We were in the Galleria on a recent Friday night, so we ventured a little bit further west to this recent addition to the Houston restaurant scene. Located on a side street off Voss just south of San Felipe, this restaurant is housed in a fading strip center across from Hartz Chicken and a do-it-yourself car wash. It’s owned by the same folks that own Bistro Provence on Memorial. We were encouraged by the packed parking lot, and the cozy bistro style dining room was equally busy. The very accommodating hostess found us a table for two, and we were quickly greeted by our friendly waitress. Service was great from start to finish.
We aren’t sure about the origin of the name, but the food is a somewhat odd mixture of French and Italian. (A merger of two of the best mediterranean cuisines into one concept, according to the website.) We saw a number of families, so they may be catering to a mix of tastes. The prices were very reasonable. It was quite refreshing to find good wines by the glass for only $8 or so. Once we ordered, we were served two large bread sticks right out of the pizza oven. Dipped in the accompanying olive oil, we had to restrain ourselves from filling up on bread alone. We tried the calamari (no surprise) with aioli and spicy tomato sauces. Served piping hot, it was very good, laced with a few fried zucchini and pepper strips. We moved on to the salmon carpaccio, thinly sliced house cured salmon with a taste of lemon and dill, which was probably the best dish we tried. The person sitting next to us offered us a taste of the duck liver mousse, which was a little too strong flavored, resembling chicken liver. Encouraged by the low prices, we tried a delicious Italian style thin crust pizza with ham, goat cheese (which they generously applied), and artichokes. The pizza also fared well for lunch the next day. Finally, we ordered the duck leg confit entrée. Served in a casserole over white beans, this dish was similar to cassoulet, but without any sausage, pork belly or the like. It was tasty enough, and we give the duck points for being crispy, although it was overly salty even for salt lovers like us. The dish was better a couple days later when the beans were cooked a little longer for Sunday evening supper.
We enjoyed our meal. Give this place a try. No reservations are taken except for larger groups. If we lived in the neighborhood, we’d probably be regulars. But with Cafe Rabelais and Max and Julie’s nearby, we may not get out there very often.
6510 Del Monte
French Laundry — we made it to this foodie temple, although not without a herculean effort, which included calling with three phones exactly 60 days in advance at exactly 10 am PST per the official Greenwich Mean Time website; for such an over the top dining experience, the atmosphere and service were not overly stuffy or pretentious, although jackets are required and many men had on suits and ties; from start to finish, the service was great; this is not a value destination, expect to spend, including wine, at least $400/person for 9 to11 courses, depending on whether you count the amuse bouche (Thomas Keller’s signature smoked salmon tartare ice cream cone) and mignardises (i.e., post-dinner candies); one positive is that service is included in the price so no angsting over high tips; highlights of the evening included Keller’s famous oyster and pearls (pearl tapioca with poached oysters topped generously with caviar), sweet butter poached lobster tail, rabbit shoulder stuffed with sweetbreads (which looked like a lollipop), and the Snake River Farms beef tenderloin (a combination of Japanese Wagyu and American black angus, which was the best beef we’ve ever tasted); for $30 extra you get the foie gras torchon, which was very good but no better than the one we had recently at Au Petit Paris; our friendly captain (who is marrying a girl studying at University of Houston) showed us the kitchen (small, calm, quiet, almost clinical) and arranged for Thomas Keller to sign our menu (which you receive at the end of the meal) with our names.
So, for the big question — was it the best meal we’ve ever had? Some of the dishes were as good as any we’ve tasted, but, all things considered, we can’t say this was our best meal ever. Would we return? Sure, in a heartbeat, if someone else went through the effort to get the reservation and picked up the tab.
Auberge du Soleil — we stayed at this hotel, which offers one of the loveliest settings in the area for dining, with indoor and outdoor seating on a deck overlooking the valley; although somewhat formal in style, dressing up is not required; dinner is a multi-course tasting menu (about $95/person); everything we tried was delicious — asparagus soup, risotto, seared foie gras, and beef tenderloin; the bar area also has outdoor seating and the bar menu has a number of options, from appetizers to burgers to steak frites; we also enjoyed breakfast here; service was top notch throughout the hotel.
Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen — located in an old house, on a side street by the railroad tracks in St. Helena, this popular restaurant (particularly liked by the locals) is owned by the same woman who has Mustards, the longtime and still very popular restaurant on the valley’s main drag; although the setting is informal, reservations are a must; service was friendly but not particularly attentive; we enjoyed the calamari, pulled pork sandwich, and crispy wood smoked duck; this was a nice change of pace from our fancier dining experiences the prior two nights, and we would return.
Gillwood’s Cafe — popular, very casual restaurant on Highway 29 in downtown St. Helena; very good for breakfast; delicious corned beef hash.