It's not hard to stare across the turbid ripples of Lake Ray Hubbard and imagine romance. Lake Ray Hubbard spans 22,745 acres, so it looks like an ocean through a slightly sozzled night squint. And though Lake Ray reaches a maximum depth of only 40 feet, there is still plenty of room to wheeze amorous submarine metaphors into your martini.
Glistening lights on the other side of the lake add to the idyllic imagery, twinkling like faraway ships, or maybe nearby bass boats. The Lighthouse's bar and lounge is called Club She. Perhaps this name just reinforces the hovering aquatic mystery. In one of the Lighthouse rooms, in the corner of the ceiling, hangs a mermaid who appears to be lunging into the dining room from a potted fern.
Our Club She cocktail waitress is a woman of stature, just slightly under 6-foot-3, she says. I wonder how she feels about wearing the tiny black velvet hot pants of the Club She cocktail uniform. Maybe a little like GI Joe in one of Barbie's camisoles.
The band at Club She is tight, even if it is only a two-piece. They call themselves Southpaw and Saxman. Saxman is a burly bearded fellow in a coat and tie who wanders around the cocktail tables sweating and blowing into a soprano saxophone. Southpaw looks more like an aging Allman brother. He's dressed in a white shirt with a few buttons unfastened. He has the kind of mustache that looks like it needs to be raked after a hearty meal. He stands in front of a Korg keyboard and strums a white guitar. In between strums, he hits a note or two on the keyboard to sketch out a bass line. Southpaw sings, too. He has a very good voice.
Southpaw and Saxman play a whole range of favorites: from Kenny G, to Derek and the Dominoes, to Tony Bennett's I Left My Heart in San Francisco.
It turns out the latter number is apropos. The Lighthouse bills itself as an Old San Francisco-style restaurant. The Lighthouse has lots of gleaming wood paneling, and the servers wear tuxedo shirts and black pants. Around their necks hang untied black bow ties. I wonder why this is. I don't recall seeing this type of paneling or attire in San Francisco. The Lighthouse has a couple of big fish tanks in the dining room with cichlids and other assorted tropical fish. Yet I don't remember many restaurant fish tanks in San Francisco either. But San Francisco does have a lighthouse or two perched above dangerous shoals in the bay, so maybe this is the connection.
The music in the dining room isn't as memorable as the Southpaw-Saxman variety. It's the kind of music they used to put in elevators before they discovered that mirrors were better for passenger morale than string arrangements of Cheap Trick tunes. The piped-in music is mostly from movies and plays: the theme from Evita and "Sixteen Going on Seventeen" from The Sound of Music. The latter is especially fitting, as most of the servers seem plucked from that age bracket.
Which isn't to say they aren't attentive or enthusiastic or polite. They are all of these things and then some. It's just that...well, take wine service for instance.
We order a bottle of Echelon Pinot Noir. Our very enthusiastic and attentive server returns to our table with a sweating bottle of Ecco Domani Pinot Grigio. This is an understandable mistake. Both wines begin with "Ec"--though phonetically they have as much in common as Lake Ray Hubbard and San Francisco Bay do--and contain the word "pinot." We restate our request. The server takes the wine away and returns with Ecco Domani Merlot. It's the "Ec" that's hanging him up. We suggest he look for a label that begins with "Ec," contains the word pinot and is pasted over a bottle holding liquid that looks like berry Kool-Aid. This works.
But the meal doesn't, at least not as well as Southpaw and Saxman work Club She. It starts with the salads. A blond server positions herself behind us with a tray of three iceberg-lettuce salads. The iceberg and the beefsteak tomato and onion salad are the complimentary choices that go along with The Lighthouse's USDA prime Midwest, grain-fed, aged beef. But only two of us ordered beef, and none of us ordered iceberg salads. The server insists that we must have these iceberg salads, and she begins to place them at the table settings. We insist there must be some mistake. She walks away with her salads and a demeanor that could not be described as enthusiastic or polite. Maybe she's 17 going on 18.
Our first appetizer is escargot, and just as it arrives, our server adds tiny little forks to our place settings. The escargot is served on a platter: a heap of portabella mushrooms, caramelized onions, asparagus tips and snails in a dark brown demi glace. The snails are not in the shell, so we wonder why we were given the tiny forks. Then one of my companions crushes a large piece of shell in his molars. We wonder why he wasn't using his tiny fork. The sauce resembles a thick gravy you might ladle on mashed potatoes in a Luby's line. We wonder about that, too, as this flavoring doesn't seem to work with snails.
Just then we notice a chef walk by. Our server introduces him to us as Javier Pérez, the new Lighthouse executive chef. Our server explains that Pérez was executive chef at Nicholini's. Indeed, on his chef's coat is embroidered "Nicholini's" next to his name. We wonder why The Lighthouse doesn't give him a Lighthouse chef's coat instead of making him borrow the one from his old job, but we ask him about the snail sauce instead. Pérez explains the sauce is a typical wine/veal stock reduction. Then he mumbles something about gristle and pork fat. We wonder about this, too.
But our perplexity is diverted when the crab cakes arrive. After sampling the cakes, we wonder if there are little knives to go with the little snail forks because these cakes seemed more like something to spread on crackers than something to eat with a fork. The Crab cakes came with shoestring potatoes that looked like potato chips with a waffle pattern. These were stale. After they take our plate away, we wonder why no one tried to spread the crab cakes onto the potato chips to see if that made anything taste better.
The Lighthouse fancies itself a seafood and steakhouse supper club. But it's mostly a steakhouse. Virgil Block, the Rowlett businessman who opened The Lighthouse, named the seven USDA prime Midwest, grain-fed steaks on the menu after his seven grandchildren. We order a medium Lauren's petite filet mignon and a medium-rare Brittany's bone-in rib eye. Lauren arrives well-done, so we send it back. Brittany is a little overcooked, too, but we decide to work with her. Brittany has an off, sour taste, which grew to resemble blue cheese the closer you got to the bone. Very spooky.
The seafood wasn't named after anyone. This didn't help much. Mixed seafood grill had sea bass, salmon and jumbo shrimp. We doubted any of these items kissed a grill, although they very well could have necked with microwaves. There were no singe marks, and the fish textures were spongy and mushy. The shrimp was dry and rubbery. A tail was catapulted across the table and disappeared into the supper club darkness when we tried to cut it with a fork. We never found it. We wonder if anyone else did.
Herb-crusted sea bass arrived with Alaskan crab claws on a bed of garlic-whipped potatoes, spinach and mango chutney. It was hard to tell what was what. The fish resembled the potatoes, and the chutney resembled the fish in its garlic-whipped potato mimicry. The fish was spongy and soggy. The crab claws were mealy and overcooked. Someone at our table wondered why they didn't just serve fish out of Lake Ray Hubbard. Then someone else at our table mentioned offal and storm drains.
We didn't need to order dessert, because Lauren arrived just as our plates were cleared. We all took pieces of Lauren, savoring her perfect medium hue and the bitter grill singe covering her surface. After devouring Lauren, we were too bewildered to try The Lighthouse apple crunch.
So we go back to Club She. We order Echelon Pinot Noir by the glass just to see what we get. We wonder if Southpaw and Saxman can cook, too.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Dallas dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.