Oysters and Tuna Tacos: First Look at Caracol
Photo by Mai Pham The ostiones asados, or wood-grilled oysters, at Caracol will knock your socks off.
"I could come here just for this," I thought to myself as I sampled the unbelievably tasty ostiones asados, or wood grilled oysters, topped with chipotle butter at Caracol. The first of several dishes I tried during my first visit to Hugo Ortega and Tracy Vaught's new coastal Mexican seafood restaurant in the BBVA Compass builiding on Post Oak Boulevard, it is without a doubt their signature dish, the one you have to order every time you go.
Not only were they mouthwatering to look at, but the taste and textures were incredible: Each slurp of silky-smooth, molten, hot oyster tasted of mild oceanic salinity that ended with a great crispy, buttery, spicy finish. Parmesan-grilled oysters can be commonly found throughout Latin America -- from Mexico to Peru and Chile -- but Caracol's non-cheesy version is simply outstanding. I polished off six oysters by myself (and could have easily scarfed down a few more).
Photo by Mai Pham All of the artwork at Caracol, like this mural of a squid, were created by the American artist Charlie Harper
The food is just one of the reasons that makes Caracol one of my new favorite restaurants to open in Houston this past year. The design of the restaurant is open and airy, with high ceilings, clean, modern lines and a color palette of creams and pale powder blues that evoke a coastal resort feeling. Wall art is understated, depicting sea creatures from fish to the vibrant red squid that dominates the eastern wall. You could easily transpose this restaurant onto a beachside in Mexico and it would fit right in. The lighting is attractive without being too bright or dim, and the noise level is controlled so that you can easily converse with someone sitting across the table. The service staff, wearing ruffled, simple peasant Mexican shirts, are attentive, enthusiastic and friendly.
But back to the food. The menus are arranged so that the small, appetizer-sized plates occupy the two outer columns, with the larger, more substantial entrees in the middle. During my first visit, I didn't make it past the small plates, sampling items like a brilliantly conceived carnitas-style tuna taco, wherein chunks of tuna were prepared to mimic pork carnitas. The meaty flesh of the tuna had a crisp outer sear, and intermingled with bright slivers of red onion and a sriracha-like spicy hot sauce to make one helluva gourmet-tasting fish taco.
Photo by Mai Pham The shrimp aguachile can be found on the Cocteles y Escabeches section of the menu.
A shrimp aguachile looked like a work of art, served on a small plate over rounds of paper-thin cucumber that had been arranged in an overlapping pattern to form the base of the dish. Although there were deep rust-colored dots of a smoky spicy sauce, I wished there had a been a more pronounced acidity, like you'd find in ceviche. Nonetheless, I couldn't quibble with the authenticity of the preparation, because it tasted just like aguachile dishes I'd tried in Mexico.
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