Chow, Baby used to spend a lot of time at Lambert’s Steak, Seafood, & Whiskey (2731 White Settlement Rd.) and was sad when it closed in March 2012. It was my go-to restaurant bar. I loved the staff, the Texas bric-a-brac, and the schmaltzy animal heads on the walls. Not to mention the food, which was a picture of consistency. But, like Pedro’s Trailer Park before it, the place couldn’t overcome the location.
Despite being a stone’s throw from the Mc7th development, Lambert’s couldn’t entice enough people to drive the couple of extra blocks to White Settlement Road. Some days it was packed, and on others it was a just the bartender, some tumbleweeds, and me.
I’m not ready to affix the “restaurant sinkhole” label to the address quite yet, but it’s definitely on my watch list. Needless to say, when a restaurant opens in a spot with such a history of excellent but short-lived predecessors, it had better be good.
In December, wunder-chef Marcus Paslay opened the building’s newest tenant, Clay Pigeon Food and Drink. And it is very good, if imperfect. The young chef’s menu doesn’t lack for ambition. If my recent visit was any indication, it could be just the culinary exorcism that location needs.
The décor is sparse; the bar area in particular looks as though someone’s girlfriend just moved out and took all the knickknacks. The dining room is warm and much more inviting, though it still sets a rather serious mood, appropriate for the place’s serious bill of fare.
The starters menu is an exciting variety of little morsels. My guest and I sampled several and were generally impressed. The stand-outs were the tender grilled baby octopus ($13), with ginger, garlic, scallion, soy sauce, and sesame seeds; and the roasted beet salad ($9), with baby greens, goat cheese, and pine-nut vinaigrette. The roasted bone marrow ($8) was a silken, divine bite, but it was served on grilled toast that was charred to the point that the burned bits obscured the marrow’s delicate flavor. The only real miss was the seared scallops ($13), which were completely overpowered by discordantly salty capers.
The biggest win of our evening was the seafood feature du jour: pan-seared pike ($23). The flaky, tender fish had the density of a halibut and practically melted on my tongue. It’s only fished a couple of months of the year, so both my palate and my need to feel special were satisfied.
The waitstaff was efficient and friendly, though our server lacked polish. When I ordered a bottle of wine, her up-sell technique was to tell me that she preferred another kind. As opposed to saying something like, “This other pinot noir is much better and only a few dollars more,” she just plainly stated, “I like wine X.”
“Great,” I thought. “Now please bring me the wine I ordered.” We did the same dance over our entrée selection. That being said, she was knowledgeable and pleasant, and our dinner was well paced.
Aside from some awkward but forgivable service moments and an overly salty plate of scallops, Clay Pigeon was impressive. In just its first six weeks, it’s already one of the city’s best dining experiences. Let’s just hope some of that West 7th crowd takes notice.
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