Humans seeking hotness rejoice, for as long as service plays second fiddle to bartender beauty, Reef will not disappoint. For the rest of the population, um, basic arrival can best be described as mildly painful. The girls running this bar are comparable to the always invigorating… eye candy. Lacking substance, minimal requests are close to an unobtainable task. I’m sorry, is it really all that demanding to greet a person, make a drink, and deliver a menu? You would have thought I asked them to write a dissertation on the theory of evolution.
The odds of dining in the bar with an oozing sensation of service joy is quite unlikely. Therefore, departure came close to immediately, but not before a few mini conversations were completed, with an occasional… giggle. Semi service at the bar brought forth queasiness. Bonjour. Aloha. Sayonara. Ciao. Adios… This foodie is out of here.
Enter the hostess… Quite kind & in a hurry, as all hostesses should be, she eagerly seated me at a cozy two top in the corner. Shell shaped lights shine just brightly enough to compliment the consuming blue décor. A gregarious group of chefs can be seen steadfastly working in the open kitchen.
Service in the dining room was excellent from apps to entrée. My server wasn’t the least bit surprised when informed the drink delivered is indeed tonic, not soda. With a mini eye roll expressing slight dismay, he quickly returned with a new drink, proudly announcing… “I made this one myself.” The only disappointment from this server is his lack of knowledge in reference to ingredients & describing items. His description offered no more than what’s written on the menu.
The ceviche appetizer is served with blue crab, blood orange & coco lime-broth. Extreme freshness coupled with eye catching presentation made this one to write home about. For those whom desire a small tasting of several appetizers, the “Rare” section of the menu lists the 3rd Bar Plateau, which is a tower offering a “grouping of all things salty & raw.”
Tempura shrimp is served with radish salad, avocado & sea salt cashews. Tempura soft shell crab is also available with this dish. It’s always good news when fried doesn’t feel fried. Another fried item is crunchy calamari with charred green tomatoes, cilantro aioli & a pickled pepper condiment.
Oysters on half shell are topped with creamy Swiss chard, lime pickle & asiago bread crumbs, then baked to perfection. This dish left me tongue wagging happy. Gulf oysters on the half shell are listed as Point aux Pins. Glorious!
The spring roll with shrimp is served with a sweet hot sauce. For those not wanting to go fried or raw, there are several salads to choose from. “The Slice” salad has ice berg lettuce with cabrales cheese & pancetta. Also listed is an herb salad with market veggies & shaved parmesan. Lastly, the steamed shrimp salad is topped with haricot vert & spiced pecans, tossed in sherry vinaigrette.
The jumbo crab cake is served taqueria style with pickled vinaigrette. After eating 85,692 crab cakes, it’s relatively hard to get excited these days. Reef’s crab cake came through, offering a moment of ever so slight spasticness.
The real deal is the “Simply Grilled” section which lists shrimp, salmon, scallops, and mahi as entrée options. Sides of choice are plantain & long bean sauté or broccolini with golden raisins & pine nuts. Other sides offered are crispy fries with sriracha remoulade, fried mac & cheese (yikes), and toasted butter mashed potatoes.
Houston Press awarded Reef the Best Milkshake 2010. Listed on the menu as “Milkshake No Minors,” expectations are definitely met. Reef combines Brandy & Kahlua with the ice cream to create a thick creamy shake sent down from the heavens above. I welcomed a brain freeze, as a little pain is worth the abundance of pleasure.
Reef’s dessert menu lists… Thin lime tart with charred meringue & raspberries.. Crème fraiche cheesecake with fresh cherries & honey gelato… Joy… Buttermilk panna cotta with macerated strawberries & a strawberry sorbet….Vietnamese coffee tart with condensed milk ice cream & mint syrup… Not to mention a molten chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream!
Envision yourself returning to Reef for a second time, though not taking a right into the safety of the dining room, but laying all your chips on the table and taking a left into… the bar. The plethora of blonde bombshellness is like a maze one must complete in order to simply sit. To experience the happy hour menu, one must obviously sit in… the bar. I’m just going to go ahead, without wasting a molecular moment, and give every bartender at Reef possessing the gender status of female a… Double Bartender Babe Wow.
Basic begging began with a slight stutter. Reminiscent of the on the edge of your seat feeling one gets while patiently waiting for just one moment of… eye contact… just waiting in hope that someone will take that final step toward acceptable service recovery and take your flipping order. I started to form words, only to cut myself off because this vivid picture of attention is merely fiction. Sigh.
Bartender Bombshell #1: Customer (me) sits down as she snail crawls across the bar, making her way to her “love ya like a sis” BFF, who is busily, no… leisurely… rolling silverware. Without a service industry care in the world, she casually carries on a conversation. Jeez Louise, it really isn’t believable what happened next.
Bartender Bombshell #2: This bartender could best be described as the “Mary Anne” on this island we call Reef. Not quite fulfilling Ginger status requirements, she strolls past me with the ease of a soft gentle wind on a mid summer’s day. Wait… she suddenly catches a glimpse of her profile in the bar mirror, ultimately forcing her to stop. Still ungreeted, thirsty, and helplessly waiting for the opportunity to peruse the happy hour menu, she begins to… primp.
Barback: Gee willickers, mister. Life must be tough slash grand. Your job entails working with Barbies, thus morphing you into… Ken.
Bartender Bombshell #3: She would possess the most knowledge from a combination of all brain power working this particular shift. Without breaking a nail, she somehow mustered up the power to almost sub veggies for the explosion of pig on the happy hour pizza. Please & thank you. During happy hour, pizzas are only $5. A pizza with tomato & fresh mozzarella is offered, as well as tarte flambée with bacon & caramelized onion. My pizza was served with mushrooms, minus the… bacon.
Before the possibility of ordering a shrimp shooter becomes reality, this customer must wait for the ever present Bob Barker Beauties to finish telling a happy hour gratuity story. So upset were these purring kittens, they could hardly maintain a curl, with highlights appearing somewhat frustrated. They did not feel confident the manager would grat the huge happy hour party that would soon be arriving. Gratuity adding has been confirmed, but these divas just aren’t convinced.
During a brief intermission, eye contact prevailed, thus shrimp shooter arrival became imminent. Shrimp Shooter’s are $1 during happy hour, with the ever so exciting, um, beef sliders being $1 as well.
Snapper Carpaccio with grapefruit agradolce, which is an Italian sweet & sour sauce, is served with garlic bread. Every part of this appetizer is unappealing, including texture, but once it hits your lips…the flavors are amazing. Delicious.
Mussels are steamed in a Shiner Bock & shallot broth with toasted ancho chile sauce. Enormous to a level of large never before experienced, this dish easily reaches ultra mussel glory.
An official chit chat with the one partner occurred, briefly discussing El Real Tex-Mex Cafe, the new restaurant Bryan Caswell is opening in Montrose. Described as groovy upscale Mexican, this restaurant will be a throwback to the days of Felix & Leos… A Mama Ninfas type of place with old school Tex-Mex. Robb Walsh, notable retired restaurant critic for the Houston Press, has been brought on board. His take is that Tex-Mex is its own genre of food, not the red headed step child, per say. Walsh is a highly respected Tex-Mex “expert,” with a cookbook to boot.
El Real’s taco shells will be fried to order, as well as homemade chili con carne and lots more. With maximum seating at 360, the menu will be quite affordable. After asking if this were a turn em’ & burn em’ concept, he said not so much, explaining, after having Bon Appétit Magazine label Reef as the number one seafood restaurant in the United States, there really is nowhere to go but… down.
He explained with a semi sarcastic growl, “It’s cheese enchiladas guys… We’re not trying to be Rick Bayless in Chicago. This is just good ole Tex-Mex. Have another margarita and enjoy it. That’s the idea behind it, which is what Caswell really wants.” He stressed that the reason they are where they are today is due in part to Reef, which is obviously their baby. The goal with El Real is to provide a place that’s fun where people can go hang out after work, simply have a margarita with no worries.
Let us all pause for a moment of silence in hopes that the bartenders at El Real are dog ugly with epic skills and the always appreciated… qualifications. Sacrificing service for sexy is inexcusable. Bon Appétit Magazine can accolade all day, shoddy service from ill prepared staff will send all spiraling rapidly into sore thoughts of poor service.
FIVE: High 5!
FOUR: Please & Thank You
TWO: Double Wow
ONE: Wow + Ouch = Wouch