A Design Tour of River Oaks District Hot Spot MAD

By Mimi Faucett Trahan | March 18, 2020 | Food & Drink New Restaurants

Barcelona-based interior designer Lázaro Rosa-Violán chats about River Oaks District foodie hot spot MAD.

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It’s true. We’ve all gone a little mad. That is, in the name of the Madrid-inspired River Oaks District foodie hot spot from Ignacio Torras and chef Luis Roger, since its buzzy opening this past summer. Sure, the food is superb—a “tomato” of Parmesan mousse and pesto, foie gras “ice cream” cones with sprinkles, and a gin-heavy cocktail menu to match. But the most impressive parts of MAD (madhouston.com) are in its ever-surprising interior design scheme: fun-house hallways, original Picassos, neon lights, spinning mirrors. We sat down with the orchestrator of the ambiance, famed Barcelona-based interior designer Lázaro Rosa-Violán (lazarorosaviolan.com).

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I know this is your first project in Houston. What’s your impression of the city? Our first thoughts were about NASA and the space missions, but we were very surprised [by] the large and growing international community, the amount of cultural institutions and exhibits, [and] the theater district, with its performances and visual exhibitions, which let us see more than an industrialist city. ... We found that Houstonians love to go out, [which] is what made us evoke the mood of the Spaniards and, especially, the Madrid of the ’80s, creating a space layered to honor this feeling.

What was the design vision for the space?
We took as inspiration the years of La Movida Madrileña, from the late ’70s to the mid-’80s in Madrid.

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Tell us more about La Movida Madrileña. It was a frenetic moment, [during] which many things happened within gastronomy, party, cinema, music, theater, but also nightlife, which had become the most sparkling in Europe. It was characterized by the audacity of an era during which the unstoppable postmodernism style was born, mixed with brilliant and funny resources that intertwined architecture with cultural stamps and localness with certain sympathetic accents—an epoch where the design was made to discourse.

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You received a special dispensation from the City of Houston to install the four 130-year-old illuminated olive trees outside the restaurant. What was that process like? For the outdoors, we wanted to reflect something characteristic. Since Spain holds one of the largest olive fields in the world, making it present in most of its provinces, it was the obvious option.

Tell us how the food reflects your vision. Not only are the ambiance and looks of the space taking us [on] this trip to this complex city of Madrid, but the food is also a little ‘mad,’ giving modern tapas a crazy twist inspired by molecular gastronomy, a culinary movement that flourished in Spain.

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What are some design moments we might not have noticed yet? For this restaurant we have many unique elements, all making small winks that can be found throughout all the space: The image of the bear (the symbol of Madrid) will be found at the entrance, on the paintings wearing a spacesuit, and you can find a little surprise at the men’s bathroom. ... There is a brutalist mural in colored stone resin that could look like a piece discovered on one of the expeditions to the moon. ... Showcased in the main dining [room], you can find custom-made Cassini satellites, giving us a link to the space and acting as dividing screens without blocking or enclosing the views. ... You can find different murals reflecting the flamenco spirit, one of the most known and traditional dances in Spain, on which we added some neon lights for a more avant-garde look. ... A kinetic installation of spinning mirrors was [hung] on top of the bar to act as the ‘new’ disco ball.

Tell us about that crazy bathroom hallway. This is a space generally underappreciated. We wanted to give it some uniqueness, managing to turn it into something that really surprises you. The moment you open the door, it makes you travel to a different reality, acting as part of the MAD journey—something completely unexpected.

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Though MAD and its sister-restaurant BCN are closed to the public, starting March 20 the group has opened a curbside community kitchen, based out of MAD, to help hospitality professionals and their families affected by the recent coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Chef Luis and his team will prepare 200 complimentary meals with a Spanish flair, Tues.-Sat., 5-7PM. Call 281.888.2770 for more information.



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Photography by: Julie Soefer