A Snail's Pace


Laur  |  Photos by Caracol
February 11, 2014

Restaurateur Tracy Vaught and her husband, chef Hugo Ortego, have conjured another thoughtfully articulated Mexican eatery, Caracol, in the new uptown BBVA Compass Bank building. The duo — best known for their restaurants Backstreet Café and the upscale Mexican-inspired Hugo’s — have worked alongside designer John Kidd and architect Rudy Colby this go-around to create their most ambitious concept yet. Caracol, which is Spanish for the humble snail (or conch), focuses on the coastal cuisine of Mexico, where the waters of the Gulf Coast, Pacific and Caribbean Sea lap the shoreline. More than 8,000 square feet, the soaring space has separate party rooms, outdoor dining, bar and wood-fired oven at its oyster bar. Gray-washed wooden tables with white woven-leather-backed chairs are poised beneath sailcloth waves, while playful sea-inspired paintings by illustrative artist Charley Harper set the scene. Order a drink fashioned by barkeep Sean Beck: the house Caracol Rita ($8.50) or a pitcher of sangría ($48) — shaken and stirred, respectively, then ponder the alluring small-plate options; it’s easy to build a meal among them. Standouts include the coctel de pulpo almendrado ($13) a Spanish octopus ceviche with briny olives, capers and almonds; spicy fish empanadas de saragalla ($12) served with cilantro cream; and costillas a las brazas, the moist, fall-off-the-bone wood-roasted ribs ($12). Bigger plates include eight options ranging from bone-in-short rib to crispy duck. Brother Ruben Ortega oversees sweet endings on a clever dessert menu that includes the interactive chocolate orb broken tableside with a wooden mallet to reveal an oozing froth of bright coconut cream, as well as a sophisticated pumpkin and dulce de leche mousse with light, crisp meringue bites ($9). 2200 Post Oak Blvd., 713.622.9996, caracol.net.