The Higher You Climb ... 

In its former incarnation, the restaurant atop the Tower of the Americas was often (and surely affectionately) known as Jim’s on a Stick, in recognition of its long-time operator
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Come for the seafood, stay for the view. The sake-glazed tuna did not inspire, but a Tower perch is still divine.
Eyes Over Texas
600 HemisFair
Plaza Way
223-3101
11am-10pm Sun-Thu, 11am-11pm Fri-Sat
Credit cards
Entrées:
$22.95-$34.95
Accessible

In its former incarnation, the restaurant atop the Tower of the Americas was often (and surely affectionately) known as Jim’s on a Stick, in recognition of its long-time operator. Seemingly in search of a more upscale dining environment, city council terminated that agreement. Many months and much anticipation later, we have Landry’s on a Lance — again affectionately. Was it worth the wait? Let me count the ways — as affectionately as possible.

Certainly, the arrival experience has been enhanced, but it has also been blunted by the dry-water feature you’re obliged to traverse. (The City will plead drought, no doubt, but considering the money spent on tower renovations, the gesture seems wrong-headed.) If you go directly to the Eyes Over Texas reception area, ignoring the tacky T-shirt shop and “4-D” theater that now occupy much of the base, the experience is still a positive one on balance. The furniture is simple but appropriate and many original decorative features, such as the mosaic murals by Tom Stell, have been retained. Now, be prepared to wait. Though the elevator’s capacity is greater, only about eight diners at a time are allowed to ascend in it.

The reason is apparent once one reaches the restaurant-level reception: confusion reigns. Confusion was also rampant when I attempted to make a reservation by phone. The gist of the story was this: weekend reservations frequently fill two weeks ahead, and though I would surely get a table eventually, my wait might be up to two hours. I had resolved to spend whatever waiting time sampling appetizers in the bar, but at the base we were told that our table should be ready by the time we ascended to dining level. Having been separated from their party due to the capacity rule, the couple in front of us was giving the born-yesterday bevy of hostesses fits, but it finally appeared that our table was indeed available. Now, if she could just find it on that pesky, revolving ring …

The dining-room renovations are noticeable but hardly remarkable; it seemed that more attention had been lavished on the lavatories. Lighting is frustratingly variable, ranging from comparatively bright to distressingly dim as you circumnavigate the core. The view, soon to change with the completion of the new Convention Center hotel, is accordingly still the thing, but as fascinating as the name-that-building game may be, it gets old as one waits for appetizers.

Given Landry’s seafood bias, it’s not surprising that there’s only one land-based app option: Spicy Maple-Glazed Wharton County Quail, served over dressed greens. In light that was in a waning phase when the quail arrived, the lumps on the plate were dauntingly dark atop a few limp lettuce leaves. The quasi-carbonized crust was too sweet by half, yet once we got past it, the quail was moist, meaty, and robustly flavored. But beware: the orangey dots on the plate are not mere decoration. They’re an incendiary hot sauce, and the result is too-sweet followed by too-hot as you innocently pass your portion through them. Sublime balance, on the other hand, is exemplified by the Gulf Coast jumbo lump crab cake served in a pool of delicate chive butter. It’s a cake that can hold its own with any in town, and you might as well know now that it was the high point of the evening.

The waitstaff appeared confused by our sampling ethic, though that hardly accounts for the 20-minute delay between appetizers and our pea-and-Saga-blue salad with caramelized pecans. Score one for staff: it had been divided into three portions. Points off for the kitchen: it was swamped in creamy dressing, the greens were ordinary, there were almost no nuts, and the cheese played hard to get. Alongside the indefensibly awful bread, this dish was the nadir of the night — which, for its part, had fallen right on schedule in all its Cinemascopic splendor.

Seafood dominates the entrées as well, so it seemed folly to fool with steak or fowl. But the double-cut pork chop with an “aged sherry morel sauce” beckoned, so we partnered it with sake-glazed tuna and the prosciutto-wrapped diver scallops with a cheeky barolo sauce. The waiter had apparently taken our admonitions regarding doneness to the kitchen, and the kitchen had taken them to heart: the roasted pork chop was perfectly prepared and altogether appealing. But sadly for the morel maven in me, the sweetish sauce was served sans ’shrooms. Expressing surprise, the waiter returned with a boat of sauce in which a couple of fungi had foundered. Tasteless, they must have been dried for decades.

The kitchen had rare right on with the towering slab of tuna, but it was fibrous, bland, and little influenced by its sake glaze. Sliced spears of crunchy asparagus were the best thing on this plate. The kitchen’s prowess with vegetables was further underlined by the steak-house-sized side of haricots vertes recommended with the pork; they were crisp and simply dressed with oil. But nobody was impressed with the cauliflower purée that occupied pride of place in the center of the quartet of scallops. Had they been larger, the salty prosciutto might not have dominated, and the burly barolo sauce could have worked. By this time, we were about two-and-a-half hours (and as many revolutions) into our dining and viewing experience, and had drained the dregs from our single bottle of wine, an admirable 2004 Montes Alpha Syrah selected for value from the lengthy and pricey wine list.

We also shared a single dessert. Consider same, especially if your choice matches ours: the house-made chocolate torte layered with a raspberry-chipotle jam and clad in raspberry-tinged chocolate ganache. It was sensational (and large), and only by dint of great restraint did we deny ourselves a Cognac chaser. But we did retire to the bar for a final glass of South American vino. (Don’t order either of the malbecs.) If you really did have to wait for a table, this would not be a bad place to do it. It’s a unique and dramatic space with a big-city feel, and big-spender wannabes on a budget might consider it in place of the full catastrophe. Our bill for dinner came to about $250 for three, tip included, and we were consciously careful. If this is what the city had in mind with a regime change, they achieved it; if this is not what you had anticipated, you are warned.

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