Uptown Park has its fair share of hot spots – From restaurants, to bars, to bakeries and boutiques; you will be hard pressed to find yourself bored on any given day. A newcomer to this lively and well-appointed area of Houston is Etoile Cuisine et Bar, whose focus is on French/Mediterranean cuisine. With their recent move to Houston, Chef Philippe Verpiand and wife Monica Bui made the conscious decision to sell their restaurant in San Diego (Rancho Santa Fe hills), Cavaillon Restaurant, and to bring a menu that would appease both those interested in traditional French offerings and those who prefer a more modern and seasonal approach.
If the goal was to replicate an “elegant French farmhouse”, then it is definitely a sexy one. Etoile Cuisine et Bar is not a large place by any means, but the set up plays kindly to the available space and does evoke an immediate sense of comfort. With a large bar and seating that allows you to get all in the chef’s business (via the up close and personal kitchen view), you will find that Etoile Cuisine et Bar fits quite well into its surroundings. The lighting was dim, but bright enough to enjoy the beautiful presentation of your meal. The scene seemed mixed and included socialites, those on first dates, and ladies flirting with the bartender (no judgment :)). The waiters are very knowledgeable, which is always a plus and were great in providing recommendations on both our wine and menu selections for the evening.
Moving on to the food, the menu is two-sided and represents the two styles of Chef Verpiand. On the “La Tradition” side of the menu, you will find those well-known favorites like Escargots Bourguignonne (Snails baked in Garlic and Herb Butter) or the Coq au Vin (Chicken braised in Red Wine, Purple Potatoes and Seasonal Vegetables). If you flip your menu to the other side, “La Saison”, you will find items such as the Plat de Côtes de Boeuf Braisés (Braised Beef Short Ribs, Butternut Squash, Mousseline, and Seasonal Vegetables) or the Risotto de Champignons (Mushroom Risotto with Aged Parmesan).
During our tasting, we got to play on both sides of the fence! To start the evening off on the right note, we sampled the Bisque de Homard (Maine Lobster bisque, finished with Brandy), the Raviolis de Champignon (Mushroom Ravioli, Port Wine and White Truffle Oil, Aged Parmesan), and the Escargots Bourguignonne. Being a virgin to partaking in “snails”, Urban Girl took the leap and immediately found the reason why so many loved this dish. The texture of the Escargots was perfect – not too tough and not mushy. The tenderness of the Escargots, blended with the generous portions of garlic and butter, made for a lovely beginning and was prime for dipping (bread that is). Although they were good; it will be the first and last rendezvous for Urban Girl. The ravioli was amazingly fresh and the richness of mushrooms and the addicting aroma of the white truffle oil quickly made this one for the books. For the filling, button, beech, or crimini mushrooms are used, but it really depends on what Chef Verpiand can get from the market. We uttered two words: smooth and velvety.
For our main entrées, we decided to continue mixing things up by ordering from both sides of the menu: Magret de Canard à l’Orange (Roasted Duck Breast, Glazed Daikon, and Orange Spiced Gastrique), Sole Meunière (Lemon Sole, Roasted Cauliflower, Fingerling Potatoes, Fried Capers with Lemon Brown Butter), Coq au Vin, and the Plat de Côtes de Boeuf Braisés. The Sole Meunière gets the “DAMN THAT WAS GOOD” award. We had made all our selections and were pretty set, when Monica, chef’s wife and partner in food, stopped by the table and softly suggested we also try this top selling dish. It was delicate and flaky as Sole should be when prepared correctly. The explosion of flavor, for such a mild fish, won us over! The next slam-dunk was the Plat de Côtes de Boeuf Braisés. Not sure if we’ve expressed it recently, but we love (to the 10th power) short ribs; and chef’s ribs were HELLA good! The meat was falling off the bone, and the butternut squash served as a wonderful medium to catch it and all its juices. Then our mouths, with big fat goofy smiles, were their final resting place. Guess that was T.M.I, but since it’s a review we should be good.
Dessert was overkill, but we mean this in the most positive way. We knew before ordering desserts that we were full, but the descriptions provided by the waiter were way to visual to let this course pass us by. We sampled the Dark Chocolate Pastilla (Raspberry Coulis, and Sorbet), the Pistachio Ice Cream (Profiteroles with Warm Chocolate Sauce), and the Thin Apple Tart (“a la mode” Fleur de sel, Caramel). The Dark Chocolate Pastilla was a mix between a chocolate lava/molten cake with the outside layer of cake stripped and replaced with a thin, crispy, and buttery pastry casing. We went in for a taste and had to ask the waiter to take the plate away! Yeah, it was that good. The Apple Tart was rich and the ice cream that melted across the warm tart created the perfect duo.
We are so glad that Chef Verpiand decided to make Houston his home and share his gift with all of us. He spent some time as a personal chef before opening Etoile, but truly prefers cooking for the masses – again win for us. As his wife says, “Phillippe has the sparkle back in his eyes,” and we know doing what you love can definitely do it.
Urban Swank did receive a complimentary tasting, but the opinions expressed are our own.