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Corner Table Restaurant Is the Place to Be in River Oaks

Former Ruggles chef Bruce Molzan's Corner Table Restaurant is the latest River Oaks hot spot.

It's Saturday evening at 15 past seven, and Corner Table by Chef Bruce Molzan is packed. In the private dining room to the right of the entrance, a group of women, dressed fashionably like Sex and the City fashionistas, are having a small party. The main dining room is awash with this sort of manic, merry madness, and a person in front of me is complaining about why her reservation can't be found in the system.

I wait patiently before checking in with the hostess, only to be informed — surprise, surprise — that my table is not ready. I spy my dining companion at the small bar across the room and make my way to join him. We settle in comfortably, with me facing the hostess stand and entrance and him facing the dining room.

"It's crazy here!" I exclaim excitedly as I watch the scene on display. Attractive, well-dressed patrons are weaving about the room, some coming and going as they check out the adjacent bar, 1919 Wine and Mixology, going out to the patio and back before checking in with the hostess so that they can be led to their seats. There's a sense of consciousness to their movements, as if they know they are being watched, the men displaying a bit of swagger while the women sway their hips provocatively.

Chef Bruce Molzan plates a dish of salmon with green ginger sauce.
Courtesy of Corner Table Restaurant
Chef Bruce Molzan plates a dish of salmon with green ginger sauce.

Location Info

Map

Corner Table

2736 Virginia St.
Houston, TX 77098

Category: Restaurant > New American

Region: Lower Shepherd-Kirby

Details

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; closed Sundays.

Fried organic house-made pickles: $8.00
Chef's crab cake: $14.00
Avocado crab tower: $17.00
Greek salad: $11.00
Beet salad: $12.00
Foie Gras Kobe Beef Burger: $26.00
Short Rib Pizza: $18.00
Paleo fish tacos: $18.00
Paleo Paella: $29.00
Zataar Chicken: $26.00
Pistachio crusted flounder: $30.00
White chocolate bread pudding $7.95



View More:

Slideshow: A Closer Look At Corner Table Restaurant
Blog: Bruce Molzan is Back with Corner Table: This Week's Cafe Review


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I'm talking animatedly to my friend, my voice straining a bit to be heard over the ambient noise. We're gossiping about the place even as we are sitting smack dab in the middle of it — about the ­fabulous shabby-chic decor with the charming chandeliers dotting the ceiling; about someone's hairstyle, dress or pair of fabulous heels; about the mouthwatering-looking food that's passing by on a server's tray; and about the chef.

The chef is definitely gossip material. Known as the mastermind behind the highly successful Ruggles Grill and other enterprises bearing the Ruggles name, Bruce Molzan saw his flagship go down in ignominy after his staff staged a publicly documented walkout, alleging that Molzan had failed to pay them thousands in wages and tips. The scandal even followed him to Corner Table, where former employees picketed the restaurant, demanding to be paid.

But to watch him move about the restaurant with apparent ease, shaking hands with patrons and presenting food to the rapt attention of his guests, it's evident that Molzan has moved on to a newer, more successful chapter of his life.
_____________________

"Bruce has total control over his food. It's his vision," declares Michelle Coopwood as I speak to her over the phone. Coopwood and her mother, Darla Lexington, own the three concepts that are housed at 2736 Virginia — 1919 Wine and Mixology, The Oak Bar and Nightclub, and Corner Table.

Longtime friends of Molzan, Coopwood and her mother specifically recruited him as head of the restaurant. "He had first right of refusal," Coopwood said, making it clear that she had nothing but admiration for him: "I liken him to an ­artist."

There's definitely a certain aesthetic sensibility to the food that comes out of Molzan's kitchen. Like the gorgeous photos you'll find on Corner ­Table's Web page, the food is vibrant and colorful, with lots of primary colors coming from the many vegetables that are used in each dish.

Up close, however, Molzan's food has a busy, ­almost frenetic appearance. He has an affinity for what I call "squigglies." There was the squiggly mayonnaise, applied generously all over our fish tacos in a criss-cross pattern in the same way that an abstract painter might slash paint across a canvas. There were also the squiggly tuiles, essentially thin butter cookies shaped kind of like a double pound sign, protruding upright from many of the desserts.

His avocado and jumbo lump crab tower was topped with squiggly sweet potato crisps. And his beet salad, topped with what looked like a glob of spring salad mix, had a squiggly pattern of dressing applied all over the beets.

Though his plates are new — he favors a white casserole dish with one handle for many of his dishes — his plating style is very similar to what he used during his Ruggles heyday, with the protein or main component in the center of the plate and vegetables off to the side — usually asparagus, tomatoes and baby carrots.

People don't seem to mind this throwback to Ruggles, perhaps embracing it with nostalgia. They are also loving the dishes he created for the "Paleo" portion of his menu, which focuses on "protein, vegetables and fruit. No gluten, grains, dairy or legumes." I wish I could see what the hype was all about.

Of the Paleo dishes that I sampled, two were a complete bust and one was merely okay. The most disappointing dish was the one I'd looked forward to the most: The Paleo Paella looked attractive on the plate but tasted nothing like a paella should, the cauliflower "rice" pureed into a mush that was unappealing and so salty that my companion took one or two bites and pushed it away. The server took it back and subtracted it from our bill.

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11 comments
zebra56
zebra56

The last time I went to Ruggles the waiter added an extra $30 to my already generous tip.  When I called and complained the manager wasn't at all outraged, other than they'd gotten caught.  Never went back and won't go to the new place!


Keene38
Keene38

same Cat, slightly different Spots

jimbo1126
jimbo1126

With tax and tip, that's a $30 burger!!!  It better be good.

Looks like the Zataar Chicken and the Paella are already off the menu.

nebbiobaro
nebbiobaro

Nice review, Mai. I would only quibble with your last point. Far from "the public" anointing Corner Table as the place to be, it's a few socialites and influencers, along with their cadre of followers who have endorsed it as the place to be. However, their fickleness will soon prevail, whether this season or next, and Corner Table will meet the same fate as places like Los Tonyos, for anyone who remembers Tony Vallone's descent into Tex-Mex or Mex Mex or whatever madness it was. 

Because once the butterflies abandon the place, it really will be 'the public' that judges the merits of the restaurant, and knowing Molzan's rather scant culinary talents (especially compared to our new crop of Houston chefs/cooks) it won't be long for this world.


Stuart48
Stuart48

Why would The Press waste money on a place whose "star" chef is a thief? Not to mention a self idolizing jerk. Fried pickles? Invented by whom for what? The first place I saw them was in a disastrous joint out on FM 1488 twenty years ago. Just a BS idea. Cheaper than fried green tomatoes, I suppose. 


Kylejack
Kylejack topcommenter

Let's hope not that the food improves, but rather that it goes under so Molzan will find a new line of work.

gossamersixteen
gossamersixteen topcommenter

This guy is obviously an greedy @ss clown; the chance of him ever seeing any of my or my friends money would be zero. Refuse to patronize any one's restaurant who knowingly screws their employees out of their rightful money. 

Mai Pham
Mai Pham

@nebbiobaro I don't necessarily disagree with you, but an FB interaction this morning illustrates another facet of what I mean by "the public." Commenting on someone else's wall (he's not my personal acquaintance), a person on FB made the following observation: "Yelp reviewers give it 4 out 5 stars. Food looks visually good. I will have to try anyways."

mabrey34
mabrey34

@Mai Pham  

I'm not sure that's the best rebuttal to Nebbiobaro's point, if his/her point is that tables are filled mainly by socialites and those driven by elite opinion. I mean sure, I guess some average Joe's are coming in and Yelping and FBing the place, but that doesn't mean the business isn't 90% fueled by ladies who lunch and their hen-pecked high society husbands/boyfriends. I'm seconding the feeling that this place doesn't enjoy a love of public or popular opinion. That's not the reason it's often full. Liked your review btw!

 
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