The hot breath of a bitter July afternoon chases us into the semi-dark coolness of Solero (910 Prairie, 713-227-2665). Chef Arturo Boada immediately senses our mission: to rid this burden of a Houston summer from our weary souls. Hard liquor, even the golden blend of good beer, can't begin to battle this well-entrenched foe.
First, Arturo guides us back through his memories to the Colombia of his youth. There, a Spanish-Italian aunt introduced him to her two ever-present offerings that became his lifelong passions. She showed him how to turn simple rice into savory paella and red wine into the smooth nectar known as sangria.
Suddenly, Arturo transforms the past into the present -- a huge glass pitcher appears before us, with tidbits of apples and oranges and grapes swirling slowly in the deep purple liquid. The fusion makes the fruity morsels snap alive with flavor, while they return the favor by giving the drink a light and mellow body. By the end of the pitcher, the concoction has created a soothing warmth in us, even as it has banished the lingering effects of Houston's heat. Our minds are trying to tell us this tang has bang.
Arturo laughs about his aunt trying in vain to shoo her young nephew away from her specialty: "No, Arturo, no!"
Now, it is only yes, Arturo, yes. Another pitcher, por favor?
Solero's Sinful Sangria:
1 750 ml bottle of cabernet sauvignon
1/2 bottle brandy
1/4 bottle Grand Marnier
3 cups orange juice
24 ounces club soda
4 red apples
1/2 pound red grapes
Finely chop the fruit, cutting the oranges into one-inch squares. Mix the ingredients. Chill overnight. Serve in a large pitcher. Add sugar if desired