PaperCity Magazine

PaperCity Houston May 2023

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Quiote's The Secret Behind the Speakeasy: By Laurann Claridge. Art direction Michelle Aviña. Photography Pär Bengtsson. D uring the American Prohibition in the 1920s, clandestine bars known as speakeasies popped up behind hushed, hidden entrances; you had to know someone or something (a secret code, perhaps) to enter. Giving us lots of kitsch vibes is the speakeasy Quiote, located inside Martin and Sara Stayer's tiki-style eatery The Toasted Coconut on Richmond Avenue (they also own Nobie's on Colquitt Street). Starting at 6 pm Thursday through Saturday, guests are ushered past the curtained entry to the restaurant's private dining area and led to a door covered with plastic fronds and hot- glued faux flowers. Beyond is a dimly lit space illuminated after-dark with candles and fairy lights strung between branches overhead. The cement-topped bar, poured with specks of sea glass, seats just 14, and we're told diners and drinkers alike queue up around 4:30 pm most weekends to secure one of the coveted stools. Bartender Elena Vann oversees the specialty cocktail list of 10 drinks ($12 to $18 each) that focus on Mexican-inspired tinctures made with mezcal, tequila, and agave distillates — in fact, more than 50 varieties are available. Drinks range from the classic margarita made with Arette Blanco tequila or Del Maguey Vida mescal ($14) to the La Campanita, a roasted red bell pepper infusion with mole bitters, lemon, and piloncillo (Mexican brown sugar), spirited with the white oak-aged Arette Reposado tequila ($16). Drinks are often served in charming terracotta vessels handmade by ceramist Lori Muñoz, who moonlights at Nobie's. Behind the bar in a small makeshift kitchen is chef Madelyn Lester, who whips out Mexican-style bar fare with a limited menu. You might nibble on raw or roasted oysters ($21) or pleasantly spicy steak tartar with dollops of avocado and olive mousse, rough- cut Marcona almonds, and Veracruz-inspired salsa macha, served with crisp tortillas ($22). I enjoyed the sweet potato tostada with coal-roasted sweet potatoes atop a thin tostada sprinkled with black-bean-and-sesame crumble and feta cheese ($12). Don't miss the kanpachi crudo: yellowtail topped with a persimmon mole with slivers of pickled pears and crunchy pepitas ($14). Service is set at a leisurely pace, as the chef and bartender both cook and serve each guest themselves. Not a substitute for dinner, mind you, but Quiote is a fun late-week escape as a simple prelude for the main course elsewhere, perhaps even next door. Quiote, inside The Toasted Coconut, 1617 Richmond Ave., Charm Madelyn Lester Elena Vann 76

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