Miami Spice

As originally reported in this very space (see "Salsa en la Ciudad," January 6), the new, downtown Elvia's Latin Grill and Bar was scheduled to launch on Valentine's Day. More than four months after that target date, the chic young offspring of Elvia's Cantina [2727 Fondren, (713)266-9631] finally opened its doors on Friday, June 23. Given the building boom in general and the downtown restaurant-and-bar boom in particular, the delay was not extraordinary.

Owners, and ex-spouses, Ed and Elvia Parsons have taken on a third partner in this venture, Assad Boulos, a somewhat reclusive convenience store and truck-stop mogul whose last great splash onto the local clubbing and dining scene was Sempers (see "Sempers Fugit," June 24, 1999). You may remember Sempers as the place where Boulos invested a reported $4 million, including $60,000 for a gold-leafed column, and which folded after ten months of high-decibel and high-dollar existence. After the closing, Boulos turned his attention to his once mobbed Cent'Anni in the ghost town that was the Greenbriar-Shepherd entertainment district. That eatery was reborn as a mid-price Lebanese restaurant, Al Diwan [2128 Portsmouth, (713)529-4199], which, against all odds, is still in business.

The opening of the new Elvia's in the '20s-era Esperson building [818 Travis, (713)222-2254] was complete with rotating searchlights, a shiny black Mercedes-Benz by the curb (with "ELVIA S" vanity plates) and a red velvet rope in front of the door. The velvet rope, an invention of 1930s reformed bootlegger Sherman Billingsley, who installed it in front of his Stork Club (and which has been a fixture of countless discos since), did its duty, with the help of hipster bouncers. Those whose appearance was not quite comme il faut were politely but firmly turned away. At this writing, it is not known whether the rope will remain in front of Elvia's door.

Inside, the club is a stylish expanse of postmodern wavy, purple-striped columns, art-deco carpeting and earth-toned walls with niches for vases and urns. A central green ovoid bar is surrounded by raised seating, giving patrons a chance to check out their fellow revelers from banquetted comfort. The ceiling is black-painted metal struts, also quite postmodern, but an architectural affectation that would no doubt give the Espersons, who favored carved limestone and gilded wrought-iron fixtures, a bit of a pause. There is a good-size painted concrete dance floor as well. The bathrooms, at least the men's, feature Philippe Starck washbasins. (A bit of background: Interior designer Starck decorated the private apartments of the late French president Fran¸ois Mitterand at the Élysée Palace; he also designed the defunct Dallas ¨ber-nightclub Nostromo and such drop-dead-chic hotels as the Royalton in Manhattan and the Delano in Miami's South Beach. You get the hint.)

Speaking of the Delano Hotel, Elvia's Latin Grill and Bar has all the stylish energy of a South Beach venue. For those who are not familiar with the Miami club scene, let us say Elvia's would not have been out of place in an episode of that exquisitely '80s television series Miami Vice. Crockett and Tubbs would have fit right in with the decor and the sounds of salsa, mambo, samba and meringue.

The kitchen is primed to serve some innovative, Latin-accented dishes. The chef is Charles Clark, a man whose Spanish-inspired cuisine put Tasca Kitchen and Wine Bar [908 Congress, (713)225-9100] on the Houston dining map (see "Tsk, Tsk, Tasca," April 13). His new dishes will be, judging from the opening-night offerings, spicy enough to harmonize with the sounds emanating from the bandstand.

A Little Farther South...

Not to be outdone, La Estancia [414 West Gray, (713)807-1111], another upscale Latin eatery, has opened its doors. Billed as an Argentine grill, the operation has set up shop in the building formerly occupied by Capriccio, a location that does for restaurants what the Bermuda Triangle does for planes and ships. Partners Alberto Falchetti, Faisal Hussein and Daniel Barbazita will offer beef steaks (strip steaks, tenderloins and rib eyes) from Argentina as well as chicken, pork, lamb and seafood dishes cooked in a kitchen open to the dining room. The menu also boasts a number of Italian-Argentine dishes, not surprising since Argentina's population is mostly a mix of Spanish and Italian immigrants, making it the most European of South American countries. Senior partner Falchetti says he has been on the local fine-dining scene for 30 years, since he began as a waiter at Tony's [1801 Post Oak Boulevard, (713)622-6778]. For the past eight years he was the general manager of the Crystal Niteclub [6680 Southwest Freeway, (713)784-7743].


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