The section of Congress Street between Travis and Main continues its quest to become the new “block of fun” downtown. Batanga opened to the public yesterday afternoon, joining The Original OKRA Charity Saloon, Goro & Gun, and Captain Foxheart’s Bad News Bar, all of which have opened on that stretch of pavement recently.
Batanga is a tapas restaurant featuring chef Ben McPherson, who relocated here after stints in Atlanta and Connecticut. The dishes are shareable, as you might expect from a tapas bar. Plan on ordering about three per person to get everyone comfortably full. Most plates run between $5 and $12 during lunch.
We tried the duck arepas and loved the deep-mahogany, cinnamon-tinged mole. We also enjoyed the gambas al ajillo, a traditional tapas dish featuring shrimp roasted in butter and garlic. Four of them seemed a little scant, even for two people who had ordered several other dishes. We would have happily paid a higher price for a couple more.
My favorite bites of the meal were the mushroom croquettes our server recommended. Inside the crunchy breading were dark, puréed mushrooms mixed with just a bit of seasoning. I wished we'd ordered two plates instead of just one.
The beer menu holds some interesting surprises. It’s the only one in Houston where I’ve seen Hitachino White. Alas, we didn’t get to try it, as it was out of stock.
We did get to have the equally intriguing La Soccarada from Spain. a spiced beer with rosemary and honey that went marvelously well with Batanga’s similarly spiced Castilian ribs.
As with most new openings, there are a few things that need to be ironed out. There is almost no shade on the extensive porch--the restaurant will need to install umbrellas or awnings out there. We started out fairly comfortable, but even a 72 degree day can become sweltering when the sun is directly overhead.
Sophisticated enough for a business lunch but casual enough for a great time with a group of friends, Batanga is a welcome addition to the block. We’re looking forward to watching this place take off… but maybe from the inside next time.