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Bordeaux on the Bayou

French chef Cedric Guerin takes over at La Tour d'Argent

La Tour d'Argent (2011 Ella Boulevard) has reopened, with French chef Cedric Guerin in the kitchen. The restaurant, which first opened in 1981, went out of business in March 2003 at the height of the French boycott. Cedric Guerin's restaurant, Guerin's Bistro, suffered the same fate back in those heady days of "freedom" toast. We talked to Guerin on the phone the day before La Tour d'Argent reopened and asked him about his old restaurant, French-American relations and his new menu.

"It was hard, but it was a relief," he said about closing Guerin's Bistro. "I was so tired of the boycott stuff." Over the past year, Guerin has spent a lot of time in his garden and picked up a few shifts in Houston kitchens. "I worked at a country club for a while, then I helped a new French restaurant as a consultant," Guerin said. "I didn't get to go to France, but my mother came over here for a visit." Which Houston restaurants does the elderly Frenchwoman prefer? "Any place that serves buffalo chicken wings. She loves to eat wings."

So has the relationship between France and the USA improved any in the last year? "I think the boycott stuff is over," Guerin observed. "It's like Colin Powell said: The USA and France are like an old couple. They have lots of arguments, but they find it impossible to break up."

Guerin guarantees his kitchen will be cooking all its own stocks and sauces.
Guerin guarantees his kitchen will be cooking all its own stocks and sauces.

The new Tour d'Argent hopes to appeal to a more youthful crowd, the chef said. "We have a younger staff, a younger general manager and very reasonable prices. Appetizers will start at $6 and go up to $15 for foie gras. Entrées will run 20 to 36 bucks."

And what's the food going to be like? "We will have the regular stuff," said the chef. "Texas quail stuffed with foie gras and served with grapes sautéed in Armagnac, rabbit--"

"That's regular stuff?" we asked.

"Well, for French people it is," Guerin said with a laugh. Most of his recipes come from the southwest of France, where he grew up. The rabbit is stewed in tomato and pepper sauce, then served on country bread that has been toasted and rubbed with garlic. The chef guarantees his kitchen will be cooking all its own stocks and sauces. And he's ordering his escargots and other key ingredients from France.

There are 250 wines on the list, evenly divided between American and French. Unfortunately, the list doesn't include any selections from Guerin's home region of Bergerac, despite the fact that they're an exceptional value.

"I can't get any good ones here," he lamented.

Bergerac borders Bordeaux, and red wines from the two regions are extremely similar. Guerin's hometown of Mombazillac makes an intense, sweet white wine that was once more famous than Sauterne. Although it's hard to find in the States, it's still considered the ultimate accompaniment to foie gras in the southwest of France. "I will have to find a supplier for Bergerac reds and Mombazillac one of these days," the chef said.

As for the decor of the new Tour d'Argent, "You won't even recognize the place," he said. "It's very exciting; you know it's very old. A hundred years ago, the original lodge was built by a Canadian right by the bayou." What did the new team do to remodel the old lodge? "Well, first of all, we took out a whole lot of stuffed animals and old paintings," Guerin said with a chuckle. The new design features cleaner lines and more modern furnishings. But the original log cabin and its stone hearth are still there. In fact, the restaurant's most popular dining room is built around them. Seems the old lodge is the perfect spot for stewed rabbit over rustic bread.

 
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