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Oddly, the roux-based crawfish bisque, one of my favorite starters at the old Jimmy Wilson's, was dull and thick from overcooking. Thank goodness the gumbo still tasted fabulous, even though the oysters were missing thanks to Ike. There were plenty of shrimp and crawfish to make up for the missing mollusks. The roux was cooked to a glorious dark chocolate color. I picked a tiny bit of crab shell that somehow made it through the strainer out of my mouth as I ate the gumbo. I wouldn't dream of complaining about it — it was evidence that the intensely-flavored stock had been cooked with lots of shrimp and crab shells.

Desserts seem to have moved up to a new level, too. I have always defaulted to the bread pudding, but after sampling Jimmy Wilson's housemade chocolate pecan pie, I have found a new favorite. I was expecting a typical pecan pie with some chocolate under the pecan layer. What we got was far more extravagant.

Our eyes widened when the oversize dessert plate decorated with squiggles of caramel and chocolate sauce hit the table. On it was a monster wedge of pie made with a crushed Oreo bottom crust and a top layer of pecan halves beautifully arranged in caramel. The filling was an inch-thick layer of what tasted like flourless chocolate cake. The warm slice of chocolate soufflé-pecan pie was topped with two scoops of vanilla bean ice cream.
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The waiters debone the flounder tableside.
Troy Fields
The waiters debone the flounder tableside.

Location Info

Map

Jimmy Wilson's Seafood & Chop House

5161 San Felipe St.
Houston, TX 77056

Category: Restaurant > Seafood

Region: Galleria

Details

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays; 4 to 11 p.m. Saturdays; noon to 9 p.m. Sundays.

Gumbo: $6

Green tomatoes with lump crabmeat: $14

Crawfish combination: $19

Whole flounder: $29

Pecan chocolate: pie $7

5161 San Felipe, 713-960-0333.

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The long evolution of the new Jimmy Wilson's started two decades ago. Denis Wilson was one of the pioneers of the Cajun restaurant craze in Houston in the 1980s; the Cajun chain he founded was purchased by Tilman Fertitta. Afterward, Wilson opened his own freestanding restaurant at 12109 Westheimer called Denis' Seafood, which he later sold to a restaurant group. Denis' Seafood, sans Denis, in now located on I-10 [see "Cajun Gets a Crewcut," January 31]. Then Wilson took on a partner named Jimmy Jard, and they renamed the original location Jimmy Wilson's. Not long after the new Jimmy Wilson's on San Felipe was completed, they sold the old Westheimer location.

Architect Jim Herd, whose ­cutting-edge interiors can be found in such upscale Houston restaurants as Catalan, conceived and built the new Jimmy Wilson's. "It looks like something Mark Rothko might design if he was an architect," Jay Francis said, looking around the interior. Francis was referring to the huge rectangular shapes and saturated colors. There's a leaf green fabric panel high on one wall and a square of deep blue ceiling near the entrance. The back of the bar forms an enormous multistoried rectangular wine rack framed in dark wood.

It's a dramatic change from the nautical theme of the old place. And it seems like the food has gained sophistication from the surroundings. When I sit down in the new space, an oyster poor boy, one of my favorites at the old Jimmy Wilson's, is the last thing on my mind.

You often see upscale restaurant owners opening more casual satellites, as Marco Wiles did when he started making pizza at Dolce Vita. But you seldom see a casual restaurant successfully make the move upscale. And it hasn't been easy for the new Jimmy Wilson's.

Denis Wilson and Jimmy Jard embarked on a very ambitious project. Building a restaurant with a cutting-edge interior design was a challenging first step. Breaking in a new kitchen, updating the cooking style and elevating the service to a higher level has proven even tougher. When the restaurant first opened, complaints about fumbling service and uneven execution convinced me to wait awhile before reviewing it. But things seem to be running smoothly now.

Jimmy Wilson's is a work in progress. The blackened fish and overwrought sauces are still on the menu, and they still have their diehard fans. But now the dated stuff is served alongside some innovative appetizers, stunning desserts and some of the best fresh fish in the city. It's an excellent restaurant the way it is, but I get the feeling it's on its way to something remarkable.

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