HOUS August 2011 : Page 112

food drink | review Arturo Boada Cuisine RaTing 6510 Del Monte Dr. 713.782.3011 What the stars mean: = fair, some noteworthy qualities; = good, above average; = very good, well above norm; = excellent, among the area’s best; = extraordinary in every detail. Reviews are based on multiple visits. Ratings reflect the reviewer’s overall reaction to food, ambience and service. WHY go After decades at popular restos like Solero, Beso and Arturo’s Uptown Italiano, Arturo Boada returns with a Latin-meets-Italian menu of “greatest hits” in a neighborhood haunt. PaRKing There’s complimentary valet, and some self-parking at the edges of the strip center’s lot. no booZe, babY But there is an extensive wine list focused on reasonably priced vintages. Beer is served, as is a fine sangria. cLose QUaRTeRs Boada’s answer to Memory Lane Change In a fun neighborhood restaurant, with a menu of his greatest hits from years of storied old haunts, Arturo Boada bounces boisteriously back. | By John DeMers | Photography by Debora Smail | When celeb chef Arturo Boada left Arturo’s Uptown Italiano earlier this year, inciting headline-making lawsuits over the use of his name, he knew he wanted to do something new. What he didn’t know then was that doing something new would involve doing so many wonderful things that really weren’t new at all. The restaurant he created, Arturo Boada Cuisine in the Memorial strip-center spot that was once Bistro Don Camillo, seems far from his celebrated runs in Downtown, River Oaks and finally Uptown Park. Yet diners who’ve followed Boada’s Houston career for decades—“30 years, baby,” he booms, in heavily accented English that makes him sound like Telly Savalas channeling Ricardo Montalban—will feel completely at home. “It feels awesome,” Boada tells me, stopping to sit briefly in the middle of a busy Sunday dinner. “I’m not tied to one cuisine here, like I was. I was limited.” He ponders a moment, remembering his efforts to squeeze empanadas onto Arturo’s strictly Italian menu. “Everybody tries to reinvent the wheel. I’m just trying to do something with a twist. It’s more fun that way.” 112 | the private “wine room” dining space of fancier restaurants is more of a “wine closet,” he laughs. The intimate space seats four, maybe six if you’re really close friends. doing LUncH A few dinner tapas appear at midday, as do lunch-only rainbow trout amandine with crabmeat, and grilled hanger steak with truffled fries. HoURs Tue.-Sun. 11 am -10 pm PRices lunch $10.50-$21.50, appetizers $7.50-$18.50, entrees $14-$32.50, desserts $6.95 Underneath all the twisting, though, you find some of the better dishes Houston has tasted since Boada arrived here in 1981. Sometimes even he can’t remember exactly at which of his many restaurants he started cooking what items, though some dishes go back as far as his stint at La Mer—a long-forgotten eatery that was as French as it sounds. The tapas section of the current Arturo Boada menu (including spicy papas bravas ) is a clear tribute to his success at Downtown’s Solero in the ’90s, while many pan-Latin dishes reference the later Beso on Westheimer. And yes, a chef whose father was Colombian and mother is Italian would need to serve some pizzas and pastas, seemingly reminiscent of Uptown Italiano. Boada’s very personal stamp is on the décor as much as the menu. Before he and local designer Ken Robertson overhauled the old lace-curtains-bedecked bistro, he came into the space repeatedly and simply sat. From a chair in the dining room, he looked at the bar and the kitchen, at the ceiling and walls, even at the door leading to the restrooms. And he imagined how second banana The caribbean banana comes sliced in two, and, clockwise from top left, spicy seafood pizza, the dining room’s long red banquette and inside the wine room. | August 2011

Food Drink Review

John DeMers

Memory Lane Change

In a fun neighborhood restaurant, with a menu of his greatest hits from years of storied old haunts, Arturo Boada bounces boisteriously back.

When celeb chef Arturo Boada left Arturo’s Uptown Italiano earlier this year, inciting headline-making lawsuits over the use of his name, he knew he wanted to do something new. What he didn’t know then was that doing something new would involve doing so many wonderful things that really weren’t new at all.

The restaurant he created, Arturo Boada Cuisine in the Memorial strip-center spot that was once Bistro Don Camillo, seems far from his celebrated runs in Downtown, River Oaks and finally Uptown Park. Yet diners who’ve followed Boada’s Houston career for decades—“30 years, baby,” he booms, in heavily accented English that makes him sound like Telly Savalas channeling Ricardo Montalban—will feel completely at home.

“It feels awesome,” Boada tells me, stopping to sit briefly in the middle of a busy Sunday dinner. “I’m not tied to one cuisine here, like I was. I was limited.” He ponders a moment, remembering his efforts to squeeze empanadas onto Arturo’s strictly Italian menu. “Everybody tries to reinvent the wheel. I’m just trying to do something with a twist. It’s more fun that way.”

Underneath all the twisting, though, you find some of the better dishes Houston has tasted since Boada arrived here in 1981. Sometimes even he can’t remember exactly at which of his many restaurants he started cooking what items, though some dishes go back as far as his stint at La Mer—a long-forgotten eatery that was as French as it sounds. The tapas section of the current Arturo Boada menu (including spicy papas bravas) is a clear tribute to his success at Downtown’s Solero in the ’90s, while many pan-Latin dishes reference the later Beso on Westheimer. And yes, a chef whose father was Colombian and mother is Italian would need to serve some pizzas and pastas, seemingly reminiscent of Uptown Italiano.

Boada’s very personal stamp is on the décor as much as the menu. Before he and local designer Ken Robertson overhauled the old lace-curtains-bedecked bistro, he came into the space repeatedly and simply sat. From a chair in the dining room, he looked at the bar and the kitchen, at the ceiling and walls, even at the door leading to the restrooms. And he imagined how He’d want the traffic to flow, how he wanted the place to feel. Most of all, he wanted casual and comfortable.

Which is exactly what he got. The look of the one-room lounge-and-dining space is flashy in ways. A bar of dark wood and stone partly open to the kitchen—offering glimpses of a wood-burning pizza oven surrounded by red plaster painted with orange flames—lines the back wall. The scene faces off against an opposing wall affixed with a single long red-leather banquette packed with tables for two, easily pushed together for four. Gold-tiled accent walls shimmer here and there. There’s a warm shimmer to the whole place, actually. But no one here—including this night lots of casual older couples and extended families from the quietly upscale neighborhood, more boisterous locals other evenings—is noticing much besides the food.

Boada’s newest venture hews to the small-plate gospel he has preached for years; no fewer than 11 menu items fall under the single word Tapas. While many other kinds of dishes are excellent, you get the feeling this sharable, social category is what Arturo Boada Cuisine is about.

Listed first, for instance, is the eye-opening Camarones Henesy en Hamaca we recall from Beso days, a high-level Chino-Latino fantasy featuring shrimp sautéed with soy and ginger, swimming in a cognac-zapped broth with tomato and cilantro that equally could be Mexican or Thai, given crunch by hearts of palm and spooned atop a “hammock” of caramelized sweet plantains.

Other blasts from the past, often given those fresh twists Boada is so proud of, include snapper taquitos with a Serrano garlic sauce, and the now ubiquitous tuna tartare with Asian vinaigrette, taken to texture heaven by sliced fennel and thin carvings of cucumber. And if you think you’re over ceviche because too many chefs are doing it—if you feel you’re ready for people to start cooking fish again—don’t give up till you sample Boada’s. It’s a crisp-tangy mix of snapper and shrimp baptized in juices of lime, lemon and passion fruit.

Especially during the hot Houston summer, salads at Arturo Boada are worthy of attention, including one dubbed (in the chef ’s charmingly retro English) The Whole Nine Yards. This entrée salad combines shrimp, chicken and smoked salmon, along with artichoke, avocado, tomato, cooked egg and green peas, beneath a blanket of Champagne dressing. At the other end of the overkill meter waits the simple house salad, which celebrates rather than apologizes for its love of iceberg lettuce (although calling it “Batavia”); with its crumbled walnuts and the herbed vinaigrette, it’s hard to resist.

There are also terrific pizzas, which some diners order with a glass of wine and call it a night. If you can, look past the traditional margherita or Italian sausage versions, though, to delve into the chef’s carnitas pizza, its pulled pork outfitted with charred salsa, asadero cheese and cilantro. There’s also a spicy seafood pizza studded with calamari rings and shrimp. Boada’s own Mama Sonia, who influenced several dishes at Arturo’s Uptown Italian, is referenced in the ravioli at Arturo Boada Cuisine: The pasta pockets, stuffed with chicken and porcini mushrooms in a super-smooth white wine cream sauce, come topped with jumbo lump crabmeat.

In a restaurant with so many great small plates, there are some notable entrees here, starting with the snapper al fresco, one of the lightest-tasting dishes I’ve tasted in a long time. It’s simple sautéed snapper, with fresh basil, tomato chunks and garlic—a kind of bruschetta made with fish instead of crusty bread—with white wine, capers and crabmeat. The hungrier may go for the grilled 16-ounce veal chop with a mound of truffled fries.

The dessert list features Italian treats like sorbetto, but most customers here hunt bigger game. There’s a nice apple in puff pastry with cinnamon and strawberries, plus something called a Caribbean Banana, which I’d rename “Bananas Foster Egg Rolls.” One of its deep-fried tubular pastries comes standing upright, the other toppled like a Greek column into a scoop of vanilla gelato.

With Arturo Boada Cuisine, one of the city’s most endearing and enduring chefs strikes yet again, continuing to easily woo us with his unique spin on tried-and-true. He’d probably offer a “Who loves ya, baby!” if he heard me say that. And I’d have to put down my forkful of egg roll, look up at the gregarious local icon and say, “You do, Arturo. You still do.”

Read the full article at http://digital.modernluxury.com/article/Food+Drink+Review/796207/76944/article.html.

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