BANTANGA: “The Experience”

Houston has been peppered with international flavors.  A gulf coast business hub that is a gateway for many countries and its people it is no surprise Houston has cultivated an amazing culinary scene.  Standing out with flare is Bantanga located at 908 Congress Ave. the corner of Congress and Travis in the Market Square section of downtown.  High energy décor, great sounds of a bustling kitchen mixed with the chatter of great conversation lends itself to make Batanga a stand out establishment.

Slightly industrial look with the exposed vent.  Metal, wood, Latin inspired art.  Over in the back corner is a little nook for the live music they have throughout the week.  Don’t be surprised if you see someone moving and shaking to salsa or other Latin inspired music.  One of the stronger features Batanga has is the patio contained with black wrought iron fences accented with plants you wish was really from South America.  Incorporating the historically protected exposed brick and strings of Edison lights it could be either friendly or intimate depending on the company you are with. In any case, much thought and consideration was taken into setting the atmosphere from the moment you walk in.  Sunday brunch on this patio would especially be a good call for a group of friends.

Executive Chef Rishi Singh helms the kitchen for Batanga.  A local favorite, Singh has taken his love of cuisine to Houstonians for years.  His experience previously put together flavors from Thailand, Korea, or Vietnam into a flatbread style. His direction recently has been a Tapas style Latin mixed with familiar Houston eats. Castillian Style Pork Ribs is easily a marquee item on the Batanga Menu. Pimenton, a smoked chili powder, rubbed with a combination of sea salts and vinegar.  This kicked off my meal and I was thinking to myself, “Could this really be an appetizer?” forgetting it was a tapas style restaurant.  Perhaps any or all could be?

Other items, Grilled Avocado w/Mexican Chorizo infused with dates and mints. The sweet and spice balanced each other out quite nicely.  It was just the right size to add to any other dish.  A new item was the Ropa Vieja Hash.  Shredded meat, onions and pepper into julienne strips.  Crush the garlic and sautéed in hot oil with the onion all with a little creole twist.  You can taste the braise.  We ended the meal with a Lobster Bisque infused w/ Mexican Peppers with a Croissant Crouton.  It’s the south and of course bisque is standard Gulf Coast fare.  They takes it up a notch. Chef Singh will continue to roll out new items as they come.  Must try the Steelhead Salmon with a Mango Chutney when it shows up on the menu soon.

Drinks?  The bar stretches across the left side of the restaurant.  A full service bar with some fresh cocktail offerings.  Nearly all their signature cocktails are fruit based and feature Tequila and Rum in most of them.  From the standard Pina Colada to the punny Thai Me Up with mango and coconut rum you will not be disappointed.  Though, the most refreshing drink didn’t have alcohol in it.  It was a watermelon aqua fresca juiced and strained.  Surely add some lighting to that drink and you got another amazing cocktail.

A great representation of Latin American cuisine in Houston?  Batanga is it.  Atmosphere, food, drinks, vibe you might be able to say that there is always a good night to be had here or even a Sunday daytime outing.  They do get busy so reservations are of course preferred.  I noticed on the way out there were a number of dates going on.  Makes sense.  When it feels like a good time walking in and has nowhere to go but up then of course it would be a good move.

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Originally from San Francisco, California Gilbert Landras grew up as an expatriate in South East Asia where he cultivated a love for international flavor.  From the humble beginnings of a prep cook job to management he knows his way around food.  Many years and a couple of restaurants later he shares his insights on cuisine and the dining experience.

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