I visited the new location of 1252 Tapas Bar in Vintage Park on its first two opening nights. (The original is located in The Woodlands.) Vintage Park is near 249 and Louetta and is structured a great deal like Uptown Park off of Post Oak.
The opening has been quiet, but the fare speaks loudly. 1252 is serving some of the most sophisticated food in Northwest Houston.
Several weeks ago, my husband and I were on a Saturday morning bike ride. The weather was warm and dry. We stopped for a bite at Vintage Park, and noticed 1252 looked ready to open.
Regrettably, it took the fire marshal about a month to complete inspection, which caused weeks of delay. So instead of opening to greet couples strolling arm in arm in temperate weather, 1252's opening night was cold and rainy, which made Vintage Park a ghost town. 1252 was worth the wait, so put on your coat and go. It provides a new, badly-needed weekday business lunch option to the area, too.
On Monday night, I sat at the bar and talked with the bartender. His name is James. He was brought up near the Montrose area and moved to New York, where he worked at four different places, including a mixology-driven bar. Regrettably, the place didn't make it. We had a spirited conversation about rye and Sazeracs (which we are both fond of) and what a shame it is that 1252 does not actually stock rye (at least not yet). James recommended a lovely glass of Van Duzer Pinot Noir. It was a great wine, but served woefully above temperature. I have a special beef with places that serve red wines at room temp, which is often 10 degrees above optimal, depending on the varietal.
My first dish was a lovely pimento soup (sopa de pimiento) garnished with sliced green olives. It had enough heat to warm a soul on a cold night, but not enough for anyone to complain it was spicy.
A roasted asparagus dish called esparragos trigueros a la plancha was almost a meal unto itself, with lemon aioli and a halved hard-boiled egg. I found it enjoyable, but ended up having half of it boxed lest I run out of room for the churros that James insisted I try. He was right; while maybe not a Spanish dish, they were outstanding. The churros were crispy outside and airy inside, with plenty of tightly adhered cinnamon and sugar. They were served with a perfectly respectable creamy vanilla ice cream that had an adult-like level of sweetness.
On my second visit with my husband, we ordered queso de cabra con nuez from the starters menu. I've had queso de cabra before as a hot, broiled, bubbling hunk of goat cheese in spicy tomato sauce, but this was an entirely different take. This rendition was a delicious large round of soft rind goat cheese served on top of a fresh tomato slice and topped with dried figs and walnuts. It was entirely modern and made the most of each ingredient.
We followed that up with an order of empanadas de res, recommended by both James and our server on Tuesday night. The empanadas are great when fresh and hot, but as they cool, they get chewy, so eat them right away. Don't hold back on the creamy chimichurri dip, which I could have eaten by itself because it was just that good. Next came two links of black sausage (morcilla con puré de manzana) with mustard, mild applesauce (that was more like a sauce, not like the chunky stuff that comes out of a jar) artistically cut through with a swath of a more traditional, thinner chimichurri. The sausage was broiled until the skin was crisped, and it was delightful.
At the end of this visit, we had a dessert equally good as the churros; a thick, creamy, vanilla custard brûlée (crema catalana). Tapping a crispy sugar crust and hearing it sharply break under the edge of your spoon never gets old for me, as long as what's underneath is worthwhile.
You really can't get in and out of 1252 cheaply because it's the kind of place where you'll want to order several things. My first visit, which included a glass of wine, a cocktail, soup, a vegetable dish, and a dessert, was about $50. Skip the alcoholic beverages, and the tab will be manageable for a normal weekday lunch. The subsequent visit with my partner ran about the same per person. It is a prime spot for a nice date or a relaxing happy hour, and some of the wines really are great values. (I noticed a bottle of 2008 Stag's Leap Cabernet Sauvignon selling for a modest $70; about half of what Mia Bella next door sells it for.)
I hope that 1252 Tapas has great success and finds an appreciative audience. It's a shame to see it so empty on its first two nights when it has so many great things to share.
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