The 43rd Restaurant and Lounge
February 14, 2008
I honestly didn’t expect to go out for dinner on Valentine’s Day. I was expecting to cook dinner and split a bottle of wine with my hubby and watch Lost. So it came as a pleasant surprise when my husband woke me up yesterday morning with Valentine’s Day cards and notification of a dinner reservation for us at 8pm at a downtown restaurant.
“Ooh, which one?” I excitedly asked.
“I believe it’s called The 43rd Restaurant or something along those lines,” he answered, speculatively.
I sat in confused silence. I’d never heard of this restaurant before, which was odd for me.
“Is it new?” I queried.
“Hmm. I don’t know. I just heard about it on The Sports Animal. Apparently, they’re on the 43rd floor of some building downtown and they were having some kind of special Valentine’s dinner and, hey, I thought it sounded fun.”
Still confused. How have I never heard about some restaurant that’s perched high above our skyline downtown and which apparently offers great views? This did not bode well. I either hadn’t heard of it because (a) it’s terrible or (b) it’s just mediocre. Neither were particularly appealing options.
All that aside, I was still excited to try it out. My sweet husband had put effort into creating a Valentine’s dinner date for us, just as I had been lamenting the week before that we never go downtown for date nights anymore, so I was going to enjoy our night out no matter what.
Getting to the restaurant itself was no easy task. You have to park at street level or in a parking garage across the street and walk through the half-deserted streets of the “wrong” end of downtown until you reach The Wedge Tower. The garage parking is expensive, but — thankfully — the restaurant validates. The 43rd Restaurant and Lounge is located at the top of the Tower, which appears to be a giant, brown monument to 1980s excess and tackiness. It also did not appear to be the kind of place where you’d expect a restaurant to be.
Walking into The 43rd after the short elevator ride was like walking into a Bret Easton Ellis novel. There was a surfeit of mirrored surfaces — ceilings, especially — and everything seemed to have been decorated in that awful 80s palette of mauve, teal and peach. The restaurant had an air of being an executive’s club — all crystal glasses uplit with some kind of neon lights behind a faux-art deco mahogany bar and giant, tacky flower arrangements — transported through time from 1985. I half-expected to see Gordon Gecko and Patrick Bateman doing lines of coke together in a corner. It was quite a jarring effect, all in all.
Part of me admired the fact that absolutely nothing — nothing!! — had been changed since this place was decorated in the 1980s. It could have been a museum exhibit. But the other, more normal part of me was very put off and terrified of what kind of food this place would offer. That feeling was further exacerbated when the bartender brought me a glass of pinot grigio after I’d asked for a pinot noir. Maybe if I’d asked for a vodka martini….
More frighteningly, the entire place had been decorated as if someone set an entire class of fourth graders loose upon the premises: there were bright red, glittery hearts on every available surface; the tables had been sprinkled with a frowzy mixture of hard, plastic fake rose petals and Red Hots; the candleholders had tealights in them, surrounded by handfuls of candy hearts with messages on them; and there was a cloying, thoroughly annoying single red rose placed on every table. And, on the speakers, someone had put on a CD of Barry White songs — wait, it gets worse — done by random cover artists. It wasn’t even the Velvet Voice himself. It was romance, done by someone who had clearly never experienced a romantic moment in their lives: bizarre and sad at the same time.
All of these factors were combining to form the perfect storm of the world’s tackiest Valentine’s Day dinner ever. And then, suddenly, the storm cleared.
We were seated at a table with a truly stunning view of the city. The table was in a quiet, less-brightly-lit corner of the room and our waiter, a young kid, was warm and engaging and very efficient. The prix-fixe menu had some attractive-looking dishes on it. Things were looking up.
I ordered the scallops as an appetizer, while Richard ordered the crawfish bisque. The scallops were clearly fresh and perfectly prepared in a white wine reduction with pine nuts and red peppers. Richard’s bisque had a surprising kick to it and was crowded with lovely little crawfish. The meal was definitely off to a good start.
Our entrees were next: beef tenderloin, rare, for me and a New York strip, medium, with a cognac-mushroom sauce for Richard. They were also cooked perfectly. My beef tenderloin was curiously accompanied by avocados, black beans, corn and red onions. I shoved those off my tenderloin and to the side, where they formed a nice little salad of sorts. Richard’s strip came with fresh, steamed asparagus and roasted potatoes. All of it was delicious and none of it resembled what I had pictured in my mind when we first entered The 43rd.
The desserts were less than spectacular; they had obviously been prepared off-site and brought in. But at least the plates and desserts weren’t cold and wet with condensation, nor did Richard’s cheesecake taste of refrigerator (which is almost always what restaurant cheesecakes end up tasting like…). My key lime pie was too lacquered with whipped cream, but the filling itself was good.
Before we left for the night, Richard and I stepped out onto the balcony of the restaurant where — apparently — people often get married, with their reception back inside. The view down to the streets below and across the city’s orange and yellow lights was amazing. The sky above was the color of a deep bruise; Houston never does get “dark” at night, the sky just goes a funny kind of purple and I love it. The wind was fierce and cold, but we stood out there for a long time to take everything in. It was the best part of the night.
I know now why I’ve never heard of The 43rd Restaurant and Lounge, and it’s a shame. The food is good — not award-winning or ground-breaking, by any means — but good. And the view can’t be beat. But I’ve never seen it advertised anywhere. I couldn’t find a single review for it. No one seems to know it exists, and no one will if they don’t put themselves out there. And, more importantly, they need a serious face lift inside. People aren’t going to brave the desolate end of downtown and shell out money for a meal in a place that seems caught in a time warp from 1985.
I’ll probably return — not for the food, really, since I can make that at home — but for a drink at their bar, overlooking the city. It’s almost like a hidden treehouse that I’m excited to share with my friends. We can sit and reminisce about slap bracelets and Journey and Less Than Zero while we enjoy white wine spritzers and vodka sours, completely enveloped in all things 80s. One does hope, however, that the owners of The 43rd will see that this isn’t the best marketing strategy and update the place sooner than later.