The Shops at Riverside Square in Hackensack beckon shoppers with upscale brands and chain restaurants to match. Houston’s, opened in 1996, is the only one in the Northeast of the brand’s 15 locations.
On our visits, the welcomes were genuine, and we were seated quickly in an upholstered booth in the large, softly lit, appealingly clubby dining room. The pricey menu, primarily shared by all Houston’s locations, centers on steaks, chops and fresh fish. Contemporary options such as Thai steak–and–noodle salad and sashimi tuna salad are notched in among throwbacks like spinach-artichoke dip.
At $18 for a small cup with a dozen tortilla chips, that dip was ponderous with mayo, sour cream, heavy cream and three cheeses. The steak-and-noodle salad, teased into a visually appealing conical pile, proved skimpy for its $25 price tag. Arugula, watercress, carrot, chunks of ripe avocado and unripe mango commingled in a cloying vinaigrette with a dozen mere nubbins of soy-marinated beef and a few long ramen strands. The basil, mint and peanuts promised in the menu description were MIA. The sashimi-tuna salad was tasty, though again meager, with just seven barely bite-size pieces of seared ahi over a fistful of greens with mango, for $25.
Considerably more satisfying was the house-smoked Scottish farmed salmon, a tender and toothsome 6-ounce swath for $18, marred only by a bland tarragon-and-chive mayo-based dressing.
Houston’s main courses furnished more for the money than the starters. A pair of irreproachable crab cakes were as rich as their $45 tab. Packed with jumbo lump crabmeat, they were sautéed in butter and served with a white wine–and–mustard sauce, not stinting on cream and butter. The kitchen does love the stuff, as in the lentil-dotted butter sauce over a delicately pan-roasted Scottish farmed salmon fillet ($29).
My hefty 7-ounce California burger (with avocado and Monterey Jack) was hearty, flavorful and cooked medium-rare as ordered, as it should be for $20. But the undertoasted brioche bun disintegrated on compression, and the shoestring fries were undercoooked.
Overall, the French dip au jus sandwich ($22) was the standout of my two visits. It piled a half-pound of excellent, thinly sliced prime rib on a crusty, house-baked hoagie roll. The bowl of jus, made from beef stock and pan drippings, was so good my guest who ordered it poured it all over the sandwich.
Meanwhile, another guest was poking at his $52 New York strip steak topped with sizzling butter. Graded prime and wet aged, it had been cooked in a gas broiler. While you don’t necessarily have to cook steaks over wood to get the best results, this one lacked char and beefy flavor. It came with fatally sweet red cabbage topped with dollops of mild goat cheese.
On the other hand, the whole table pounced on a dish of fluffy, buttery potato purée given an umami boost of Parmigiano-Reggiano. It came with a $41 Angus prime rib. Like the strip steak, it had been wet aged and cooked in the gas oven. Though impressively pink and thick, the meat was pallid on the palate.
Houston’s offers two always-available desserts, plus a seasonally rotating cast of one or two others. It adds up to the most consistently pleasing part of the menu. The two constants are portioned big, to share: a hot fudge sundae with whipped cream, and a plush five-nut brownie à la mode (each $11). Both are winners that everyone at your table will want to dig into. The sundae features excellent Callebaut Belgian chocolate and exemplary vanilla ice cream from Sedutto’s. The rotating cast includes cheesecake (plain or pumpkin spiced), Key lime pie, tres leches cake and homey apple-walnut cobbler. I suspect Houston’s over-delivers on dessert to ensure customers leave with a glowing last impression.
- Cuisine Type:New American
- Price Range:Expensive
- Price Details:Appetizers, salads, burgers, sandwiches, $3–$25; entrées, $27–$51; sides, $9; desserts, $11
- Ambience:Casual, convivial, no frills
- Service:Caring but not always knowledgable
- Wine list:Full bar