When Hota owners Jonadab Silva and his wife Erin Silva Winston lived in an apartment around the corner from Jacky’s Bistro, they would regularly have dinner and drinks at the Evanston restaurant just across the Wilmette border. They would take advantage of the French spot’s deals, with Silva boasting that they were getting a $300 meal for $150.
“We always joked that it was a good thing that we bought it, because we couldn’t afford to keep going here,” Silva said.
When Chef Jacky Pluton closed the restaurant after six years in 2009, Silva signed on with the owner of the new Jacky’s on Prairie as the chef. After two years, Silva and Winston decided to buy the business to create a restaurant all of their own.
Jacky’s on Prairie closed on New Year’s Eve and Hota opened Jan. 6. Meant to be a neighborhood eatery, the space has a casual but elegant feel with bare dark wood tables and bright-colored abstract paintings of trees and flowers. Mellow lighting comes from hanging lamps and candles on the tables.
The cocktails ($10) are one of the highlights at Hota. The El Hombre features tequila mixed with lime and cucumber juice with a spiced rim that makes in resemble a margarita with kick. The Monterrey mule blends tequila, lime juice and ginger beer into a chill twist on the Moscow mule. The homemade butterscotch rum is truly excellent. Plenty of spots have creamy butterscotch drinks, but this simple but sweet sipper is so inspired it’s surprising more bars aren’t doing it. The only disappointment was the winter martini. While the blend of red wine, rum, peach puree and apple cider sounded promising, it just tasted like mild sangria.
Silva is a native of Mexico, and his menu features contemporary American dishes with a global flair, with a few dishes harkening back to Jacky’s French menu. The roasted beets ($8) make for a refreshing starter, with the sweet orange and red vegetables blended with goat cheese and roasted pistachio nuts. The rich taste of the foie gras ($12) is accented with sweetness from mango sauce and blackberries. The tortilla soup ($8) is reminiscent of French onion soup with a southwest twist, featuring an onion base with strong flavor from cilantro mixed with cheese and pieces of avocado.
On the entrée side, the langoustine ($23) is particularly excellent. The huge shrimp are covered in an excellent garlic sauce and served over rich dark rice. For heartier fare, try the lamb shank ($28) stuffed with a Moroccan lamb sausage. The meat is so tender, it can be entirely eaten with a fork and the roasted red peppers and a light couscous with sliced almonds and chickpeas served as sides offer a wide taste palette.
Winston, a graduate of the French Pastry School, serves as the restaurant’s pastry chef and her baked pear tart ($11) is the perfect finisher. The poached pear is served with an excellent flaky crust, topped with vanilla ice cream and light apple compote on the side.
Winston is from Evanston and is currently working with a former classmate, who runs an organic farm, to supply produce to Hota. Hota’s owners plan to adapt their menu to whatever is fresh.
If you’re looking for a good taste of their current offerings and don’t have Valentine’s Day plans, make a reservation now to share their $45 four-course dinner with someone special.