Owners Of Hugo’s & Caracol Reveal New Details Of Forthcoming Restaurant Xochi

Xochi Cocktail

A press release yesterday reveals some details on what husband and wife team Tracy Vaught and chef Hugo Ortega have planned for Xochi, their forthcoming restaurant on the ground floor of the new Marriott Marquis hotel. It will be located at 1777 Walker in downtown Houston. The opening is currently slated for January 2017, so it’s a restaurant Houstonians will definitely look forward to trying in the new year.

Xochi will focus on the flavors and spirits of Oaxaca, Mexico, a region that is known for its use of moles, corn, peppers and beans. It’s also a top producer of mezcal, the smoky spirit made from the roasted hearts of agave plants.

It’s an area Ortega and his brother, pastry chef Ruben Ortega, are very familiar with. During their childhoods, they spent years living with their grandmother on a farm near the Oaxacan border. They learned how to raise livestock and grow peanuts and corn, as well as how to make food from scratch alongside their mother and grandmother. Longtime patrons of Hugo’s and Caracol will easily recognize that heritage in the from-scratch tamales, tortillas, fresh cheeses and chocolate “from the bean” served in those restaurants today. Such will be the case at Xochi, too.

Tamale with Black Mole at Xochi
A section of Xochi’s menu will be dedicated to moles. Shown here is a tamal with black mole, but Xochi will be serving other types rarely seen in the Houston area. Photo by Paula Murphy

An entire section of Xochi’s menu will be dedicated to moles. There are hundreds of different kinds made from scratch in Oaxaca but only a handful of those are prepared regularly in Houston restaurants. The list of available moles will rotate, but one likely to challenge Houstonians’ ideas about food is mole de chicatana. Chicatanas are winged, flying ants. In Oaxaca, cooks eagerly await the time of year when the ant nests become flooded and the insects fly out to escape. These are captured and ground into a paste with chili, salt and garlic. The end result is said to have an earthy, charred flavor. It’s often spread on tortillas and served with seared meats. At Xochi, it’s a component of Bistec con Mole de Chicatana, or grilled prime Black Angus ribeye with a seared black bean tamal and the mole.

Don’t worry; for the less adventurous, there will be more familiar moles to choose from as well, and that’s not to mention the many wood-fired meats, seafood and vegetables. A featured appetizer will be tlayudas, a common Oaxacan street food made with thin tortillas, topped with beef, pork or mushrooms and cooked over a wood fire. Other dishes include tacos, tamales, memelas (toasted masa pancakes with roasted pork rib) and tetelas (triangular blue masa envelopes filled with cheese).

Of the scratch-made dishes, pastry chef Ruben Ortega’s chocolate desserts will certainly be among the most popular. A dedicated chocolate menu at Xochi includes the Piedras y Oro (“stones of gold”)a chocolate tart with a crocant (or “crisp”) of mixed nuts, praline and chocolate “river rocks” and gold flakes. The dessert is an homage to Oaxaca’s terrain, which historically was rich in gold.

Tlayuda at Xochi
An appetizer at Xochi will include tlayudas, a popular street food in Oaxaca made with a thin tortilla, topped with meat or mushrooms that is then cooked over a wood fire. Photo by Paula Murphy

On the drinks side, it was a given that beverage director Sean Beck would take this opportunity to showcase many types of mezcal, from floral to intensely smoky. Of course, he’s developed an interesting wine list, too, just as he has for Vaught and Ortega’s other restaurants. However, Xochi’s has an emphasis on organic and biodynamic selections from wineries “committed to ethical and responsible farming practices.” Thanks to a number of up-and-coming boutique wineries in Mexico, it has finally become feasible to feature wine from that country alongside its cuisine.

With such ambitious plans, Xochi will surely be another exciting and delectable gem in Vaught and Ortega’s burgeoning restaurant empire, which now includes Hugo’s, Caracol, Backstreet Cafe and Origen, a joint venture in Oaxaca with chef Rodolfo Castellanos.

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