Sitting in T’afia’s smart, quasi-industrial space watching the crowds of noshing, tippling patrons, it occurred to me that Monica Pope, the restaurant’s owner and chef, has given herself a new lease on life. Dishes from her previous Houston venue, Boulevard Bistrot, seemed livelier than ever, and the new creations on her daily-changing menu sparkled. I loved my lightly battered fried oysters, perfect little clouds cozying up to a rich sauce ravigote (a multifaceted, almost buttery mayonnaise accented with Dijon). Chermoula—a Moroccan marinade of cilantro, garlic, lime, and cumin—enlivened baked grouper in a subtle preserved-lemon sauce. And I could have eaten a barrel of the ravioli, with their opulent filling of mascarpone, pine nuts, and lemon zest. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before you order your food, you’ll want to try one of the menu’s special libations, which brings us to the restaurant’s mysterious name. Pronounced “Ta-fee-ah,” the word is short for “ratafia,” a fortified wine that the bar infuses with the juice of different seasonal fruits and vegetables each day to create cocktails that confer magical powers. After only one (well, two) ratafia-tinis, I was able to recite to my horrified companions every verse of the Kingston Trio’s 1959 hit “The Unfortunate Miss Bailey,” including the line “He took to drinking ratafia and thought upon Miss Bailey.” A new lease on life, indeed.
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