Américas has always been one of my family’s best-loved restaurants – the menu, the attentive staff, the decor … it always makes our evenings feel special. We have our favorite menu items, like the corn-smoked crab fingers, ceviche, the Churrasco steak, Pargo Americas (corn-crusted snapper with shrimp) and the creamy-sweet tres leches cake. It’s rare that we find ourselves deviating from this line-up.
In March, My Table magazine was invited to a dinner at Américas featuring La Vaquita quesos and cremas, a Houston-born brand. The menu, created by executive chef David Cordúa, featured dishes at the time not found on the regular menu, and this, for me, was exciting – an opportunity to try new items at an old favorite. On the menu that evening were dishes like Brussels sprouts with orange, toasted almond and queso fresco, a beef tenderloin confit taco and smoked pork spare ribs with tamarind guajillo honey.
This got us thinking, what else have we been missing on the Américas menu when we’re so set on ordering what we already know? It was time to revisit the Latin American classic.
We sat down for lunch at Américas River Oaks this week and zeroed in on items unfamiliar to us. There were far more small, sharable plates than we realized or remembered. First up was roasted bone marrow ($12.95, photo above) that Cordúa tops with shrimp al ajillo and serves on a bed of greens. Spread the marrow on the toasted slices of Cuban bread and garnish with the pickled red onion and cilantro. Everything about this luscious plate of food says “special occasion,” but at a reasonable $12.95, no occasion is necessary.
Cordúa’s take on tamales ($8.95, photo above) is also notable. He subs fresh corn for the more traditional masa and tops the tamales with pulled pork carnitas, guajillo mole and queso fresco. You won’t miss the masa – the corn’s subtle sweetness is lovely, and the fresh kernels lend extra texture.
One of the dishes from the La Vaquita dinner did make it onto the current menu, and we hope it stays. Semi-boneless quail breasts and drumstick “knots” have been lightly fried and coated in a brown butter mole ($15.95, photo above). It’s topped with roasted sesame seeds for a nutty finish. You’ll swoon over the complex sauce that is at once sweet, salty and toasty. The spice is subtle, so you’ll be licking your fingers clean.
We spotted hoisin on the menu, an ingredient we don’t typically associate with Latin American restaurants, so we had to give this entree a try. The chicken-fried lobster taco ($18.95, photo above) features a lobster tail with avocado, hoisin sauce, toasted sesame and cilantro on a flour tortilla. It’s everything you love about a speciality sushi roll – fresh seafood, creamy avocado, nutty sesame seeds – rolled up in a tortilla and sprinkled with cilantro. Remove the fan of shell on the lobster tail, cut the lobster meat in half lengthwise, and you’ll have lobster in each bite of the taco.
So what did we learn? Don’t be so set in your ways. Américas, we can’t wait to revisit again.
Américas River Oaks, 2040 West Gray at South Shepherd, 832-200-1492, americasrestaurant.com
Hours: Lunch Mon to Fri. 11 am-4 pm, Sat. noon-4 pm; Dinner Mon. to Thurs. 4-9 pm, Fri. & Sat. 4-10pm, Sun. 3-8 pm; Brunch Sun. 10:30 am-3 pm