The Random Restaurant Tour (IV)

Last week the Jersey Girl and I continued the random restaurant tour by leaving the friendly confines of downtown Columbus and heading north to the Italian Village area.  Our destination was a converted brick barn called Cosecha Cocina.

Italian Village is one of the areas of Columbus where the redevelopment wave is rolling along at tsunami-level strength.  Every time I visit, there is a cool new restaurant, brew pub, or breakfast joint in the neighborhood.  That’s because you can find two key components of redevelopment there:  inexpensive buildings that can be refurbished into cool spaces for your use, and a population of people in the immediate vicinity ready to frequent your establishment.  In the case of Italian Village, businesses can draw upon both the downtown crowd, who need only drive, walk or bike a few blocks up Third, and the flood of people moving into new condos and apartment buildings in Italian Village.

Cosecha Cocina is a happy addition to the Italian Village ‘hood.  It definitely satisfies the cool building requirement, with its cavernous internal space and outdoor eating area, and its menu of traditional and modern Mexican fare will keep that flood of people coming back.  During our visit the Jersey Girl and I split some brussels sprouts — served piping hot with melted cheese — and I tried the pork meatball torta with esquites, a traditional Mexican street corn dish, on the side.

The fact that brussels sprouts and meatballs are on the menu at all tells you that Cosecha Cocina isn’t your Daddy’s kind of tacos and enchiladas Mexican restaurant.  Another clue is the quality and delicate flavoring of the food itself.  The pork meatball torta, which features chipotle tomato sauce, cilantro, black beans, avocado, and cheese and is served on airy, crunchy bread, was succulent and a reminder that Mexican food doesn’t have to be overpowering on the spice scale.  The brussels sprouts were terrific, and the esquites corn salad was a perfect, light accompaniment to the meal.  The Jersey Girl, who tried the chicken tinga tacos, raved about her food, too.

The zone of lunch places for the lucky workers in downtown Columbus continues to expand, limited only by their willingness to get out and try someplace new.  With options like Cosecha Cocina only a bridge and a few blocks away, the incentive to experiment with a new lunch spot keeps growing.

Advertisements

Found Lamb

IMG_3480.JPG
I like it when the people setting up a business dinner meeting pick a really good restaurant. So when the hosts of a meeting in Houston tonight said we were going to Hugo’s, I was a happy caballero.

Hugo’s is a place that will change your conception of south of the border cuisine. The food is exceptionally good and willing to bend the rules a bit, and the sauces are delectable. Tonight I had the shredded suckling pig appetizer with a punchy habanero sauce, and the entree was this beautiful combo of little lamb chops and lamb sausage. Wash it down with a glass of Amarone, and you’ve got all the ingredients of a great business meeting.

It beats a PowerPoint presentation and a Danish any day!

Hugo’s In Houston

IMG_5483I like your basic Mexican restaurant.  I like the never-ending basket of chips and salsa, which I could eat until I explode.  I like the Mexican beer.  I like figuring out the combo plates, choosing between the various forms of tacos and enchiladas and burritos, always with refried beans (yum!) and Spanish rice (yuck!).

So, when I came to Houston and was invited to dinner at a place described as offering high-end Mexican fare, I was intrigued.  And after I finished my astonishingly fine meal at Hugo’s, I realized that my Midwestern understanding of Mexican cuisine was completely, horribly, grotesquely stunted.

The menu was extensive, and not a combo plate was in sight.  We began our feast with an excellent, reasonably priced bottle of wine and three dishes to share:  lechon, with pulled meat of suckling pig, tortillas, and habanero salsa; pulpo al carbon, grilled octopus with onions, peppers, and chipotle tomatillo sauce and tortillas; and carnitas de pato, duck tacos with tomatillo sauce.  All were excellent, but the duck tacos, with their killer sauce, were my favorite.

For my entree I took the recommendation of our waiter and tried the callo de hacha — pan-seared scallops over sweet corn bread — and suddenly I was extremely glad that we stopped sharing after the appetizer course.  The scallops were plump, tender, and perfectly prepared, with a nice crust; the cornbread and rajas con crema sauce were the perfect complement.  It was one of those meals where it was almost impossible to fight off the urge to start drooling and groaning like Homer Simpson after being presented with a platter of Lard Lad donuts.  It was just an incredible meal.

There’s lots to learn about the scope and extent of Mexican cooking.  I plan on continuing my education at Hugo’s the next time I’m in Houston.