“Hey, guys. That lobster bisque should be out any minute.”
My three dining companions and I looked up with a collective slow burn even as our waiter departed for the kitchen. “I’m going to stab him if he says ‘Hey, guys’ one more time,” whispered one of us. We were at Preview Modern Seafood in Sugar Land and it was a nasty thing to say, though in all fairness, its utterer was moved not by imperious standards of waiter repartee but a deep and abiding hypoglycemia. To this point our group had shared four appetizers, three entrées, a bottle of wine, and untold pretzel buns, and yet here we were, on the brink of starvation.
The bisque arrived. We shook our heads in unison. The soup was approximately three millimeters deep and dotted with four lightly fried oblong morsels of lobster. It was as if some tater tots had washed up on the beach at low tide. The four of us stared at each other pleadingly. I thought, this is what those plane crash survivors in the Andes looked like just before they resorted to cannibalism.
You will ask why we didn’t just flee, decamp to some place like Houston’s for an ambitious refeeding program of French dip sandwiches. Well, as a matter of fact we did decamp to Houston’s for French dip sandwiches shortly thereafter, although reluctantly, for as spare as the dishes at Preview were, each was as interesting as it was tasty. To say that chef Jason Liao’s talent is inversely related to the size of his dishes is to pay him a high compliment indeed.
Hitherto known only to the kitchens of various Austin establishments, Liao is that rare restaurateur who can take old favorites and make them newly delicious, as in the case of his wok-smoked edamame, which comes glistening with kimchi butter, or his almond-crusted striped marlin accompanied by a cauliflower puree. The marlin represented Liao at his best, each bite’s salty crunch giving way to a delicately seasoned piece of fish so meltingly soft it slid down one’s throat almost too fast to be fully appreciated.
The plating was spectacular—the king salmon and Greek yogurt dish in particular is suitable for framing—and the fish and seafood, without exception, are as fresh as it gets. (The sea scallops were so sweet they actually upstaged the candied bacon they were served with.) And at times, Liao’s inventiveness is almost worth the price of admission alone, as with his appetizer called chips and dip, the former made of ultra-thin slices of red snapper fried as hard as the kettle variety.
I say almost because I cannot in good conscience recommend a restaurant in which four people risk malnutrition unless the $167 they spend there is chased by $85 worth of French dip sandwiches elsewhere, not even in this economy. To Preview Modern Seafood’s enormous credit, however, its name does not mislead. It truly is a preview, which is to say a teaser, a peek, a taste that leaves you hungering for more.