A fine French restaurant in Conroe? No way. Way. Despite the Chronicle’s Alison Cook’s declaration of Chez Roux as one of the best new restaurants in 2009, even our most seasoned foodie friends haven’t ventured up there and some haven’t even heard of the place. It does take well over an hour (without traffic) to get to the restaurant and, after a few glasses of wine, you won’t want to drive back to Houston. Hence, we stayed overnight at the recently renovated resort — La Torreta Lake Resort — where the restaurant is located. The 70’s resort (f/k/a Del Lago) has been redone with a contemporary Italian flair. The hotel was dead on a recent Saturday night but, admittedly, this is the low season for a lakeside resort. Our room was very nice and reasonably priced, although we didn’t appreciate an extra charge for valet parking when valet is the only parking option. Just include it in the room rate.
Somehow the developer managed to lure a seasoned Michelin-starred (Le Gavroche in London) French chef, Albert Roux, to open a restaurant in Conroe. No telling how much that cost. The restaurant is lovely, about 15 tables (including a chef’s table) in an intimate, warm, contemporary setting. The service was very good, although the bus help needs some polishing. Granted, it’s unlikely that a local teenager (or any teenager for that matter) knows the difference between Bordeaux and Burgundy glasses without some training. The General Manager/Maitre D’/Sommelier hails from one of Chef Roux’s restaurants in London. Don’t you know this debonair, nattily dressed guy had a rude awakening when he thought he was opening a restaurant in Houston and found himself heading north from Intercontinental Airport?
Although the hotel was empty, the restaurant was full this Saturday evening. One look at the menu and you realize that the Menu Prestige (tasting menu) is the way to go. A great value, 8 courses (including amuse bouche and petit fours) for $70. Each course was delicious, beautifully presented, and amply proportioned. Although clearly French in orientation, the chef (an American trained by Chef Roux) strives to use local ingredients. Mustard greens, wild boar, and Texas cheese made appearances. The courses in order: artichoke/quail egg/ smoked salmon; chicken oysters (the tiny piece between the leg and the thigh)/hazelnuts/mustard greens; cod/brandade beignet/carrot puree; wild boar chop/pork cheek roulade/turnip salad; cheddar cheese soufflé/corn kernel cream (cheese soufflé is a signature dish of the chef, localized with Texas cheese and creamed corn, but we thought the corn overpowered the delicate soufflé); cannele/chocolate sorbet.
The only down point of our dinner was the automatic 18% gratuity that was added to our bill; this wasn’t noted on the website or the menu. We didn’t argue that night, but raised the issue with hotel management the next day. We typically tip 18-20% on food but less on wine when we splurge (which we did here). Hotel management told us it was not supposed to be Chez Roux policy to charge an automatic service fee, and they allowed us to adjust our tip.
All in all, we had a big time in Conroe. (Brunched at Whataburger.) We’ll go back.
La Torreta Lake Resort & Spa
600 La Torretta Boulevard, Montgomery, Texas