After a much-needed kitchen renovation, chef Alex Padilla of The Original Ninfa’s On Navigation has a new toy to play with. It’s a top-of-the-line Mugnaini wood-burning oven that can reach over 1,000 degrees. That means diners can expect to see some new, interesting dishes featuring roasted whole red snapper, beef short ribs, Mexican flatbreads and Dungeness crab that’s based on Padilla’s mother’s family recipe.
The cocktail menu is also getting an upgrade, as owner Legacy Restaurants has retained notable bartender and Julep co-owner Alba Hureta as a consultant. She’s not only working on improving the existing drinks and rolling out new ones, but also working on the business side of the bar operations, like processes, procedures, training and leadership development. (Of course, the sacred Ninfaritas and Navigation Margarita will remain untouched.)
If this news sounds a little familiar, it’s because Legacy Restaurants tapped Huerta’s business partner and former boss Bobby Heugel four years ago to do the same kind of rework on their cocktail menu. Not too much later, he along with former Clumsy Butcher partner Mike Burnett took over operations at both The Original Ninfa’s On Navigation as well as Legacy Restaurants’ other restaurant business, Antone’s Famous Po’ Boys. That relationship was discontinued as Clumsy Butcher turned their attention to opening several new bars, including The Pastry War and Julep.
We wondered, “What’s different this time around?” Legacy Restaurants CEO Jonathan Horowitz responded, “They were a management company and not solely focused on the bar at Ninfa’s. They were there when the bar itself expanded and they had influence on direction of the bar program at the time. Many of the changes they implemented are still in place today. However, the overall management situation didn’t work out in the long run, and after a period of “consulting” management, [Legacy Restaurant's founder] Niel [Morgan] hired me to run the company. Now, we are bringing Alba in primarily to work on the “business end” of the bar program. Her involvement is as a consultant only (not a full-time job), and she will be 80 percent focused on the business side (systems, procedures, training, purchasing, product selection, etc.) and 20 percent focused on the creative side (new drinks).”
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The new cocktail menu that rolled out this week includes some of Huerta’s new creations, like the “Pedro Navaja Old Fashioned” with tequila reposado, Pedro Ximenez, mezcal and piloncillo bitters; the “Tequila Spritz” with blanco tequila, white wine, passion fruit and Topo Chico; and the “Margarita Al Pastor,” an homage to bar Limantour in Mexico City, with tequila blanco, Cointreau, lime, serrano, cilantro and grilled pineapple.
Before Julep opened, Huerta helped open The Pastry War downtown, a bar intensely focused on small-batch mezcal and tequila. Her work at Julep has landed her on the cover of Texas Monthly and she was also named Bartender of the Year by Imbibe. Her background and accomplishments as both a bar owner and a spirits professional means she’s eminently qualified to assist with The Original Ninfa’s evolution.
Horowitz couldn't agree more. "Obviously, her reputation as a tremendously successful bar operator and bartender will benefit The Original Ninfa’s bar program overall," he said. "I anticipate (and hope) that her lasting impact will be a better-run bar operation in its entirety, which necessarily and periodically will include some different cocktails on the menu."