Promising Patios

Spring has fully sprung now, triggering the annual lemminglike surge of Houstonians determined to defy the elements and dine alfresco. Several area restaurants have answered nature's call with new or refurbished patios; here's a rundown of where to eat "out" when you really mean "out of doors."

The original Carrabba's [3115 Kirby, (713)522-3131] recently put the finishing touches on its new patio seating area, hedging the weather bet with clear plastic sheeting on shade rollers to preserve its cool within. (Is Houston the only city brash enough to air-condition outside as well as in?) Recent drive-bys report window tables already full; the tile-floored patio can seat up to 50 diners.

Over in Montrose, the venerable Baba Yega [2607 Grant, (713)522-0042] has embarked on an ambitious renovation and expansion program after remaining largely unchanged for some 25 years. "It's funny to think that now we've got more room outside than inside," jokes manager Anne Hetmaniak. In addition to the existing patios front and rear, Baba Yega has added a new airy garden veranda with green-tinted wood flooring, a waterfall and a pond, complete with a resident duckling named Bleu. "He was one of those post-Easter orphan ducks," explains Hetmaniak. "Now he lives with us and the parrots and keeps everybody happy."

Stay tuned for more developments at Baba Yega -- and even more decking -- as the upstairs "Jasmine Room" is scheduled for makeover and expansion in June and July. Plans for the private party room include an upstairs deck, shaded by trees and overlooking the garden.

A few blocks to the west, Mark's American Cuisine [1658 Westheimer, (713)523-3800] is also in the throes of renovation; but Mark's, on the other hand, has decided to close up its side patio. "We can seat up to 40 more diners this way," our hostess explained apologetically. The new room, gently lit from above by skylights, will be used for private parties or overflow seating from the main dining room.

Downtown and in the Rice Village, chef/restaurateur Arturo Boada has big plans for both his patios. Outside his groundbreaking Solero [910 Prairie, (713)227-2665], the noisy, dirty street work should soon be finished; within the next three weeks Boada promises picturesque sidewalk seating, cafe-style, with a fountain.

He envisions more modest improvements for Solero's sibling, Sabroso Grill [5510 Morningside, (713)942-9900], which doubled its size back in January after taking over its next-door neighbor, a hapless yogurt shop. We agree with Boada on this: Sabroso's existing patio is too small and utterly charmless. "We're going to fix that patio so that it's nicer to look at," he says. "We'll put in something pretty to look at, maybe a wrought-iron gate, some plants and so forth."

What we weren't able to get out of Boada is when or where the next Sabroso is slated to open. Yes, there will be another Sabroso, but... "Things are at a very delicate stage right now," he said. "I don't want to say anything that will make anybody upset." Ever the thoughtful one, Boada did disclose that he has narrowed the potential sites to two finalists: either way north in The Woodlands or further west in the Galleria. "We're working on it. More than that, I cannot say," he added.

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