By Molly Dunn
By Catherine Gillespie
By Brooke Viggiano
By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Mai Pham
By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Minh T Truong
It took us a while to worm our way through the tony Waterford Harbor neighborhood just off FM 2094 in Clear Lake Shores, eagerly following the discreet signs for the Mallorca Restaurant like wooden bread crumbs. We finally fetched up at the Yacht Club in the heart of the marina, an imposing Williamsburgish red brick building, trimmed in white and topped by a weather vane galleon under full bronze sail.
"Are you sure this is it?" whispered one of my friends. "It looks like a private country club." Acres of expensive vessels stretched endlessly in all directions, rocking gently at anchor, halyards clanging musically against metal masts and rigging.
One last waist-high Mallorca sign was placed ambiguously next to the south wall of the building. What I had nearsightedly seen as an amoeba in the logo was revealed on closer inspection to be a black outlined map of Spain. We tried the nearest entrance and found ourselves in a hallway leading to a narrow galley bar between two dining areas: to our right, a dark, formal dining room, forbiddingly empty and hushed; to our left, a smaller room, cheerful and bright with windows all round overlooking the lake, more millions of dollars' worth of boats and a spectacular sunset.
Still, no one greeted us. Two staffers whizzed by without giving us a second glance. There were no more signs to go by, and an obviously private wedding party was in tipsy progress in the pretty windowed room. A few of the bar patrons glanced at us, briefly curious, then firmly turned their backs to resume nursing their gin and tonics. What to do? We tried to catch the eye of the gray-haired woman mixing drinks, dressed in a baggy maroon uniform. Are we in the right place? we asked her timidly.
"Oh, yes, yes," she said, in heavily accented English. "Just go through there and sit anywhere," she said, gesturing impatiently toward the windowed dining room. "Except don't sit with the wedding party."
We hesitantly seated ourselves in a prime spot in the west-facing bay window, wrestling the additional chairs we needed from nearby tables. The room was pleasant in a stark, new-condo sort of way: The white walls, white woodwork and pale tablecloths were relieved by a central brick fireplace -- "I'll bet that's cozy in winter," said another friend, enviously -- and dominated by the wraparound windowed view of the marina and the lake. Seagoing ducks paddled by, threading their way between the docks and boats. The sunset sky, bright gold under lowering dark clouds, was breathtaking. My spirits rose. Just about anything would taste good in this setting, I thought.
Our waiter briskly greeted us with a lagniappe basket of herbed garlic toast. The thin, crisp toast points were irresistible, salty and heavily garlicked, although I couldn't help but notice the kitchen thriftily included the bread heels as well as the inner slices. In the marked absence of a wine list, we ordered blender cocktails. After an interminable wait, we were disappointed to find our daiquiris and margaritas pale, weak and overly sweet, like slushy Shirley Temples for kids. The waiter, though he remained friendly, seemed increasingly distracted and harassed, which puzzled us, as the dining room contained only four other parties at that point. We asked him for limes to doctor the drinks; he brought them out in a thin paper napkin and deposited them unceremoniously on the tablecloth.
We started with a cup of French onion soup ($3), which arrived steaming hot under a thick blanket of white, chewy cheese. Unfortunately, the broth was so beefy-strong and salty that it overwhelmed any vestige of onion flavor. On the other hand, the New England-style seafood chowder ($3.50 cup) suffered from severe flavor anemia, despite its ambitious menu billing as the "best in the U.S.A." It was so creamy-bland as to be completely tasteless, except for a faint undertone of raw flour. I'll grant make-up points, though, for the generous amount of seafood in the cup; I was happy to find tenderly cooked shrimp, scallops, crabmeat and a massive oyster in my portion, just as advertised.
Another member of our party fared better with the fried cheese cubes ($4.50), a pile of precise blocks of stretchy soft mozzarella like edible Legos, lightly breaded and fried to a pale golden-brown. Yes, they were bland, too, but at least partially redeemed by a perky pink remoulade-style sauce for dunking, heavy on the pickle relish. He munched away happily until the air-conditioning system kicked on with a mighty roar. A polar blast from the overhead vent swept our table, fluttering the napkins and chilling the cheese cubes. "Urk, now they're rubbery," he said, pushing the plate away.
I noticed that with the exception of the small wedding party, whose members were still steadily swigging champagne, most of the other customers were starting out with straightforward seafood numbers, such as shrimp cocktail ($6.50) or shrimp sauteed in olive oil (also $6.50). Perhaps that's where we went wrong, I thought. As the frigid air bellowed across the room, a slender matron at the next table gathered her young daughter into her lap, absentmindedly chafing the little girl's bare arms and legs for warmth.