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The first time I saw the place, I was dumbstruck. The exterior is several stories high. In a tribute to Jimmy Buffet's happy hour song, all of the numbers on the clock atop the entryway say "5." There's a courtyard with a giant fountain visible from the parking lot. The cavernous interior has high ceilings and a mix of terrazzo floors and carpeting. The front dining room is flanked by a long marble bar. Beyond that there are several temperature-controlled wine storage rooms.
The Blue Dog paintings of Denis Wilson's favorite Cajun artist, George Rodrigue, have been hidden away in a private dining room. Meanwhile, an enormous glass tile mosaic mural of a swamp scene by Dixie Friend Gay, the artist who did the nature mural at Bush Intercontinental Airport, spans the entire length of the rear dining room. I think it's fair to say that the new Denis Wilson-less Denis Wilson's is much more tasteful than the original.
Meanwhile, Denis Wilson still owns the old Denis' restaurant on Westheimer. The food tastes the same, but the name has changed. Denis Wilson took on a new partner by the name of Jimmy Jard. The two have juggled their names and rechristened the Westheimer restaurant Jimmy Wilson's Seafood and Chop House. The pair also built a more upscale location at San Felipe and Post Oak.
9777 Katy Freeway
Houston, TX 77024
Region: Outer Loop - NW
Baker's dozen oysters: $9
Traditional crawfish bisque: $5
Fried wild catfish: $14
Poor boy lunch: $8.99
I made a total of four visits to the new Denis' Seafood House on the Katy Freeway over the course of a month. One day at lunchtime, I determined that the Cajun-style crawfish bisque with dark roux was just as intensely flavored and spicy as the original. The seafood gumbo was a little thin compared to the gumbo at Danton's on Montrose. A shrimp-and-oyster poor boy came with overcooked oysters and dried-out butterflied shrimp.
On another visit, at three o'clock one afternoon, I sat down at the bar and asked for a dozen of the largest oysters on hand. I figured if I eliminated all the incompetent middlemen, I might get a decent plate of oysters. But in fact, the bag tag revealed the oysters were from Aransas Bay near Corpus Christi, and they were blander than those from Galveston Bay.
I'm glad I decided to give the oysters one last try on my final visit when they tasted so good. That night, the blackboard featured another favorite of mine, "golden tilefish." I ordered some sautéed with Florentine sauce.
When you order fresh fish at Denis' Seafood House, you specify whether you want it grilled, sautéed or blackened. I recommend you avoid the blackened option, which tends to result in overcooked and overseasoned fish. You can also add one of seven "Louisiana toppings" for an extra charge.
The golden tilefish cost me $22, but the inch-thick piece of juicy white-fleshed fish with crispy edges was worth every penny. And so was the $6 Florentine topping, a cream sauce of fresh spinach, shrimp, scallops and crawfish that cloaked the fish like a velvet robe on a winter night.
My dining companion got grilled redfish with the Pontchartrain sauce, which is the most popular of the Louisiana toppings. It's a browned butter and wine sauce with mushrooms, shrimp, scallops and crawfish that tastes a little like a seafood soup with sherry. For a side dish, he got red beans and rice. Weirdly, he found a pebble about the size of a pea in his beans, which he showed to the waiter.
Mr. Crewcut came by our table and asked if anyone had chipped a tooth on the rock. We said we hadn't. Then he joked about how unlikely it was that a rock had made it through the washing and cooking process. Then he asked us how we liked the fish and made happy talk for a while before wandering off without so much as an apology.
"He thinks we planted a rock in the beans to get a free meal," my companion said in amazement when the manager was out of earshot.
I highly recommend the fish dishes at the spectacular new location of Denis' Seafood House on Katy Freeway. But get your oysters without ice, skip the red beans and rice, and be prepared to get up and get your own water.