PaperCity Magazine

July/August 2019- Houston

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Page 77 of 83

76 RESTAURANTS FOR SUMMER TROPICAL STAYCATION BY LAURANN CLARIDGE EATING R estaurateur David Buehrer wants to transport you to an eatery inspired by Hemingway's El Floridita in the 1930s, Havana circa 1950, and Miami in the go-go '80s, where life could be distilled down to the simple pleasures of sipping an ice-cold cocktail by the pool and soaking up the sun's rays. Tropicales is Buehrer's fi rst "peak cafe" — an all-day cafe that serves breakfast (tacos, $8.75; rice bowls, $12; vegan oatmeal, $8.50), light bites (chips and queso, $5), and entrees (grilled salmon, $22; pork chops, $21) from 7 am well into the evening. Buehrer (Greenway Coffee Company ) was tapped by developers Steve and Hilary Ybarra to conceptualize a 2,30 0-square-foot ground-fl oor cafe in their three-story Boulevard Oaks mixed-use building designed by architect Michael Hsu. The result is a bustling cafe with soaring exposed ceilings, cool cement fl oors, ferns and swaying potted palms, peacock wicker chairs, and an inviting patio. Tropicales maintains a laser-like focus on its Pan con aguacate at Tropicales drinks program. Of course, the coffee and tea selections are on pointe — Buehrer sees to that — with delicious quenchers such as iced almond matcha latte with guava cream. Barkeep Kenny Freeman developed the spirits menu, with cocktails such as the avocolada, a play on the piña colada made with avocado in lieu of pineapple ($12). The craft beer and wine selections, while brief, are every bit as intriguing. The culinary director is Carlos Ballon, who hails from Peru. Don't miss his salmon ceviche made with sushi-grade salmon, mango, and Bermuda onion soaked in a coconut-milk acid bath ($16), or the pressed Cubano sandwich with roasted pork and Black Forest ham ($12); each served with crisp plantain chips. Fans of avocado toast will love the pan con aguacate, a blue-corn tlayuda layered with refried black beans, cotija cheese, mango pico de gallo, and the aforementioned avocado ($11). Tropicales, 2132 Bissonnet St., 832.649.7974, Cubano sandwich with plantain chips and creamy chimichurri T he labels "legend" and "icon" are bandied about so often as to de value their currency. But if there is one woman who can back those bills with gold, it's the late, great restaurateur Maria Ninfa Rodriguez Laurenzo, known to most of us as simply Mama Ninfa. One of 12 children born and raised in Harlingen, she fell in love with Domenic Laurenzo, a native Rhode Islander. As lore would have it, a fl ip of a coin decided their fate, and the couple relocated to Houston. They found their fame and fortune when Ninfa had the brilliant idea of rolling a chargrilled piece of skirt steak into a fresh tortilla — and the fajita was invented. The place of its origin was The Original Ninfa's on Navigation, founded shortly after the untimely passing of Ninfa's beloved husband. A LEGENDARY SPOT REIMAGINED Over the decades, licensees have run outlets labeled Ninfa's, but today only four remain outside the control of current owner Legacy Restaurants (Antone's Famous Po'Boys), which bought The Original Ninfa's concept in 2005 and brought it back to its former glory under CEO Jonathan Horowitz. Despite that, there's only ever been one Original location on Navigation — until now. The second, The Original Ninfa's Uptown Houston, is situated at BLVD Place, where Peska once stood. Michael Hsu and Studio Red Architects have reimagined the space as a light- fi lled, 280-seat, modern interpretation of the celebrated East End spot, retaining the same menu (and the same prices) honed by corporate chef Alex Padilla at the Navigation location. Padilla's connection to Ninfa's is one degree: His mother was a line cook back in the day when Mama Ninfa ran the kitchen. Manning the Uptown range is Aussie chef Jason Gould — who, like Padilla, has a much-lauded fi ne dining background. Look for dishes such as the crave-worthy mushroom quesadillas: two crisp corn tortillas sandwiched with sautéed mushrooms and poblano peppers cradled in melted Mexican cheeses with a side of avocado cream sauce ($9). The mole would make Mama proud, too. The two-day mole-making process involves roasting myriad nuts before combining them into a rich, slow-cooked dry spice/chocolate/chile concoction used to drape over chicken ($17), or deconstructed with spices and nuts stirred together as a dry rub to season a fi let of salmon with the creamiest of stone-ground grits beneath, all napped with poblano pepper and chipotle cream sauces ($27). You won't want to miss the creamy Kahlua fl an, spiked with coffee liqueur and topped with quenelles of whipped cream and gooey cajeta (caramel) sauce ($9). The Original Ninfa's Uptown Houston, BLVD Place, 1700 Post Oak Blvd., 346.335.2404, JULIE SOEFER KIRSTEN GILLIAM

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