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That's Rich

Brasserie 19 is the place to see and be seen in River Oaks.

To see more photos from Brasserie 19's small but efficient kitchen, check out our slideshow.

The dining room at Brasserie 19 on a Saturday night might be the loudest spot in the city that offers a veal porterhouse on its menu. But it's a beguiling sort of loudness, a raucously mirthful atmosphere that signals Brasserie's status as Houston's new playground for the rich and nouveau riche alike.

On one of those recent weekend nights, my dining companions and I sat captivated on Brasserie's breezy patio, mesmerized by the parade of wealth that swished past us: an older gentleman in a purple suede suit with an extremely young woman on his arm; another man — this one enjoying a birthday dinner — being presented with a 1960s-era Playboy in its original packaging, then tearing it open like a schoolboy; a fleet of cars with exotic names like Bugatti and Maserati and Bentley. As the evening wore on into the night, the birthday boy grabbed pieces of bread from the table and held them to his head like a bull, making a show of snorting and thrusting his head forward, the cones of bread leading the way.

Try the pan-roasted duck with figs and bask in your surroundings.
Troy Fields
Try the pan-roasted duck with figs and bask in your surroundings.

Location Info

Map

Brasserie 19

1962 W. Gray St.
Houston, TX 77019

Category: Restaurant > Belgian

Region: River Oaks

Details

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.
Local chèvre ravioli: $13
Grilled octopus: $14
Tuna sandwich: $13
Croque madame: $15
Steak frites: $38
Pan-roasted duck: $28
Pork shoulder: $24
Cassoulet: $23


READ MORE
SLIDESHOW: French Nouveau at Brasserie 19
BLOG POST: Waiter, This Soup Is [Supposed to Be] Cold


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"That guy is making bread horns," said one of my dining companions with a wry laugh. Indeed, Brasserie 19 is the kind of place where you can make bread horns if you want to. The restaurant has an almost hyper-indulgent policy toward its diners, rare in a time when service suffers so regularly elsewhere — at upscale restaurants and otherwise.

During one recent dinner, I couldn't decide between the young roasted hen or the pan-roasted duck with figs. I'm glad I asked for a recommendation from the kitchen, who quickly encouraged me to order the duck, because it turns out that the young roasted hen part is misleading if you — like me — were expecting a plump little poussin with golden skin on your plate.

It turns out that the kitchen actually had stopped serving whole roasted hen, replacing it with a chicken breast, as too many diners were complaining of having to cut the meat off the bone. The blushing, medium-rare duck I ordered instead was entirely excellent, although I had to wonder at just how far Grant Cooper and Charles Clark are willing to let that hyper-indulgence extend. Will it eventually infect every item on their solid, well-constructed menu? I hope not.

Yet I can't count the number of stories I've heard of diners here sending back a beautiful piece of foie gras because it was too fatty, or because the foods on their plate were touching. I've witnessed it firsthand, too, when a man returned his expertly cooked red snapper for being "too rare." My friend and I sighed in disbelief as we watched it go.

"That fish was perfect," she despaired. And so is all of Brasserie 19's cooking, almost flawlessly so. I have yet to have a bad meal here. I have yet to even have a meal that I would consider just okay. Perhaps because of the impossibly high standards that the restaurant's clientele places upon the kitchen — or maybe in spite of them — the food at Brasserie 19 is among the best and most skillfully executed in the city right now.

And that's no small feat, considering the restaurant's tumultuous beginnings. It cycled through two chefs in quick succession, one of whom barely lasted two weeks, before leaving the kitchen captainless for a significant period of time. It was up to young sous chef Amanda McGraw to keep things running in the absence of an executive chef, and she did so admirably until Mark Schmidt came along a month ago, hired away from his executive chef position at Rainbow Lodge.

When I saw McGraw a couple of weeks ago, I asked her how the transition had been so far. She seemed genuinely relieved to have Schmidt at the helm, remarking of her new boss: "He hasn't come in and changed anything up yet. He's just observing." A smart move on behalf of Schmidt, and one that I hope marks the beginning of a fruitful partnership here.

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As its name would imply, Brasserie 19 focuses on traditional brasserie fare, things like steak frites, cassoulet, oysters and glorious pints of beer. If these rustic, often heavy dishes seem antithetical to the masses of trim, well-dressed socialites that populate the place, well...someone forgot to tell them.

It's for the best, really: The substantial food (in substantial portions, too) attracts all kinds, and its price points — while on the hefty side — are egalitarian enough to make Houston restaurateurs Grant Cooper and Charles Clark's latest restaurant a smashing success all the way around, joining the ranks of their fellow restaurants Ibiza, the late Catalan and the brash new Coppa.

The service is equally egalitarian here. And while you instantly know your place in Houston's grand social firmament based upon where you're seated (the tables closest to the front window are prime real estate — forget about sitting there — while the bar is the domain of pretty singles on the prowl), the treatment you receive while dining at Brasserie 19 never reveals otherwise. I've heard complaints that the restaurant is too heavily staffed at lunch, which I tend to agree with: The waitstaff clumps in herds near the front hostess station/bridge of the ship during lunch service, texting and chattering above you while you eat. But at dinner, that surfeit of waitstaff functions to make it seem as though you are the only table in the restaurant, or at least the only one that matters.

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2 comments
guest
guest

The Clark/Cooper group are douches..just ask any employee/former employee. Besides being overall slimey, there's no traceability of where their tips go.

Brent Jatko
Brent Jatko

Sounds delightful......rare duck breast or veal porterhouse? What a dilemma.

 
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