Américas Shows Off French Techniques and Latin Style In New Dishes
While some second-generation chefs might coast on the family name, that’s never been David Cordúa’s style. The executive chef of Cordúa Restaurants, which runs Churrascos, Artista and Américas, has always sought to push the envelope. That’s even while adamantly staying true to the Latin flavors his father, Michael, shared with Houston when the first Churrascos opened nearly 30 years ago. Sometimes Cordúa gets philosophical about it, about wanting to share their cuisine and how people come together over a meal.
“But at its simplest, I just like to eat,” he laughs. “I don’t stop eating out. I think some chefs can get cynical or burnt out. They keep their menus the same and stick to their favorite late-night dives. But I get inspired by the places I go and what other people are doing.”
That energy and enthusiasm is apparent in the new dishes on Américas lunch and dinner menus. While it has never been the kind of place that practices seasonality as an underlying principle, Cordúa appreciates that food has cycles and the tastes of the seasons bring an element of excitement and surprise to the dining room. To that end, he changes the menu twice a year.
One result of that approach is the Chicken Fried Quail, a new arrival to the appetizer menu. “When I think fall and winter, I think game,” he says. “We went to a food show last October and did this presentation of the quail—it’s so freaking cool!”
On the plate, the bird’s breast and drumstick are knotted together and it looks like a mushroom popping up from its own private island. Cordúa’s adds his stamp to it by rolling it in cornstarch and butter, then deep-frying it with brown butter mole and toasted sesame seeds. There’s are sweet-and-savory notes that carry a bit of smoke, the slightest hint of chocolate and spicy chili pepper.
Cordúa conceived Shrimp and Marrow appetizer after a trip to Mexico City. He had a similar dish there prepared with octopus and bone marrow, and wanted to bring the idea back home.
“It was amazing with the octopus,” he said. “We’re on the Gulf Coast, right? Diners here love shrimp. So, I knew that was the only way to go with this.” The rich, silky marrow is prepared with caramelized onion, while the juicy brininess of shrimp al ajillo cuts the richness. Combined, it’s an explosion of flavor.
Cordúa has always been fond of street food and dishes that can be eaten without utensils. So, the appearance of a chicken fried lobster taco should surprise no one. A whole lobster tail, lightly fried like tempura, is served atop a warm flour tortilla and is accompanied by avocado, hoisin and toasted sesame. It’s available on both the lunch and dinner menus.
Cordúa is a movie buff, and the story of Tony Montana in Scarface sticks with him as one of his favorite flicks. He kept thinking about the movie as he pondered putting the Pork Cubano sandwich on the lunch menu. He finally decided to do so as an homage to Versailles, the stalwart of Miami’s Little Havana, where these are served in the dining room and at a to-go window. Américas uses a soft hoagie roll that is loaded with smoky braised pork, pork belly and melted Provolone. The big pork flavor is brightened with the smoked mustard and tangy pickle relish.
You might not expect a French-inspired chicken dish on the menu at a Latin restaurant, but Cordúa was trained in Paris, where he honed his technique. The Pan Seared Chicken reflects that, with snappy radish and marinated greens acting as perfect foils against luxurious mascarpone potato puree, queso fresco and earthy morel and foie gras sauce.
“This is all about the fusion of French and Latin,” explained Cordúa. “Think about all those French mother sauces. That’s the base of the morel and foie gras sauce. but I wanted that Latin spike. So, I added in the queso fresco.” It’s also a dish that demonstrates how something that sounds simple can be startlingly layered and complex.
With the rebranding of the former Américas in The Woodlands to a Churrascos, there is now only the River Oaks location—which gives Cordúa more creative latitude with the dishes. For that reason, it is time to rediscover this River Oaks destination.