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It's Le Bombe

A new restaurant has Republican bigwigs dancing on the grave of the French boycott

My tablemates, a French artist named Bernard Brunon and his architect wife, Nancy Ganucheau, ordered Bistro Moderne's bouillabaisse, which was a bold move since both of them are familiar with the original. Their favorite is served at the famous Chez Michel in Marseilles.

I sampled theirs and thought it was stunning. The broth was intense, the red pepper mayonnaise thickener had just enough zest, and the saffron added a heady perfume. The seafood was excellent -- I especially loved the mussels, which were mild, pale in color and wonderfully tender. They pronounced it the best bouillabaisse they have ever encountered in the United States.

The mussels were so good, I came back and ordered the moules frites (mussels and french fries) for lunch one day. Given the choice between having the mussels served in a white-wine broth or a chorizo sauce, I went with the chorizo. And I was quite happy with that choice.

Chef Philippe Schmit's playful fare: Avocado-crab 
bombe (front), Brie and duck Tatin and bison 
napoleon.
Troy Fields
Chef Philippe Schmit's playful fare: Avocado-crab bombe (front), Brie and duck Tatin and bison napoleon.

Details

Breakfast hours: 6:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. daily. Lunch hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. daily. Dinner hours: 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, and 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

Avocado-crab bombe: $12
Brie and duck Tatin: $11
Bison napoleon :$11
Braised lamb shank: $25
Basque chicken: $19
Bouillabaisse: $28

2525 West Loop South, 713-297-4383

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The mussels, which were a Mediterranean variety farm-raised in Washington State, were as delectable as before. The sauce is cooked with spicy sausage, which is then strained out. When we finished the mussels, the bottom of the bowl contained so much chorizo-and-mussel-flavored cream, we couldn't possibly get it all by dunking bread into it. I actually contemplated getting the rest of the cream sauce packaged to go, but then I envisioned myself drinking it in the parking lot. So I sadly let it go to waste.

Forty-two-year-old Philippe Schmit has a lot of experience with French seafood dishes. He was born in Roanne and apprenticed at several two-star restaurants in Paris before moving to New York in 1990 and taking a job as sous-chef at one of the best fish restaurants in the world, Le Bernardin. He went on to become executive chef at La Goulue in New York. Chef Schmit moved to Houston last year to work on opening Bistro Moderne.

If Schmit keeps up the quality of cooking that I encountered in my three visits to Bistro Moderne, this is bound to be the most sophisticated French restaurant in the city.


Bistro Moderne's grand-opening soiree was held just before the holidays last year. The event represented a symbolic new beginning for several different groups.

For the three cosmopolitan partners in the new venture, French chef Philippe Schmit, French restaurateur Jean Denoyer and Swedish investor Rick Wahlstedt, the party simply celebrated the launch of Houston's best French restaurant.

For the trendy Hotel Derek, the opening of Bistro Moderne hopefully will mark the end of a plague of culinary disasters. When the boutique hotel first opened, the food was served by the utterly awful Ling & Javier, a bad attempt at a Latin-Asian fusion restaurant. Then came Maverick, a high-end steak house with low-rent meat and not enough capital. Finally, in Bistro Moderne, the Derek seems to have found a restaurant with cutting-edge food and a decor fashionable enough to complement the boutique-hotel concept.

For French-food lovers, the opening of Bistro Moderne, along with two other new French restaurants, Bistro Calais and La Tour d'Argent, promises the end of a long drought. For too long, French restaurants in Houston have been going out of business or struggling for survival. Rouge, the stylish restaurant on Westheimer, even attempted to disguise its blatantly French fare by calling it New American cuisine. The news that French restaurants are opening again here is as refreshing as a cool front in late spring.

Last, for conservative Houstonians, the high-society bash signaled a change in the political climate. The gossip pages made it known that former commerce secretary Robert A. Mosbacher and his family and friends were prominent guests. And if Mosbacher and his gang of oil tycoons have found it in their hearts to forgive the French and eat bouillabaisse again, then surely the French boycott is over, once and for all.

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