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For three years, brothers Alex and Eric Smith made at least a dozen trips to Texas, scouting out potential sites to expand their Baltimore-based Atlas Restaurant Group brands.
Houston – with its abundant hospitality, healthy economy and a lustful appetite – won out over Dallas. And on Sunday the Smiths will open the first of a double-whammy bid to be Atlas’ favorite new stomping ground when Loch Bar opens at River Oaks District. Soon after, the adjacent Ouzo Bay will debut, giving the savvy young restaurateurs a healthy grip on the eager palates and nightlife yearnings of the always eager River Oaks crowd.
“We quickly realized there’s a ton of southern hospitality here, with people eating out four or five times a week,” said Eric Smith, Atlas’ managing partner. “It made sense for us to come here.”
With a dozen restaurant brands in their native Baltimore and two in Boca Raton, Fla., Atlas is now ready to bring their high-energy game to H-town with both Loch Bar and Ouzo Bay. While Loch Bar is opening first, the side-by-side concepts fronting River Oaks District, 4444 Westheimer, are two separate restaurants with entirely different personalities. Both will offer upscale seafood menus with Ouzo Bay offering a luxe Mediterranean experience inspired by the brothers’ Greek heritage.
Loch Bar is an entirely different animal, billing itself as a classic seafood tavern and speakeasy. What does that mean? Visually, it resembles a sophisticated seafood brasserie, paneled in white subway tiles, black wainscoting, globe lights, and tufted mahogany-colored banquettes and booths. A generous cocktail bar and separate raw bar offer counter seating; old diving helmets and framed sketches of giant oysters decorate the walls. In its effort to suggest time-honored raw bar restaurants of the Northeast, Loch Bar is spot on.
So too is the menu: Shellfish towers loaded with oysters (there will be 16 varieties available), clams, mussels, shrimp, king crab legs and Maine lobster. There’s lobster bisque, Maryland crab soup and cream of crab soup with sherry. Cold appetizers include gravlax carpaccio, yellowfin tuna poke and truffled deviled eggs; hot options include oysters Rockefeller, grilled oysters, clams oreganta, Chesapeake Bay crab dip, moules frites and fried lobster sliders.
The Smiths also recognize the local palate: they’ve included dishes such as chicken and sausage gumbo, leche de tigre scallop ceviche, a duck banh mi, fried oyster or shrimp po’boy, shrimp and grits, and Cajun-spied snapper etouffee. There’s also fish and chips with batter thoughtfully enlivened by Saint Arnold’s Brewery Art Car IPA.
The remainder of Loch Bar’s menu hits on the classics: hearts of romaine Caesar, butter-poached lobster roll, and honest Maryland crab cakes, charcuterie and cheese plates, Maine diver scallops, grilled Atlantic swordfish, live Maine lobsters, “Eastern Shore” fried chicken, and, for the spare-no-expensers, American and Russian caviar service.
Wash it all down with a wine list curated by well-known Houston somm Evan Turner, and a whiskey program that aims to be Houston’s finest with as many as 400 labels. The Loch Bar signature cocktail is made with Maker’s Mark 46 bourbon, lemon juice and honey simple syrup.
With seating for 175 including a patio, Loch Bar is ready to entertain with live music daily.
The restaurant opens at a time when the culinary experience at River Oaks District is at fever pitch. Earlier this week saw the opening of MAD, a grand and glorious Spanish restaurant specializing in the flavors and design of Madrid. The Smiths are creating double-header anticipation with Loch Bar and Ouzo Bay, both joining an already sophisticated dining lineup that includes Steak 48, Bisou and Le Colonial. The Smiths revel in the competition.
“If we add to the concept then people will come to River Oaks District and stay here. The diner can bounce around from one restaurant to the next,” Eric Smith said. “We see that as further the market and keeping the traffic here.”
Already, the Smith brothers are planning on generating even more traffic. Before either restaurant opens they’re eyeing another spot in River Oaks District for another Atlas concept to come to town – a go big or go home move if there ever was one.
Now that’s thinking like a Houstonian.
Loch Bar, 4444 Westheimer at River Oaks District, 832-430-6601; lochbar.com/houston. Serving full menu daily from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m., with a late-night food menu from 1 to 2 a.m. Bar open until 2 a.m.
By: Greg Morago | Updated: June 21, 2019