Batanga's menus are getting a bit of a facelift, thanks to newly hired chef Rishi Singh (formerly of Boheme Café and Wine Bar and Dry Creek Café) and bartender Jojo Martinez (who recently worked at The Nightingale Room). We got a peek yesterday on what's in store. (Fun fact: Martinez has been a flair bartender for a decade and competed in professional competitions. It's not uncommon to see her to occasionally perform a signature move when she's making cocktails.)
The revamp is less about change than it is about balancing flavors and tightening up consistency. On the kitchen side, Singh is charged with ensuring the entire kitchen staff is using consistent cooking techniques. The more exciting part of his work though, is tweaking out flavors to make some of the dishes really pop.
Over time, he'll introduce new dishes as specials. The popular ones will be placed on the menu. We got a sneak peek yesterday of some of what he has in mind, like mussels in a sauce of reduced coconut water, coconut milk, chimichurri, lime and sofrito.
Singh is looking at some of the existing dishes differently as well, elevating their spice-laden patatas with an alternative dish that carefully lays out the triple-cooked potatoes garnished with fresh thyme and red chimichurri in a pool of manchego and sherry cream sauce.
On the cocktail side, Jojo Martinez is drawing inspiration from South American culture as well as from neighboring businesses and products.
"The Honeymoon is booming and the coffee is so good. I saw the Costa Rican from Boomtown, called Sonora, and thought, "I can make cordial from this. We can help each other and do what we love."
The cordial is the highlight in her new Cacao Cacao cocktail. It also includes Sailor Jerry's rum, fresh lemon juice, crème de cacao and Fee Brothers Aztec chocolate bitters. The coffee cordial is the predominant contributor to the aroma but the lemon juice drives the flavor, making it surprisingly citrusy.
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Surprisingly, another new cocktail, called The Brave Traveler, features a touch of tobacco syrup. Martinez acquires the tobacco leaves from neighborhood purveyor McCoy's Fine Cigars. "Cigars are a huge part of Latin American culture," she says. "McCoy's already loves us because of our huge patio. They can enjoy a cigar there. There's plenty of room."
(City of Houston ordinances require that smoking on restaurant patios be kept 25 feet away from building entrances. Batanga's patio is large enough to be able to have a smoking area and be in compliance with this rule.)
The small amount of tobacco syrup used gives the cocktail a sturdy background but never takes over. Rounding out the ingredients are aged Flor de Caña rum, sweet vermouth, Angostura bitters and fresh orange peel. If desired, Batanga will even serve a cigar alongside for customers to enjoy with the cocktail.
Both of Batanga's new staff additions are going to be good for ensuring the menu stays fresh and exciting, just in time for spring.