Life's a Beach - We Revisit Tommy Bahama

July 11, 2013

There's a certain unique appeal to an upscale beachside resort. The sun, the sand, and the tropical breeze combine to form a relaxing backdrop for doing absolutely nothing... but doing it in style. Here in the Woodlands, we've got plenty of sun, occasional breezes, but no sand to speak of.

But what we do have is the only Tommy Bahama outpost in Texas.

Tommy Bahama is a beach resort lifestyle brand, offering casual clothing, swimwear, accessories, and more. Basically everything you'd need for a quick trip to St. Maarten. They also operate a group of restaurants at a dozen or so of their resort locations, including the prime spot on Market Street overlooking the central park.

Inside the building is the clothing boutique, a busy bar, and a meandering restaurant complete with a shaded patio overlooking dancing water fountains. You'll find an energetic crowd of well dressed locals relaxing, sipping mojitos, and enjoying the resort-style setting.

The scene is definitely upscale and very engaging, but we were skeptical about the food. We'd visited shortly after the restaurant opened, and were distinctly underwhelmed by the offerings. But we'd heard rumors of a new chef running the kitchen, so it was time to reevaluate.

A recent balmy summer evening seemed like the perfect time to find out if the kitchen had upped its game to keep up with the hopping bar. So we donned our favorite tropical resort-wear and headed down to Market Street.

We were greeted by an elegant young hostess who apologized for a half-hour wait. After about ten minutes we were shown to our table. We perused the drink menu, wanting to get fully into the tropical resort spirit. Many of the drinks were enticing, with interesting ingredients that invoked memories of the islands. Looking around, it appeared that the de rigueur libation was indeed the mojito, a favorite of ours.

Our energetic waiter confirmed that the mojitos were not only popular but were very good, so we followed his lead. We placed our dinner order, and watched the sunset through the louvered windows.

In short order our appetizer appeared. We'd sampled this appetizer a while back at a Market Street restaurant tour, and our remembrance was very positive. A generous disk of goat cheese was encrusted with chopped macadamia nuts, drizzled with a soy glaze, and served over a rustic mango salsa.

The appetizer was as good as we remembered - the lush, creamy goat cheese was complemented by the sweetness of the fresh mango, and the soy provided a subtly salty counterpoint. The appetizer was devoured in short order, and it took great restraint not to order another one. But our entrees were on the way.

We were intrigued by the parmesan-encrusted (Tommy Bahama is big on encrusting) chicken. It was thematically served in a seaside diorama complete with a mashed potato beach, green bean rushes, and the casually landed encrusted chicken breast, the slightly spicy red pepper cream sauce lapping gently at the shore.

Doing our best impression of a resortwear-garbed Godzilla, we dug into the dish, and were pleased with the restrained, surprisingly complex flavors. The red pepper cream sauce was a well conceived adjutant to the encrusted chicken, adding just a hit of bite to the moist, tender chicken and the barely crispy toasted parmesan.

Tropical resorts are about indulgence, and we found an old-style indulgence on the daily menu. Steak Diane is something we've not seen on a restaurant menu in years. We were drawn to this classic dish, and wanted to see how Tommy Bahama's kitchen styled their interpretation.

We believe that classics become so for a reason, and disagree with critics who deride a restaurant for not jumping on the food trends of the moment. The nicely marbled strip steak was cooked as requested (medium rare, as we prefer) and topped with the traditional black pepper and garlic. Rather than cooking it in butter, a smoothly buttery/cream sauce featured lump crabmeat was spread over half the steak, giving us just enough of the essence of the sea to suit the tropical setting.

In the past, we'd dismissed Tommy Bahama as being strong on scene and weak in the kitchen. If this visit was any indication, we had severely underestimated the establishment's talented chefs. We're looking forward to a return to Tommy Bahama to explore the rest of the menu.

Tommy Bahama | 9595 Six Pines Road | The Woodlands | 281-292-8669

Tommy Bahama's Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

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