Having been to Spain I can appreciate traditional Spanish tapas. However, I don’t live in Spain and the word tapas in Houston, typically only connotes “small plate”. The content of the small plate varies widely in this city, however, taking liberty with tradition should not detract from whats on the plate. While food crazes sparkle and fade in this city, fusion tapas, those loosely based on traditional plates, appear to have some longevity.

Batanga is a relatively new entry in the fusion tapas arena. I liked it.

Atmosphere: Casual, open, warm tones, expansive windows, sprawling patio, modern music with an ethnic bent, diverse crowd. If you’re a Barbie with teeter-totter heels and lip gloss cemented to a nylon smile, you are not going to feel very comfortable here. I saw singles, couples, groups of friends and families, age ranges from toddler to grandparent. Nice, who wants a narrow, homogenized crowd in an urban environment?

Service: Friendly, informative, they were never too aloof nor too intrusive.

Food: Mostly wins

  • Beet Salad: Beets, a creamy-firm blue cheese, roasted walnuts, chive with a splash of extra-virgin. Great combination of flavors and the beets were firm, not squishy. I don’t know about you but I like my beets with muscle and crunch; soft, squishy beets remind me of those losers my grandma used to serve from a can. ‘Nuff said.
  • Chicken Satay, Mojo and Cinnamon Plantains: Chicken breast, marinated and grilled served atop cinnamon-dusted caramelized plantains, a spicy mojo sauce accompanies. Good flavor balance; the salty chicken and spicy mojo balance the sweeter plantains nicely. The only problem was the chicken was cut too thick, which caused it to dry out while being grilled long enough to not be raw.
  • Duck Confit Arepas: I mentioned that I was interested in them but wanted to wait until I finished the first two, you know, in case I became full. These appeared half-way through my other tapas since they “had one left over”. Riiight, “left over”, very shrewd public relations. And I totally appreciated it. The arepa itself was extremely good; strong corn flavor in a pillowy disc. The duck was moist and slightly smoky and the julienned chayote added textural balance and eye catching appeal.
  • Espresso: OK, it was good but more like a small cup of really strong coffee. As coffee snobs know, espresso gets its kick from high pressure and high heat, which was not the case here.

Batanaga is well-positioned and obviously off to a good start. I’ll certainly make another trip to check out more tapas and some of their specialty drinks. With all the erratic swings in downtown Houston’s “revitalization”, which have ebbed and flowed now for more than a decade, its nice to see more momentum to the positive!

Sucky photos courtesy of my dirty-lensed iPhone – you’re welcome!

Lunch: Sunday, 4/28/2013

Batanga | 908 Congress | Houston, TX 77002



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