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The Restaurant and The Chef
Originally from Mexico, Chef Hugo Ortega immigrated to the United States working as a night janitor and dishwasher in restaurants, gradually becoming a line cook in Houston in 1990. “I worked on my English skills and was able to graduate from Houston Community College Culinary Program and I became a working chef at Backstreet Café in 1992,” says Ortega. After apprenticing at Rick Bayless’ restaurant, Frontera Grill in Chicago and El Bajio in Mexico City, Ortega travelled back to Mexico to ‘re-familiarize’ himself with the regional cuisine.
Empanadas de plátano
My chef’s tasting begins with empanadas de plátano, soft and silky empanadas filled with black beans and the sweetness of ripe plantain. From the beginning we recognize this as true home cooking – the kind of meal that you could normally only get by invitation from a Mexican mother. Manager, Marvin Rodriguez and waitress Ana take turns attending to tables, ensuring that everyone is having a good time.
A standout of the evening is the duck sopesitos enrobed in a mole poblano— deeply flavoured with the aroma of chocolate and cinnamon, it has me quivering with delight. The pulled duck is tender, smoky and juicy resting in a masa-potato shell.
Callo de hacha
A large, sweet, perfectly cooked seared diver scallop sits atop corn bread and rajas (creamy swiss chard). It is Saturday night and Hugo’s is packed to capacity, the parking lot alone is a sea of cars. Inside, waiters hurriedly walk to and from the kitchen to tables, with plates of traditional Mexican dishes that leave me salivating.
Lamb Two ways
My next course—lamb two ways features intensely seasoned lamb sausage and rack of lamb, marinated and slow roasted in an ancho chili sauce. The smokiness from the barbacoa pairs beautifully with our Australian Syrah.
Churros with dulce de leche, Mexican chocolate ice cream, cheesecake and molten chocolate cake
Ana (our waitress) tells me about Hugo’s brunch as she brings a plate of dessert The Sunday brunch features copious cups of Mayan cocoa served with crispy churros. “I never liked chocolate until I came here,” she divulges. I instantly know why — the depth of the Mexican chocolate is accentuated with clove, spice, and vanilla notes.
Hugos; 1600 Westheimer
Read more from our article on Houston, in the Winter 2009/2010 issue of City Style and Living magazine, click here.