This was my friends and my first visit to the Reef. Two of us arrived before our 5:45 reservation so we headed to the bar while the others fought the I10 traffic. The first impression I got of the place was how nice the members of the staff are. We were greeted by the Hostess and I confirmed our reservation and explained a short delay. She said our table was ready or we could venture into the 3rd bar until ready. The staff there just really made us feel comfortable as soon as we entered the door. We were able to choose our seat, so we chose to sit at the bar where we could more closely observe the activities behind the bar and the other patrons setting along the bar. I couldn't help but notice the solid poured cement bar counter. This project is quite an art because of weight and other factors. Someone really knew what they were doing here. I didn't see one crack along the entire side where we were seated. The other length I couldn't see as a whole because of the other patrons. This is just an anal observation from someone that likes to check out structures and use of materials when I'm out and about, a guy thing I guess. Everyone was enjoying themselves, the staff was upbeat, and upon asking some of the patrons what they recommended extended oral suggestions were readily offered. I decided on some drink I believe called a Blood Orange, man...so good. But I wouldn't want too many on an empty stomach. By friend wasn't as adventurous and decided upon a beer,…so boring. We both decided upon a recommended Shrimp Shooter, a Reef version of a Shrimp cocktail. It was a very, very nice update on an old standby. After enjoying the huge shrimp, we drank the special marinade that was left. This appetizer is delicious to the very last drop. Upon the arrival of my other guests we were seated at our table not far from a huge glass enclosed wine "cellar". A beautiful display of so many wines that not one wine connoisseur should leave displeased. A bar patron had told me that she had a couple of friends that visit the Reef often because one of their favorite reds was actually cheaper here than at a popular local retailer. The decor was just as I had expected. Not prissy, not a diner, just perfect for this restaurant. Now if tonight you want white linens, candles, violins, and other types of ambiance associated with a restaurant that fits this list, this might not be your pick for tonight (I love this type of place also on different occasions). If your wanting to have music blaring and your yelling across the table to carry on a conversation with your guests and the meal consists of beans, tortillas, beef or chicken with salsa served in various fashions (don’t take this wrong, I love Mexican food and coming from New Mexico I visit regularly) this won’t be a choice to make tonight. Tonight patrons were dressed anywhere from fairly formal to business attire. The lighting wasn't too bright as to require me to wear sunglasses or to cause the light to reflect off of my thinning head. Nor was it too dim for me to read my menu by flashlight or to be able to enjoy the facial expressions and mannerisms of all around. A note, we had a gentleman coming around often to refill our beverages and we never, ever, ran dry. Running out of tea, water, coffee, or whatever is a pet peeve with me at any restaurant and they've got this art nailed. Our waiter introduced himself, Rich, a handsome clean-cut polite young man and who quickly proved himself knowledgeable of the menu choices along with the wines available. Two of us settled on the Kinilaw, which is Ceviche with Blue Crab, Orange, and a Coco-Lime broth, for appetizers, a wonderful very delicious suggestion from Rich. The both of us love Ceviche and this was a very nice and different twist on the dishes I’ve had around Houston this summer. The presentation of course was hard to disturb upon arrival. Another guest chose the steamed mussels (mussels in Shiner Bock and Toasted Ancho) upon Rich's recommendation, one of my friend's favorites and which he just raved about upon his first bite. When this big bowl of huge mussels resting in this wonderful smelling juice arrived, we knew it was going to be a hit with him (his first comment was “Oh my I didn’t realize it was going to be so much”. I must say a unanimous vote from all of us about the flavor since we had to all have one. They were by far the most delicious I've ever eaten. And of course we had to dip a piece of the accompanying toast in the juice, heaven. The fourth guest loves beef. Upon Rich’s advice he chose the Sliders with caramelized onions and which comes with a house-prepared spread. When they arrived they looked like very small “hamburger” meals in themselves without the lettuce and tomatoes. I gave a warning right off the bat to be careful or the following entre’ would be too much to handle. We all had a sample, delicious. I wish I could remember what the special spread was, it just made this appetizer. We could have ordered double appetizers and been very well fed for the evening. Our entries of choice were, Redfish on the Half Shell, Grilled Amberjack (end of the season, another year of waiting), and a Lemon Pepper Pasta with Shrimp. All were tasty to the very last morsel. I just can’t say enough about how pleased we were with our choices of the evening and how fortunate we were to have such a great primary waiter as well as the other staff members that made this meal so memorable. And since this was my 55th birthday celebration, I believe I can say I’ve eaten at a few restaurants and can very truthfully testify to this.
Best Restaurant - 2008
Reef is an intensely local restaurant that caters to our city's culinary eccentricities. Chef-owner Bryan Caswell, who grew up in Houston, used to do a lot of fishing. Fishermen understand the treasures of the Gulf of Mexico in a way that non-fishermen never quite get. At Reef, the menu changes every day to take advantage of what's available. Sure, there's shrimp, crab, oysters and red snapper. But there's also wahoo with plantains, tripletail with artichokes, amberjack with asparagus and sheepshead with orange mustard. But Reef isn't just giving Gulf seafood its much-deserved props, it is also paying homage to the whole spectrum of influences that makes food taste like it came from Houston. Vietnamese hot pot, Indian raita, Mexican carnitas and Southern corn pudding might sound like an odd combination of things to put on the same menu — except in Houston where we eat Vietnamese, Indian, Mexican and Gulf Southern cooking all the time. Reef also has the best wine deals in town. A bottle of Jermann pinot grigio that sells for $65 in an Italian restaurant across town goes for $39 at Reef. There's not another restaurant or wine bar in Houston that keeps their wines in temperature-controlled storage and sells them at these prices.
Best restaurant???? Not quite. Some interesting food, but overall it's just a little too odd. Deep fried macaroni and cheese comes to mind. Unfortunately, it went to my stomach, but it was something strange enoungh to try once. Check. Maybe c+/b- at best.
We agree with Houston Press. REEF is our favorite restaurant. The quality and uniqueness is always there. Everyone we take there absolutely loves it. They have a huge following of locals, dining on a regular basis. That tell you a lot.