There's been a lot of talk about downtown Houston's "revival," sparked by a spate of restaurant and bar openings near Main Street. But the word "revival" seemed grossly inappropriate as I drove to Batanga Tapas + Drinks this past Saturday for its media preview party, as the word itself suggests that death fills the streets of downtown.
Quite the contrary, however. It was evident that downtown is quite alive and well -- especially as I set foot inside of Batanga, the Latin American-inspired tapas restaurant that's now open on the corner of Congress and Travis.
Inside the prime piece of real estate that faces Market Square -- across the street from Hotel ICON and next door to OKRA Charity Saloon -- you'll find warm interiors despite the locale's huge size. A relatively simple dining room is made more charming with weathered, exposed brick walls, candles inside the cracks of those walls as well as on each table, upbeat Brazilian music live onstage, and a rustic wooden cart spilling over with fresh produce and a Pata de Jamón Ibérico, the scene reminiscent of an outdoor farmers' market in Spain.
Between this scene, the word "tapas" in Batanga's name, and the killer paella that the restaurant is serving -- moist, rich in flavor and hearty meats, pleasantly easy on the saffron -- one may think Batanga is serving strictly Spanish cuisine. It's not, though; Batanga's menu is actually filled with influences stemming from all over Latin America, from Cuba to Venezuela, from to Colombia to Mexico.
Its food offerings -- most of which are meant to be shared -- include beef empanadas, ropa vieja hash, duck confit arepas, chicken croquettes, tortas, pão de queijo and fried pig ears. You can wash down this nice selection with wine, local beers or cocktails.
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Although I didn't get to try as much food or as many drinks as I would have liked to at the preview party (I blame this on the patio wrapping me and my companions in its hospitable arms, providing the perfect setting to catch up over our caipirinhas and mojitos), each bite I tried was fresh and delicious, indicating a solid kitchen within. Underlining Batanga's promising nature is the fact that the owners --the Fasthoff brothers and their wives -- are not new to the restaurant industry. The Fasthoffs also own Loca Luna and ParQ in Atlanta.
Batanga will be open for lunch and dinner seven days a week, with the bar staying open until late. Bienvenida, Batanga!