Room with a View

Unfortunately, Mallorca doesn't offer much else

The prices on Mallorca's dinner menu run relatively high, starting at $16.95 for standard fish entrees and quickly ramping up to an eye-popping $44.95 for Chateaubriand for Two. It also sports a lot of exclamatory remarks, as in "grilled to perfection!" or "topped with sauteed crabmeat!" To be fair, all the entree prices include a modest dinner salad and the "vegetable and potato of the day." The house salad dressing is a good pick, an interesting creamy French variant spiked with brandy(!). The vegetable side dish, well, let's just say it was a standard steamed medley of Green Giant-style favorites: broccoli, cauliflower and carrots. The potato of the day turned out to be cheese tortellini. "Our customers want to dine lighter," the waiter confided. "So we've discontinued the potatoes." I stared at the cheese-stuffed pasta topped with a vivid Velveeta-colored cheese sauce in disbelief, unable even to guess at the calories and fat grams lurking within.

For dinner, we tried the snapper pecan ($16.95), which is "grilled to golden brown!" Again, I'll readily admit that it's a generous serving, two good-size filets of red snapper, but both were sadly overcooked and mushy, imprisoned in a tough, overbrowned coating of herbed breading that tasted like commercial turkey stuffing mixed with tiny, elderly pecan bits. Less would have been a lot more, in this case.

The Paella Valenciana ($17.95) sounded wonderful, a treasure trove of ingredients: chicken, pork, chorizo, shrimp, clams, mussels, scallops, crab fingers and redfish, all combined with rice and, the menu blares, "the spice of kings -- SAFFRON!" I was bitterly disappointed, though, and again the problem was careless overcooking. The mussels gaped open, parched and dry, atop a sticky mess of strangely red-tinted rice; the crab fingers were too tough to pull through teeth, as if glued to their cartilage; and the poor scallops resembled pale rubber pencil erasers. I partially revived the chunks of chicken and pork by squeezing lemon juice all over them, but nothing could save the burned bits of sausage, so tough and tasteless that I couldn't say for sure whether they were indeed chorizo.

Again, our cheese-cube-eater scored slightly higher with his tenderloin with shrimp and snapper combination plate ($22.50). The filet mignon obviously started out as a gorgeous cut of aged, tender meat. My friend ordered it well done. I managed to refrain from commenting, but the waiter couldn't help himself: "You want it dead, right?" he asked. (I am sick of similar tired jokes from waiters when I order my own steaks very rare. Let's all just shut up and let people eat what they like, okay?)

Despite the well-done order, the steak was still suspiciously large when it arrived but charred absolutely black on the outside. The thick center was bright pink and barely warm. Rather than send it back -- "What, so they'll put more charcoal on it?" -- my friend contented himself with eating the thinner ends that were cooked through. His portions of grilled snapper and shrimp, lightly seasoned and blessedly only lightly grilled, seemed to fare better than any of the other seafood items we tried.

While we waited for the check, too discouraged to try the cheesecake tower ($4.50) or the Key lime pie ($4) for dessert, I studied the well-dressed diners around us. Some were just in from their boats, I guessed, still wearing deck shoes, natty polo shirts and even shorts, or crisp khaki slacks. Many were clearly regular, repeat customers, greeted warmly by name by the Mallorca staffers. By the time we left, the small dining room was full, and the larger, gloomier hall was filling. Mallorca is certainly popular in its neighborhood, and has been for many years, but I'll have to admit I just don't get it. Perhaps it's the exclusive yacht club ambiance that's the draw: a quiet, pretty room with a view where guests are comfortable and well known, where money doesn't matter. Maybe the locals like it because the tacky tourists who crowd the nearby Kemah Waterfront can't find it. And why should the day-trippers even try? They're eating better food at the same inflated prices down on the boardwalk.

Mallorca Restaurant, 800 Mariners Drive, Clear Lake Shores, (281)334-2584.

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