Planet Hemingway

Floridita has a cute concept. Is there anything wrong with that?

Still, Paul dislikes restaurants that feel like theme parks. The Rainforest Cafe, for instance, he pronounces childish. But he doesn't have the same objection about Floridita. "It isn't a theme park to me," he says. "It reeks of Florida." And Florida is a lot like a theme park to begin with.

"There's a guy over there drinking something out of a pineapple," says Pableaux, nodding his head in the direction of the offending fruit a few tables away.

The Papa Doble recalls the sea, and the restaurant reeks of Florida.
Deron Neblett
The Papa Doble recalls the sea, and the restaurant reeks of Florida.


713-524-1900. Hours: Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Saturday, noon to 11 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 10 p.m.

Papa Doble daiquiri (top-shelf rum): $6
Mojito (top-shelf rum): $6
Mussels: $7.95
Steak mojito: $13.95
Key lime pie: $4.95
Snapper: $17.95
Seafood linguine: $14.95

3401 Kirby Drive

So what? I ask weakly. What's wrong with a tropical cocktail being served in a pineapple? But I know where he's coming from: New Orleans. Pableaux has watched the old French Quarter slowly become something of a mainstream amusement park. The House of Blues is his case in point: "You are there to see a blues show, and there are televisions in the bar showing little ads about House of Blues merchandise you can buy in the souvenir shop," he says. "It's efficient, it's well choreographed and it's clean, but it's the Disneyland version of a blues bar."

Pableaux turns his eye toward Floridita's menu. Here's the system, he says. You take a tried and true food-court menu item and put a tropical name in front of it: "Calypso grilled chicken salad, Captiva fried calamari, Martinique onion rings…Do they even have onion rings in Martinique? Do they care?"

At least the Gulf red snapper is authentic. The menu says the fish is served "tail on," and a Houston seafood expert once told me that the tail of a real Gulf red snapper will remain flat during cooking, while the tails of cheap imitations will curl. Floridita's red snapper has been neatly cleaned and boned, but the tail is still there -- uncurled. The fish is perfectly cooked and served with an inoffensive chimichurri sauce that tastes a little like pesto. Having been burned by fake red snapper so many times, maybe I'm operating under reduced expectations these days, but I find Floridita's pan-seared, tail-on snapper an incredible bargain at $17.95, if only because it's actually Gulf red snapper.

Pableaux orders the San Juan seafood linguine, which features big shrimp, calamari and mussels tossed with roasted garlic, mushrooms, tomatoes and olive oil -- and has nothing to do with Puerto Rico. By carefully spearing every bite to include a little roasted garlic, you can make this dish taste pretty good, but if you're not vigilant, it's bland.

I wonder if Paul and I have been softened to theme restaurant marketing because we both have children. I once despised hokey restaurants, then I found myself compelled to make the acquaintance of Chuck E. Cheese.

Still, I understand why Pableaux gags on Floridita's cute concept: "It occupies the same commercial niche as Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville," he concludes simply. But Pableaux is getting married soon, so perhaps his days as a purist are numbered. After a few years and a few kids, I'm betting he's down here staring into his Papa Dobles and remembering the sea with the rest of us.

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