I have not been able to make my mind up about Mark’s. During some visits, I think the food may be the best in Houston. During other visits, I find it unextraordinary. Now I may know why.
Last Saturday, I tried a several outstanding, creative dishes. The best was black cod with foie gras butter. Black cod may be my favorite fish. It is a big, flaky white fleshed fish with a firm texture and buttery taste. The most famous preparation of this fish may be black cod marinated in miso by Chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa of Nobu. Black cod marries well with the creaminess of miso. As Mark’s Chef Mark Cox has discovered, black cod also marries well with the creaminess of a sauce made with butter, wine, and foie gras. To make the dish even more interesting, Cox adds broccolini, tiny flavorful mushrooms (chanterelles?), fingerling potatoes, micro greens, and white pea shoots. The dish is complex, rich, and endlessly fascinating.
My wife ordered a ceasar salad. It was very good, but nothing original. Similarly, on an earlier visit, I ordered a seared beef tenderloin, which was served with mushrooms and mashed potatoes. The dish was executed well, but nothing about it was daring or interesting.
In short, Mark’s serves some dishes that are far more creative than any dish at tony’s. But not all of Mark’s dishes are innovative. Some other restaurants, such as laidback manor, have a more consistently creative streak. Yet Mark’s is almost always crowded.
Mark's combination of creative and ordinary dishes may be intentional. Mark's pleases all tastes -- real foodies as well as the steak-and-potatoes crowd. Everything is good. You just have to know which crowd you are in and order accordingly. When I have been disappointed at Mark’s, it was because I ordered food that was too mainstream. In the future, I will ask the waiter, “What is your most interesting dish tonight?” If I keep ordering the most unusual dish, Mark’s may again become my favorite restaurant in Houston.
If you have never been to Mark’s you should know that prices are very expensive. The wine list is excellent, but not one of the very best in Houston. The location on lower Westheimer has previously been a church, a head shop, and a pizza restaurant. It’s pretty, but there are more elegant places to eat. The real reason to go to Mark's is the food. If you go, you really owe it to yourself to try to order something more interesting than steak and potatoes.