At Trenza, set to open next week in the former Alto space in West Ave, Next Food Network Star runner up Susie Jimenez will get the chance to show Houstonians what she's been working on for the past six months. The restaurant's menu features Latin/Indian hybrid cuisine that pulls flavors from around the globe.
"I think everyone describes my food as breaking all the rules," she tells CultureMap.
Jimenez describes the decor as "a little modern, a little rustic, but it's nice . . . Everybody walked in and said 'Wow, I would never think of this as a Latin restaurant.' " That feel comes from the wooden floors that are contrasted with the more modern lighting fixtures. Jimenez says the private dining room is "nice and shimmering and glamorous and dark. People can lounge against the pillows and have a really good time."
"I think everyone describes my food as breaking all the rules."
During a recent pre-opening celebrity VIP party, Jimenez explains why she kept the lights up. "I wanted people to see the copper tables. There’s a lot of little details you hope people pay attention to." They include ladles on the wall with cactus in them that have to be watered every three days.
There's a bar, but it's smaller than Alto's was. She worked with a bartender to develop the cocktail recipes. "I feel like it was very culinary not to grab things out of a bottle but to actually juice things."
Turning to the food, Jimenez built the menu of sharable plates around recipes she's been cooking her whole life. "All of it are things my mom and my grandmother taught me," she says. "It’s got a rustic basis to it, but, when I went to culinary school, I would put my modifications in it."
Jimenez cites her lamb vindaloo sopes as one example. "(The sopes are) exactly what my mom taught me, but she doesn’t know curries or Indian food. I added lamb vinadaloo and a fennel slaw. People said, 'Indian, Mexican, Italian?' and I said, 'Absolutely.' "
Even her ceviche has a French-style mousse that's made with jalapenos. "Jacques Fox, the guy who owns Artisans was here," she recalls. "He said 'You put jalapenos as a mousee? French do not like spicy food.' I said, 'I know, why not? It is what it is.' "
Jimenez says the goal for the dishes, which she says are bigger than tapas but smaller than entrees, is to get people to try a bunch of different items. "I want two people to be able to order four or five things and wonder 'What does the next dish taste like?' Even though you might be stuffed, I want people to go 'I want to try one more thing,' because I do that.
"I walk out of places, like, I shouldn’t have had that last thing, but it was awesome. I think we all know what that’s like."
For a more personalized experience, Trenza has a nine-seat chef's table where it will offer five and eight-course menus. Jimenez says she's "trying to keep it very exclusive" and will tweak options to suit diners' needs. "At the chef’s table, we’ll have a set menu, but the good thing about me being on the line is, I can go back there and make another three courses and surprise them," she says.
Naturally, there are vegetarian, gluten-free and dairy-free items available. "I want people to walk away happy," Jimenez says.
Trenza will host a series of invite-only previews this weekend then open for the public on Nov. 5. That's when diners will get to decide how happy they are.