Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Mark's

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.

4 comments:

eaterinhouston said...

I can understand your mixed feelings with Mark's, but the reason that they do have spotty food when it came to creativity is why they are so successful. He knows exactly what his customers want and Chef Cox gives it to them. A foodie could go there and get something fairly creative, but also someone who would rather just eat meat and potatoes can go there and get exactly that. The only promise is that the food will be tasty, the service will be good, and the price will be expensive. A place like laidback manor though, though of the 10 dishes plus the amuse that we got there were all creative, a 11 out of 11, I would say 3 or four were tasty. Some of them were okay. Some of them were just downright bad. It's not that I don't get the concept of that restaurant-- I do. I've been to Washington DC and New York to eat at places like laidback manor. It's just that it seems there having "cool" or trendy food is first. Taste is second. Most of the time at least... and I think that's why when I was at lbm, I think we were the only table there in the two hours we were there. Well, that and its horrible location.

I suppose the point I'm making is that there's a reason why Mark's is still constantly filled with places like Aries and laidback struggling or folding.

I enjoy your posts. Keep at it.

Anonymous said...

Not everyone "gets" Laid back manor. Although Houston is a big city, Houston is still a meat eating city, filled with large people and large appetites, people here like big portions.
I can't imagine Mark's and laid back have the same customers? If Mark's is packing them in every night, I can only suspect these are old money/oil people who are in a certain age group and like simple, familiar dishes, some teetering on inventive enough for them to talk about like -foie gras butter. If the dish wasn't well executed would they even notice? or would they be too tipsy by that time to care?
Mark's and laidback manor are both expensive, but at one you know you might get full.

Anonymous said...

Ate there just a few weeks ago, and most of the dishes were simply good (sea bass, surf and turf, and tenderloin was ordered). The lamb, however, was phenomenal. The service was superb, the sommelier was awesome, but they really, really, really need some help with their desserts, which are simply not up to snuff, IMO.

It's obviously a terrific restaurant. But I've had too many simply "good" dishes there, and at that restaurant, for those prices, I expect something extraordinary, frankly (even if the dish itself is not particularly innovative).

--Daniel

Anonymous said...

Jay

Thanks for understanding my approach to food!!! Allison (Im assuming this because of your comments)is correct, Houston does want places like Aries and laidback manor. Houston has a history of celebrating restaurants that are simply OK, and thats it! There is no merit for the new and interesting restaurants. Not our fault, it's is simply the way Houston thinks! Perfect example is my foie gras "milkshake", at first people are repulsed by it but after tasting and hearing the explanation that cant get enough!!! I also enjoy your blog, keep it up, its people like yourself that make things better!!! Something to think about: "...nothing changes if nothing changes..."