I’ve long been a fan of Sheely’s cooking, initally at Riviera Grill, his first place that was at Gessner and Westheimer, across the parking lot from Churrascos – whose owner, Michael Cordua, incidentally, was very helpful as Sheely got going, which helped the Houston restaurant scene, too. Riviera Grill served a fantastic Chilean seabass at a time before that fish reached the endangered lists. And, Mockingbird has been a favorite for me and at least a few friends since he opened in 2002; I celebrated a few of my birthdays there along the way. His Osteria Mazzantini in the Galleria area, which had far too short of a run, was my favorite Americanized Italian restaurant, or Italianized American, to open among the several in recent years. His chef there, the experienced and skilled Paul Lewis, turned out some very enjoyable fare that was somewhat hampered by a darker-than-intended décor that did not quite set a complementary mood.
Mockingbird, which sports a full name of Mockingbird Bistro, is indeed a bistro in the broadest sense: it serves locally attune New American food that has been both approachable and skillfully rendered with excellent ingredients served in a white-tablecloth setting. With a noticeably well-trained staff, a nice list of wines and spirits, and staid setting, it worked well for special occasions and has had a clientele that has grown older.
The white-tablecloth aspect, bit of formality in the setting, and prices to match the quality of fare are some of the reason I believe that worked against Mockingbird in past year or so. It appealed to a customer base that was getting older. The restaurant did not have the kinetic energy that most of the newer and popular restaurants did. Sheely also mentioned that the downtown in the oil business hurt, as these companies and their employees did not entertain clients or themselves as much. These two things likely were prime drivers in the recent-month’s closing of Mark’s, which had a broadly similar clientele. Houston, it seems, cannot support too many white-tablecloth restaurants any more, as the restaurant scene – always informal compared to cities like New York, Chicago, San Francisco and New Orleans – has gotten even more informal.
Something else that might have contributed is, along with not just Mark’s with Mark Cox but also at Sparrow, Monica Pope’s most recent establishment, that Sheely had first won acclaim in the 1990s and had been in the game for a while. Possibly he, and the others, were not seen as exciting, or interesting, as they had been for so long. Even Robert Del Grande, the dean of the Houston chefs, rebranded his flagship back to Café Annie this summer.
I wish that Mockingbird was not closing, and I hope that Sheely is back in the game locally sooner than later.
1985 Welch (at McDuffie), 713-533-0200