Blockbuster Fare

Crowd-pleasing Pesce serves food Spielberg-style

But Red doesn't want to try any. She's barely touching her sesame-crusted yellowfin as it is. I take a few bites of her dinner. The tuna is cut into thick rectangles and cooked medium rare. The two chunks of fish are stacked over a crabmeat-and-lemon risotto with some tempura-fried stuffed squash blossoms on the side.

"It's just all too rich," Red protests.

"But it's so good," I argue.

A wealth of riches: The heavy sauces and large portions at Pesce require you to scale your orders accordingly.
Deron Neblett
A wealth of riches: The heavy sauces and large portions at Pesce require you to scale your orders accordingly.

Location Info



3029 Kirby
Houston, TX 77098

Category: Restaurant > Seafood

Region: Lower Shepherd-Kirby


(713)522-4858. Hours: Monday through Thursday, 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.

"Martini": $13
A study in tuna: $15
Sesame-crusted yellowfin: $31
Crawfish Melinda: $26
Pesce tower for four: $80
Whole roasted Pesce: market price
Potato-crusted halibut cheeks: $27
Split charge for entrées: $3

3029 Kirby Drive

"Yeah, but it's butter and cream, lobster and tuna," she says. "Crowd-pleasing stuff -- Steven Spielberg food."

Red is much more impressed by chefs who coax flavor from great ingredients without resorting to cream and butter. We try to think of an artsy independent film director to complete the metaphor, but none really fits the bill.

I can't finish my pasta, and neither one of us makes much of a dent in the yellowfin. But I am not ready to concede that the food at Pesce is too rich. Rich happens to be one of my favorite flavors.

On our second visit to Pesce, I am armed with a strategy. We invite another couple to join us so that we can order one of the restaurant's most popular appetizers: a two-tier tower brimming with cold seafood. The Pesce tower (available for four or six people) turns out to be stocked with stone crab claws, a small lobster tail, shrimp, raw oysters, raw cherrystone clams, steamed mussels and a pile of seviche. Rémoulade, cocktail sauce and an onion-and-vinegar sauce are served on the side. The raw bar items are excellent and much lighter than the sauced appetizers we had last time.

The couple joining us has just announced their engagement, and we want to toast the occasion. As it turns out, I find an interesting item on the wine menu: Roederer Estate, an exceptional sparkling wine from California, is probably the best deal on the list. If the crispness of a Loire Valley sauvignon blanc goes well with seafood, then the higher acidity of a sparkling wine should do even better. And besides, everybody loves bubbly.

This time, instead of ordering separate entrées, we elect to split two dinners four ways. We order the evening's whole roasted Pesce -- which turns out to be a Dover sole topped with crabmeat and served with roasted potatoes, carrots and asparagus -- as well as potato-crusted Alaskan halibut cheeks. I like the halibut best. The potato coating is crunchy, and the fish is served over a sort of bourbon-and-corn chowder.

We still have room for a slice of outrageously tall lemon meringue pie and a gooey hot brownie with ice cream, which we also split four ways. I feel victorious about my ordering concept. If you start off knowing that the food tends to be rich and the portions large, it's easy to scale things down, I contend. But Red is still not a convert.

It's a week later, and we're dining at Fung's Kitchen on the Southwest Freeway. A friend is visiting from Los Angeles. Her family emigrated from Hong Kong, and she is very enthusiastic about the menu here, so I've asked her to order. She points to the lingcod swimming in an aquarium beside our table and asks the waitress something in Cantonese.

"Whenever I see the fish swimming, I order it steamed," she tells us. It's a sound cooking philosophy: The freshest fish requires only the simplest preparation. The steamed lingcod is delivered to our table with nothing but a light soy-and-ginger sauce and a few cilantro sprigs. It is perfectly done, moist, tender and flaky. The subtle flavor is a meditation on the nature of the fish.

"This is what's wrong with Pesce," Red says, holding up a piece of the delicate white lingcod with her chopsticks. I know what she means.

Pesce is a crowd-pleasing restaurant, and there is nothing wrong with that. Just as there is nothing wrong with a Spielberg movie. Both feature a bold exuberance that tends to overwhelm the senses. As the box office will attest, this is what mainstream American taste is all about. And I love it. Sometimes.

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