AT THE STILL-NEW Star Fish perched on the edge of the Heights, the showy trilevel Tower Royale of fresh oysters, clams, dressed crab claws, rosy lobster tail, Gulf shrimp and spicy tomato juice oyster shooters glistens with crushed ice. Six homemade sauces, including Meyer lemon pesto, are proffered with appellation oysters, and the martini menu beckons with nine specialty cocktails, including classics like an Old-Fashioned made of apricot-infused bourbon. Hold on, we’re just getting started.
If you’re familiar with restaurateur Lee Ellis’ style and his growing empire of concepts (such as State Fare, Petite Sweets, Lee’s Fried Chicken & Donuts and Pi Pizza), you know he does everything as large as Texas. This includes his flair for interiors like this inviting brasserie-style space with pops of turquoise and nautical navy, gleaming white subway tiles, a 300-gallon aquarium, roomy booths and a raw bar. And Ellis doesn’t believe in short menus. Even his tiny Lee’s Creamery ice cream shop boasts at least a dozen house-churned flavors, including a rarity: avocado lime.
Here, seafood stars but the menu, executed by corporate chef-partner Jim Mills and exec chef Armando Ramirez, invites every kind of eater. A giant whole Gulf redfish (tempura-fried or grilled) shares menu space with a cheeseburger—made with short rib and brisket—Rohan duckling, lamb chops and five pasta dishes, like the impressive orecchiette laced with lump crabmeat, microgreens, an artistic swipe of basil pesto, and a splash of white wine and lemon.
“We’re trying to do something different with a wide variety of dishes, all done very well,” says Mills, a veteran chef and former culinary director for The Houstonian Hotel, Club & Spa. Take for instance the stellar steak frites made anew with a 2-inch-thick filet mignon (instead of thin hanger steak) lavished with umami-inflected wild mushrooms and decadent french fries deep-fried in clarified butter. Or the lobster tacos—a must—prepared with blue corn tortillas fried puffy San Antonio-style, and crowned with shredded lettuce and spicy avocado salsa. “We visited Fiesta Loma Linda Houston several times, tasting the puffy tacos to get our version right,” says Ellis, a perfectionist. Vegetarians will be all over sides like the cauliflower steaks and Moroccan carrots. And who doesn’t get a craving for loaded shrimp po’boys or fried chicken—one of the best dishes on the menu.