When Beni Velazquez was chef at the now-closed Bar+Bistro at Downtown’s Arts Factory, his food—an eclectic mishmash of Latin and European flavors—was always welcome and interesting, even if it didn’t always resonate with an equally eclectic crowd. Now, Velazquez is operating in a much different location with a challenging, less-varied audience, yet he’s sticking to his creative culinary guns. The results are worth checking out.
Isabela’s Seafood, Tapas & Grill has been open for a few months in Desert Shores’ Lakeside Center—the same sleepy hideaway where neighborhood institution Marche Bacchus lives—where Garfield’s used to reside. The former resident’s concept never quite caught on, struggling to capture the neighborhood’s attention despite a beautiful lakeside location and a cheery nautical theme. Isabela’s atmosphere is more night-oriented, with splashes of red and worn, dark woods in the main dining room. (Velazquez also operates the adjacent Republic Cafe, a breakfast, lunch and coffee spot.)
Isabela’s menu might initially remind you of Bar+Bistro’s offerings, especially the tapas section ($11-$15), which includes fish tacos, lamb chops, calamari, sliders and garlic chicken bites in sherry-butter sauce. But it’s clear Velazquez is focused on bigger plates with big flavors at Isabela’s, very much a seafood house stamped with the chef’s unique style. Crab cakes ($14), seared sea scallops with white bean and saffron ragu ($13) and head-on Argentinean shrimp ($14) in a Spanish sauce loaded with garlic, saffron, sherry and piquillo peppers are standout appetizers that set the tone.
The red crab sweet corn bisque ($8-$10) explodes with sweet richness, tomato, ginger, lemongrass, sofrito and big chunks of crab meat working together in dynamic harmony. The chopped chicken salad ($10) is a meal by itself, napa cabbage luxuriously doused with a chimichurri honey dressing. The must-eat dish so far is Paella Velazquez ($28), tender saffron rice with lots of briny broth loaded with clams, mussels, calamari, white fish and salmon, chorizo, peas, and topped off with two whole jumbo shrimp, heads and shells included. This is not traditional paella, but who cares? It’s a treasure trove of seafood, as is the Spanish stew zarzuela ($28), a similar cast of creatures augmented with brandy-tomato broth and roasted almond sauce. These are dishes hard to find out in the ’burbs, done very well.
The menu is rounded out by oven-roasted carnitas ($23) served with mashed yucca and plantains, a roasted chicken, a dry-aged ribeye, lobster, crab and some surf and turf options pairing a flatiron steak with your seafood choice ($32). A side of five-cheese macaroni with red crab ($7) is a good idea with any entrée. There’s sangria, beer and wine, of course, but also an extensive cocktail list offering everything from margaritas and caipirinhas to mojitos and punches.
Isabela’s is quite ambitious, and making it all work in this demanding neighborhood will be a challenge. From what I’ve sampled, it’s a great new option for those nearby, and good enough to travel northwest to try it.
Isabela's Seafood, Tapas & Grill 2620 Regatta Drive, 702-925-8333. Tuesday-Thursday, 4:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m.; Friday & Saturday, 4:30 p.m.-10 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.