It’s funny how much a name matters. Would anyone have boogied to the Beach Boys if they’d stuck to the original name, The Pendletones? Would every lame cover band in the world know “Stairway to Heaven,” had Brit rockers The New Yardbirds not changed their name to Led Zeppelin? That’s why The Bottom, Bluebonnet Circle’s newish seafood restaurant, piqued my curiosity.
The restaurant, once known as Rock Bottom, inexplicably dropped the “Rock.” The new name conjures images of a shady dive bar or strip club, filled with halfway-house runaways, as well as unfortunately echoing terms like “bottom-dwellers.” The re-branding seems even more questionable when you consider how many other restaurants in its location have dropped off the map. That same building recently housed Ocean Rock, and if you want to go back even further, Fishmongers. (That location is on the verge of earning a spot on my list of restaurant sinkholes — places where eateries go to die.)
The décor does little to stake out a new identity for the restaurant. It looks exactly like its predecessors — not necessarily a bad thing, but you’d think the new owners would have at least rearranged the furniture a bit. The place has that beach shack feel, with some vaguely nautical bric-a-brac. And there are enough televisions to cast the place as a sports bar. On a recent visit, the dining room was practically empty, which can sometimes be a harbinger of bad service. But our server was prompt and pleasant and suggested, of all things, that the “seafood was really good.”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for self-deprecating humor and sea puns, but the menu takes the word “bottom” to new depths. The kid’s menu is called, “Lil’ Bottoms,” and the restaurant’s slogan is, “where it all ends.” I’m no marketing guru, but management seems to be setting the bar (ahem) pretty low. Worse, the food lives up to the name.
On our server’s recommendation, we started with the “bottom layer dip” ($7.69), an enormous bowl of queso with dollops of guacamole, sour cream, black beans, pico de gallo, and jalapeños. The flavors were all there, but it was hard to get past the lukewarm temperature. A thin layer of cheese skin had formed over the top of the bowl, signifying that perhaps it was left under a heat lamp too long. While that might have been a service issue, the stale chips were a clear sign that someone in the kitchen wasn’t paying attention. On the calamari appetizer ($8.99), half of the fried squid were excellent and the other half chewy. The dish was served with a marinara and “bottom” sauce (which tasted curiously like ranch).
The entrées were just as disappointing. There were myriad problems with the halibut tacos ($12.99), not the least of which was that the flimsy corn tortillas couldn’t contain the enormous battered fillets and overload of ingredients. The cabbage, shredded jack and cheddar cheeses, pico de gallo, guacamole, and sour cream fell like depth charges onto the plate, as the tortilla split like a wet paper bag. The listless garlic chipotle vinaigrette added little to the dish. But I could have forgiven all of that had the fish tasted like …anything. It was the kind of dish that gave England a bad reputation for culinary arts. While the fish in the ahi tuna sandwich ($10.69) was cooked medium rare and looked delicious, the drizzle of strawberry vinaigrette drowned out the tuna’s flavor. The combination was beyond discordant — imagine a Jolly Rancher melted atop a good piece of tuna. The accompanying crinkled sweet potato fries were the highlight of the meal.
Believe it or not, there are things to like about The Bottom. The location is great, the place has a nice patio, and the kitchen stays open late (until midnight on Monday and Tuesday, and 2 a.m. every other night). It also serves breakfast all the time, which is something Chow, Baby highly approves of. But no matter how cool the look or concept of a place, it’s hard to get past bland food. Besides, who wants a restaurant theme that gives a reason to call customers “bottom-feeders”?
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