Houston’s New Tree House Restaurant Offers a Fresh Take on Mexican Cuisine – Your First Look at Spectacular Flora

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AAbove the winding paths through the urban woods of Buffalo Bayou Park sits an airy, glass-walled treehouse. Formerly an events venue known as The Dunlavy, the main space has been thoughtfully reimagined by enlightened concept creator Grant Cooper as Flora, a new Houston restaurant with a fresh take on what Mexican food is all about. could be when stripped.

Recently, Cooper and his former business partner, chef Charles Clark, went their separate ways. The duo – who opened the hugely popular but now closed Ibiza in 2001 – split their holdings amicably. Cooper walked away with Coppa Osteria, Gratify and The Dunlavy, while Clark is now the sole owner of Brasserie 19. (For more on Clark’s plans for Brasserie 19, read Shelby Hodge’s PaperCity exclusive.)

“I’m always working on a new concept,” reveals the ambitious Cooper. “At any given time, I could conceptualize four to five completely different restaurants. From the development of the menu to the decor through the graphics to finding the right location. »

Flora is the first new restaurant under the Big Vibe Group umbrella, designed by Cooper and business partners Josep Prats and Marc Cantu. They conceptualized Flora over two years ago, but the pandemic delayed its opening. Flora flourish in the shimmering space lit by more than 40 crystal chandeliers – a lovely holdover from its former incarnation.

The name was inspired by the sustainable Flora Farms near San Jose del Cabo, Mexico – a resort frequented by Cooper and his wife Jacy (a frequent collaborator on his projects). One can appreciate how Flora riffs on a few Tex-Mex favorites, as well as more authentic regional Mexican dishes and ingredients. Yet unlike other Mexican-style restaurants, Cooper’s mandate here is to cook clean, banishing lard from the kitchen in favor of olive oil, crafting cocktails and sauces that use juices fresh and cold pressed. Her team also grinds everything from cocoa beans to masa to Flora’s homemade tortillas and chips.

Consider starting with a refreshing cocktail, perhaps the El Pepino, a blend of freshly squeezed cucumber juice, jalapeño-infused agave syrup, Tequila Blanco and a squeeze of lime, inspired by Chulita’s at Venice Beach ($18). The margaritas are frozen ($15), on the rocks with tequila reposado ($16) or with mezcal ($16). The wine list is a thoughtful array of moderately priced European, South American, and Californian labels, half of which are available by the glass.

A must-try dish at Flora is the charred octopus. The unexpected pairing of roasted sweet potatoes, a dollop of sour cream, and crispy chunks of homemade chorizo ​​accented with seven varieties of smoky chili peppers lend a depth of subtle spice to the whole dish ($29) .

Spectacular looking Ceviche Negro – created with yellowtail tuna is served over squid ink mixed with corn, pepper ash and lime and when combined stains the dish in black. (Photo taken by Jack Thompson)

Everything about raw sea bass will have you feeling virtuous, from the simple Gratify ceviche created with red snapper, shrimp and octopus tossed in mango habanero sauce ($24) to ceviche negro, where yellowtail tuna, cucumber and avocado take on a shiny black hue when tossed at the table, care of the ash derived from blistered peppers, squid ink and a squeeze of lime ($28).

Yellowfin Tuna Tostadas feature thin sashimi-style tuna strips over sautéed leeks, with avocado and crispy fried leeks spiced with serrano pepper and chipotle aioli ($16), while the green Caymus enchiladas are made with salsa verde, which provides a creamy, balanced side dish of poached chicken wrapped in corn tortillas ($23). Also note the short rib of beef, a tender sous-vide cut served on the bone and bathed in a 34-ingredient red mole, with a delicious black bean tamal alongside it ($48).

The desserts elevate the classics, from the perfectly baked flan ($9) to the sweet and rich cream pot with caramel cajeta ($11). Flora’s Chocolate Pie ($15) is a gluten-free indulgence made with homemade cocoa beans coated in a pistachio crust with a dollop of whipped cream and berry compote ($15).

Flora is open for lunch and dinner from Tuesday to Sunday. It is located at 3422 Allen Parkway, (713) 360-6477, florahouston.com.

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