Last night was Jaime's birthday, and we went to Perry's Grill and Steakhouse, here in Clear Lake on Bay Area Blvd. It's probably the finest dining to be had in Clear Lake, and I've been there a few times over the years. Many of the engineers I work with in Baytown (most of whom also live out here in the CLC) have their company anniversary dinners at Perry's – it's a popular place.
As you walk in, you see the large bar (which has been expanded since the last time I was in) behind a panel of floor to ceiling frosted glass that separates it from the foyer. There was a jazz trio playing on Friday when we were there: a stand up bass, grand piano and drums.
As you enter the dining room, a smallish and slightly crowded space, the first thing that is noticeable is the large wine cellar – it fills up the entire wall between kitchen and dining room, and contains probably a dozen private boxes. Perry's is pretty well known in the Clear Lake area for the unique wine list – and the wine cellar is displayed obviously as the pride of teh restaurant.
The dining room feels a bit like a bistro with booths. A large serving buffet juts out from the kitchen entrance (just to the side of the wine cellar) – it was serving as a waitstaff prep area on this night. My father in law said that when Perry's first opened, it was a far less formal restaurant, and was a cafeteria style place – the buffet was where you picked up your food after ordering it at the entrance. In any case, the place has a bistro feel, but the booths are kind of enclosed, and so keep it pretty quiet.
For wine, I usually jump right to the Chilean section in restaurants with a larger list, and tonight was no exception – the wines are so good and generally so reasonably priced. The waiter actually recommended a brand I recognized from my Chilean wine tasting class – Cono Sur small batch merlot (20 barrels). Since this is generally a wine you're only going to find in a restaurant (typically, these small batch wines are special purchases by the owners directly from the vineyards), I was interested. That it was only $45 sealed the deal. Jaime doesn't usually like merlot – to phenolic and dry, but since this was a 2001 vintage wine, I assumed most of the heavy, bitter tannic flavors so dominant in merlot that give it those puckering qualities would be mellowed with age – and I was right. The tannins were a big part of the flavor – not as big and oaky as a cabernet, but defintely a woodsy flavor, but balanced just right with the dryness of the alcohol, just like a good merlot should be.
I started with the turtle soup – which typically doesn't actually have turtle meat in it, but is a little bit of everything spiced with some cajun type spices. It's a thick, stewy kind of starter, and usually is orange colored (from I guess paprika?). When I had it at Brennan's for the first time a few weeks ago, the waiter walked around with a fifth of brandy and poured a splash into everyone's bowl – at Parry's the brandy came in a small glass for pouring in yourself. The soup was a little too pepperey, and the spice overwhelmed the brandy, but it was otherwise alright.
For dinner, I had the special – the chateau-briand, a tender cut of beef sirloin rubbed in pepper, seared on all sides (whole) and carved tableside, where each piece is cauterized in hot butter immediately after carving before being topped with Bearnaise and a rich brown sauce.
Interestingly, the floor manager was the one completing the preparations, and after cutting the first piece confirmed with my waiter that I had ordered the meat medium. He adjusted his searing time accordingly (and served it perfectly done, to order). All in all, no less then 4 different members of staff served us during our meal.
Speaking of tableside, almost all of the meals were prepared in part in front of us. Jim got the famous cold smoked pork chop, which comes out on the bone, and is carved off in front of you. For dessert, Jaime got bananas foster, one of the penultimate table-prepared dishes, and I got a digestif called 'cafe diablo', a flaming coffee drink containing about a shot each of frangelica, whiskey and brandy, which are mixed in the coffee and then the mixture is set aflame. Once it's burning, the preparer uses a ladle to draw flaming coffee-mixture about 3 feet above his prep table, where he lets it drip, flaming, back into the glass carafe he uses for the mixing bowl. It's an impressive concoction to look at, and quite good to drink, too.
The best part of Perry's – a premium restaurant experience for about half the price – the four of us were out of there for just at $200 (with an extra 20 thrown in by me to our waiter for the good recommendation on wine).