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Inside Baseball at the Bistro

Chef John Sheely's Mockingbird Bistro could end up as an inside-the-park home run

Along with the charcuterie appetizer, we sampled a roasted beet salad with goat cheese, walnuts and greens, which was a humble masterpiece. The natural flavor of the deep purple beet quarters was so intense that I was grateful for the lack of seasonings. Together with the walnuts, cheese and simply tossed greens, the naked beets made an extraordinary salad.

In between the appetizers and entrées, we split a bowl of rigatoni with one of the best Bolognese sauces I've ever had. The ragout was thick with ground veal and light on the tomatoes, with a gentle base of carrots, onions and parsley. The amount of sauce was generous in proportion to the pasta, and the whole thing was topped with a glob of ricotta and a sprinkling of chopped chives. The pasta was terrific, but it was so rich that half an order nearly ruined my appetite for the entrée. Order the full plate with caution.

The entrées were fantastic -- maybe a little too fantastic. My dining companion had a giant pork chop, very juicy and grilled pink as ordered, served with a warm, wilted apple-and-bacon slaw over mashed potatoes with a bold, creamy Stilton sauce. But it was the lamb chops that made me suspicious.

John Sheely, the Craig Biggio of Houston cooking, has a solid hit with his soupy pei mussels.
Deron Neblett
John Sheely, the Craig Biggio of Houston cooking, has a solid hit with his soupy pei mussels.

Location Info

Map

Mockingbird Bistro Wine Bar

1985 Welch St.
Houston, TX 77019

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: River Oaks

Details

713-533-0200. Hours: Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.; Saturday, 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Ham and cheese sandwich with frites: $7
Cheeseburger with frites: $8
Roasted beet salad: $7
Mussels: $10
Charcuterie plate: $10
Rigatoni Bolognese: $14
Pork chop with apple slaw: $18
Lamb T-bones: $20
Rabbit Ridge cabernet (glass): $5
(bottle): $20

1985 Welch

I ordered a pair of lamb T-bones, medium rare. They came to the table rare, so I asked the waiter to take them back for a little more grilling. But when the browner chops returned, they were accompanied by a profusely apologetic manager. Then the hostess came to the table, introduced herself and apologized some more. She even offered to give us free desserts. At that point I came to the conclusion that I had been recognized. The manager must have seen me jotting some notes. It's my duty to tell you when this sort of thing happens so you know that I probably got special attention. But you don't have much to worry about in this case. John Sheely's cooking is so honest and straightforward that there isn't a lot about it that could be changed at the last minute.

The American-Mediterranean food at Mockingbird Bistro doesn't try to wow you with cleverness. Instead it impresses with simple things like the intensity of a roasted beet, the plumpness of a cultivated mussel or a time-honored combination like cabbage, apples and pork. The trick with uncomplicated cooking like this is to let good ingredients do the talking, and Sheely seems to be a good listener.

He needs to fix the frites, maybe put some real cheese on the ham sandwich, and reconsider what kind of bread is going in the basket -- but these are minor quibbles for a restaurant that's barely a month old. The unassuming but knockout food, cheap but adventurous wine list and medieval-cathedral-gone-funky atmosphere preserve the eccentric spirit of Montrose in a newly homogenized neighborhood.

Sheely may have just been trying to loop a single into right field with the modest Mockingbird, but he could end up with an inside-the-park home run.

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