, but now that Caracol is up and running, the kitchen is back in the hands of Ortega and his brother, Ruben Ortega, a pastry chef.
Photo courtesy Caracol Hugo Ortega, left, cooks seafood the authentic way on a beach in Mexico.
"Back in the day, we were wanting to hire someone who could complement Hugo to bring up the kitchen to a higher level of organization with better house control," Vaught says. "We got pretty far into it, and Daniel said what we really need is a kitchen manager. We already had Hugo to do the creative food part of it. I think Daniel would really like to do something bigger. We're trying to help him get aligned with a larger group so he can stay in Houston."
Now that the restaurant is open and a chef change has taken place, we can all sit back and focus on the most important aspect of Caracol -- the food.