I passed a very pleasant lunch hour at Yelapa Playa Mexicana on Wednesday afternoon, drinking iced tea at the bar and lingering over my dish of shrimp and grits, one of the newest additions to the pan-Mexican menu.
One of Robb Walsh's 100 favorite dishes in Houston is the shrimp and grits at Bistro Alex, on the far west side. Out there, the entree is served with head-on shrimp in a Creole sauce. At Yelapa, it's a different tale entirely.
The shrimp here were headless and wood-grilled, almost unbelievably swollen and very tasty. The five of them sat perched on a pool of butter-colored grits that was ringed with a familiar orange liquid. Although it doesn't say so on the menu, the grits contain chorizo grease -- trust me, it's better than I just made it sound there -- and nuggets of the savory Mexican sausage.
The grits themselves are finely-ground hominy cooked down over several hours with cheese, according to chef L.J. Wiley. When I complimented the spot-on, absolutely perfect texture of the grits, he demurred, saying, "Those are all the work of Vincent over there." Sous chef Vincent Huynh appeared shyly from around a corner, smiled, and disappeared almost as quickly as he'd come in.
Huynh is just another recent recruit that Wiley has brought in from his old restaurant, Cullen's. Wiley considers himself lucky to be able to bring in talent that he's worked with in the past and knows to be both reliable and skilled. Similarly, a new face behind the bar -- Caleb Wood -- was brought over from Reef by GM (and former Reef employee) Brett Story. I joked with them that they were attempting to aggregate the best of the best under one roof, a move which could be either brilliant or fatal.
But as far as I could see on Wednesday -- and as far as I could taste from the rich, creamy grits -- it's nothing but brilliant so far.