Restaurants / Openings

Montrose’s New Seafood House Is an Austin Restaurant Favorite — Clark’s Turns a Former Auto Shop Into a Scene

Your First Look Restaurant Review

BY // 11.09.23
photography Justin Book

On those Houston fall afternoons when the weather more than cooperates, there may be no better place to be than dining al fresco at the new Clark’s Houston restaurant. The newly minted spot comes from Austin-based MML Hospitality, comprised of restaurateurs Larry McGuire, Tom Moorman and hotelier Liz Lambert. Collectively, this trio of proprietors is behind more than 15 restaurants with myriad cuisines.

The Clark’s Houston opening marks the high-profile group’s first foray into The Bayou City and the third iteration of MML Hospitality’s seafood-centered Clark’s Oyster Bar (the first opened in Austin, the second is in Aspen). Like the original restaurant in Austin, the Houston Clark’s — designed by Lambert McGuire Design, the architectural and design arm of the hospitality corporation — is built in a former automotive shop. This one’s in Montrose — and it’s the largest Clark’s of them all.

Clark’s Houston (Photo by Justin Book)
The new Clark’s Houston in a former automotive repair shop in Montrose. (Photo by Justin Book)

 Beneath the marigold yellow-and-white awning in the expansive outdoor space, crowds looking to see and be seen are seated on cushioned deck chairs like you might find on the QE2. Inside, a clean, crisp nautical theme takes hold, awash in white painted shiplap, porthole-shaped windows and mirrors, while navy-blue leather cushions line the generous banquettes. Photos of hobby fishermen posing with their best catch, as well as glamorous Hollywood beauties luxuriating seaside, decorate the walls of the intimate dining room, where wicker-shaded pendants defuse the light after dark.

The dining room vibrates with high energy, care of executive chef Grant Harbart’s open-style kitchen, while an adjacent marble-topped oyster bar features a 280-gallon Takashi Amano-inspired aquascape.

Clark’s is billed as a seafood house that serves up the classics from New England to San Francisco, with service throughout the day into night. You’ll find oysters that formerly swam in the briny waters on the East and West coasts, as well as Gulf Coast-sourced seafood and seasonal catches bought in from elsewhere. Start with fresh oysters or clams with the traditional accompaniments ($4 each), or meander down the menu and don’t miss the crudo plate dressed in a wasabi vinaigrette with minced red onions, chives and capers strewn atop ($25).

Clark’s crab or shrimp Louis is a straightforward one served with either protein (in my case, a copious quantity of lump crabmeat) and crisp chopped iceberg lettuce, all beneath a layer of creamy Thousand Island dressing ($28).

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Although I proudly call myself a Texan, I was born on the East Coast and spent my formative years in New England, where I ate my fair share of the famed cream-laden New England clam chowder. Often made with quahog or cherrystone clams, it admittedly can be a rather heavy, bland-tasting soup. But here, the kitchen has transformed the hearty potato, celery and clam soup studded with bacon to a richly flavored one. It is brought to the table with a fresh bouquet of chopped fine herbs and traditional oyster crackers, as well as a welcome zing of Tabasco sauce swirled atop ($15).

At lunch, you’ll find sandwiches added to the lengthy menu. The tuna fish version is enlivened with a generous pinch of lemon zest added to the green olive and parsley vinaigrette. Harbart piles it between two slices of baked-in-house sourdough bread with a smear of aioli, bibb lettuce leaves and tomato ($18).

The lobster roll — likely to be the menu’s most Instagrammable dish — is built on a cushy buttered and toasted bun, the meat brushed with drawn butter, layered with bibb lettuce, accented with lemon aioli, and served with a pile of crisp, matchstick-thin French fries ($39). (Photo by Justin Book)
The lobster roll — likely to be Clark’s most Instagrammable dish — is built on a cushy buttered and toasted bun, the meat brushed with drawn butter, layered with bibb lettuce, accented with lemon aioli, and served with a pile of crisp, matchstick-thin French fries ($39). (Photo by Justin Book)

Seafood specialties include the not-to-be-missed oak-grilled Spanish octopus. The smoke of oak wood permeates its flesh before it’s sliced and served with dollops of bay-leaf-infused aioli ($23). The lobster roll — likely to be the menu’s most Instagrammable dish — is built on a cushy buttered and toasted bun, the meat brushed with drawn butter, layered with bibb lettuce, accented with lemon aioli, and served with a pile of crisp, matchstick-thin French fries ($39).

The catch of the day can include pan-seared Maine scallops ($44), wild-caught striped bass ($36), Texas Gulf redfish on the half-shell ($39), Florida tilefish ($46) and ahi tuna a la plancha ($48). All are served with a variety of sauces such as roasted garlic and herb butter, smoked paprika vinaigrette and red chimichurri. I tried the latter, which is made with the addition of red bell peppers and sun-dried tomatoes.

Desserts — the relatable, homespun sort — are made in-house by pastry chef Lindsay Garza. The salted butterscotch pot de crème is an unctuous pudding topped with whipped crème fraiche and two crisp macadamia nut lace cookies ($12). Get a jolt with Garza’s take on affogato. This is a warm espresso served in a tiny pitcher is poured over scoops of brandied vanilla ice cream, with a crunchy chocolate shortbread cookie by its side ($10).

Garza’s version of Key lime pie is a tart built upon a graham-cracker crust, topped with toasted shreds of coconut and a meringue that’s torched before serving ($12).

Clark’s Houston can be found at 3807 Montrose Boulevard. It is open Sundays through Thursdays from 11 am to 1o pm and Fridays and Saturdays from 11 am to 11 pm.

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