Warm, dripping with tiny streams of caramel that pooled on the plate, the sticky toffee pudding arrived with a not-so-small scoop of ice cream, placed prominently atop the dark, rich cake. It is a rare occurrence for a dessert to deserve top billing in my book. This sweet creation at Star Fish was no ordinary dessert.
Goat cheese ice cream is not a new trend on local menus, but somehow the savory, creamy mingling of the ice cream with the decadently sweet, smoky, caramel-soaked cake was the most enjoyable bite of the meal.
Star Fish opened earlier this year, in April, in a spot that has quickly become one of the prettiest dining rooms in the city. The space was designed by Lee Ellis (Cherry Pie Hospitality) and Austin-based firm Design Hound. The pop of aquamarine among a sea of black patent-leather seat-backs and booths and the elegant accents of the tin ceiling tiles and simple light fixtures, set against clean black and white tiles reminiscent of classic diners, play brilliantly together in what could easily have gone awry in a universe of texture overload.
This latest creation of Cherry Pie Hospitality, the restaurant group behind other local faves such as Pi Pizza and State Fare, shimmers and shines in almost all the right places. Eyes are drawn immediately to the 300-gallon freshwater aquarium that swimmingly sets the mood for this coastal bistro (especially at night, when it lights up the room).
There are two separate menus, both front and back, one dedicated to whetting whistles and the other solely to making it nearly impossible to choose just one dish. Star Fish’s name game is strong. Notwithstanding the pre-visit research, the decision to order swung back and forth between what sounded amazing and what sounded even more incredible. An assortment of signature sauces, like sriracha lime cocktail, sauce fleur de Chartreuse and jalapeño mignonette, are offered with fresh shucked Gulf and Atlantic oysters. We opted for the wood-grilled version, topped with maitre d’ butter and parmigiana.
The sautéed blue crab claws were presented with pickled Fresno peppers in a buttery, savory herbal bath of parsley, mint and dill. An abundance of crab claws in a soupy white wine broth was a great starter for the meal. The accompanying loaf of warm, sliced bread from one of Star Fish’s sister restaurants, Petite Sweets, performed a quick disappearing act from our table.
At $15, both the oysters and the crab claws exceeded expectations in taste and value. We also tried the shrimp and lobster soup, but found that it leaned more to the side of nothing special. The pieces of shrimp, lobster and fingerling potatoes were plentiful, yet the soup existed on a strange plane between tomato bisque and bouillabaisse.
Star Fish’s beverage menu is just as intriguing as its food. With delightfully crafted martinis as the central focus and a thorough selection of reds, crispy whites, bubbly, beer and even a special menu referred to as “petites,” the aim is to have something for everyone. Petites is essentially a listing of every spirit used in the house, available as tiny teasers for $3 and meant to be enjoyed before the meal, alongside dessert or just for a taste.
Curious about the ocean water tincture and oyster shell dry vermouth, we ordered Leslie’s oyster shell martini. I wondered if the drink itself would be “fishy,” considering the seafood-forward components, but I was pleasantly surprised by the crisp brininess that made for an interesting twist on a dirty martini.
The bar area is uniquely charming and could very well be a separate establishment. The vibe is cheery and the bartenders seem eager to explain the nuances of elevating a cocktail with green chartreuse or the use of Mediterranean tonic or why rosemary is torched. The Great Plains, made with bison grass vodka and grapefruit bitters, was recommended as a strong yet refreshing choice. It was a bit on the boozy side, but who really ever complains about that?
When the grilled deviled lobster arrived, it created a stir among the neighboring tables. The aromatics lingered above it, and in one instance all that time spent mentally drooling over the menu paid off.
Split down the middle, stuffed with a mixture of shrimp and house chaurice (a Creole pork sausage), and sprinkled with panko crusty crumbs, the dish looked and smelled divine. The lobster meat was soft and supple, with a touch of charred goodness here and there. The tail was rubbed with a mustardy sauce that didn’t necessarily need to be there. The accompanying side, a spinach rice casserole, was too salty and, frankly, the lobster didn’t need a companion in this case.
Executive chef Armando Ramirez has created a fine selection of dishes incorporating a delightful variety of seafood, from diver scallops and whole snapper to ahi tuna and king salmon. For those whose sea legs aren’t so strong, there’s an option for crispy fried chicken, Rohan duckling and a lamb T-bone as well.
The medium rare steak frites was plated beautifully, resting on a medley of wild mushrooms in a reduced glaze. The thick slices of oyster, chanterelle and shiitake were meaty and presented a natural and satisfying umami flavor. Although the steak looked amazing, a slice through the center revealed that it needed a few more minutes on the fire. Another one of our favorite items came in the form of a perfectly crispy french fry. The house-made fries were the perfect way to sop up the delicious mushroom glaze.
There are fresh crudos available every night and daily fish specials that rotate weekly depending upon the market. A menu favorite that’s always available is the pan-roasted halibut. The fish is fresh, but the creamy shrimp sauce that covers the plate is cold. I’m not a fan of flash-fried veggies; more times than not this practice turns vibrant, green beauties into sad, shriveled shells of what they once were. A few stalks of broccolini lay limply between the fish and the rice.
I asked the server to check if the sauce was intentionally served cooled. He returned from the kitchen with an apology and took my plate away. Take two of the fish was piping hot, plate, sauce and all. The flakey white halibut was seasoned and cooked well, and the side of buttered rice was nothing out of the ordinary. Overall, the $33 price seemed a tad excessive for a dish that lacked pizzazz.
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The service and staff are on point, attentive and sincerely invested in your experience. In addition to how charming and trendy the interior felt, we really appreciated the care of a manager stopping by to check in and servers pushing in chairs, picking up napkins and sharing the specials with a genuine smile.
Star Fish is a welcome addition to the Heights. Sipping on a cocktail in the bar with a plate of sautéed crab claws may very well be my new favorite pastime, but dinner seems more suitable for special occasions.
191 Heights Boulevard, 832-831-9820, starfishhouston.com.
Hours: Sunday through Wednesday, 4 to 10 p.m.; Thursday through Saturday, 4 to 11 p.m.
Sautéed blue crab claws $15
Grilled deviled lobster $45
Wood-grilled gulf oysters $15
Shrimp and lobster soup $18
Steak frites $39
Pan-roasted halibut $33
Leslie’s oyster shell martini (large) $11
Great Plains $11
Sticky toffee pudding $9