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Reef

Chef Bryan Caswell is putting a new spin on Gulf red snapper and serving up some fish you've never heard of

My tablemate had the jumbo crab cake, which was a big disk of lump crabmeat in a thick battered crust served with what the menu called "taquería-style pickled vinaigrette." It tasted like the lightly pickled cabbage slaw called cortadito that you get with your pupusas in a Salvadoran ­restaurant.

These might sound like odd combinations, except in Houston, where we eat Vietnamese, Indian, Mexican, Salvadoran and Gulf Southern cooking all the time.

Reef was hideously loud when I first visited. I couldn't hear the waiter, my tablemate or anything else above the din. This problem was expensively solved by coating the ceiling with some kind of noise-deadening gunk. It's much quieter now.

Wash down the ecstasy-inducing "crispy skin snapper" with the best Pinot Grigio on the planet.
Troy Fields
Wash down the ecstasy-inducing "crispy skin snapper" with the best Pinot Grigio on the planet.

Location Info

Map

Reef

2600 Travis St., 100
Houston, TX 77006

Category: Restaurant > New American

Region: Montrose

Details

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays; 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Saturdays.

Snapper carpaccio: $8.50

Crab cake: $14.50

Tripletail and artichoke stew: $24

Crispy skin snapper: $26

Wahoo and plantains: $21

2600 Travis, 713 526-8282.

The food isn't all perfect. Coming from the Jean-Georges school of French fusion cooking, Bryan Caswell goes a little light on the seasonings sometimes. The flounder, which was served over truffled polenta with mushrooms, was dull. But the only total clunker I've had was the spice-crusted chicken. The bland crumb coating was as dry as a mouthful of dust.

My remaining beef with Reef is the wine service. On my second visit, I tried to find another white wine that was as good a deal as the Jermann Pinot Grigio. I asked the waiter if I could speak with the "wine guy." The waiter said there was no sommelier and that he was trained on the wine list.

So I told him I wanted a white wine with lots of acidity — something lemony to accent the fish flavors. And to make things easy, I told him I was trying to choose between the three Albariños on the list. He told me that Albariño was a light wine with little acidity and that I should look at the Chablis instead.

Obviously, the waiter didn't know his coccyx from a corkscrew. Albariños are Spain's favorite seafood wines; they are very tart. I asked him which Albariños he had tasted, and he admitted he hadn't tasted any of them. So I told him I wanted to talk to somebody who knew the list a little better.

He sent over co-owner Bill Floyd. Floyd insisted he wasn't a sommelier, but when I mentioned I wanted a good tart Albariño, he immediately waxed eloquent about the Morgadio, which proved to be one of the best Albariños I have ever tasted. It has a wonderful clover honey aroma and a dry crisp finish, and at $28, it was roughly half the price of the Chablis the waiter was ­pushing.

With their shockingly low prices, perfect temperature-controlled storage and a selection of wines that customers can't find anywhere else, Reef should be the best place in the city to drink wine. But it's not, because they don't have a "wine guy" to help you decipher the list. I hope they fix this annoying situation.

But these are just quibbles, since Reef has so much else going for it. The interior is cool but not lavish, the waitstaff wears blue jeans and the bar menu includes the trendy little hamburgers called sliders, all of which gives the establishment a relaxed vibe. And while it's not cheap, it's a better deal than most.

The restaurant has only been open a couple of months, but it's already hard to get a table on the weekend. Caswell is reeling them in with his imaginative new take on Gulf seafood. If you have never tasted tripletail, wahoo or snapper with a crispy skin, it's time to come and get it.

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