By Brooke Viggiano
By Minh T Truong
By Molly Dunn
By Joanna O'Leary
By Francisco Montes
By Molly Dunn
By Molly Dunn
By Katharine Shilcutt
I look forward to meals at Charivari in a way that is wholly different from other nights out. There is a lovely, considerate quality to the elegant service that's rarely found in modern dining rooms. Some may find silver domes removed with a flourish from dishes to be anachronistic; I consider it a treat. I love the ballet of watching plates set down in unison or the civility of being offered a palate-cleansing sorbet between courses and a silver tray with gingersnaps alongside my espresso at the end of an utterly relaxing meal.
But for all this pomp and circumstance, Charivari remains warm and accessible. The service never seems outmoded but simply chivalrous. And despite both the conservative atmosphere and the Continental menu, Schuster's cooking is anything but stagnant. Instead, the Romania-born chef — a Yul Brynner doppelgänger who holds Escoffier in the highest esteem but also forages for his own mushrooms — continues to combine his classical training with newer culinary techniques and influences, to say nothing of the fact that Schuster has been serving seasonal menus since long before it was fashionable to do so.
Houston, TX 77006
During a recent dinner with my mother — who first took me to Charivari a decade ago during one of my all-consuming spaetzle cravings — I was delighted to receive an amuse-bouche of smoked eggplant mousse that was equal parts baba ghanoush and airy French finery in advance of a perfectly cooked Wiener schnitzel that covered the entire plate. (And that, I thought, could serve as a textbook example of how to properly bread and fry a piece of pounded-thin meat for all the chicken-fried steak wannabes out there.)
Dessert offered standards such as a wonderfully crumbly apple strudel, but also a Swiss chocolate tart heavily spiced with toasty chipotle. And Schuster's weekly lunch specials change every day, but range from paiche (pronounced "PIE-chay") filet with Peruvian purple potatoes and lúcuma sauce to Budapest-style beef goulash with more of that delicious spaetzle.
It's the Eastern European-influenced dishes that remain among my favorites here, perhaps because of Schuster's Romanian upbringing and his professional training by a fellow countryman who served as chef to the last Romanian king (who, it should be noted, is still alive and well). Only a chef as skilled as Schuster could produce the fine sear on twin lobes of foie gras — "Budapest-style" — that crackles under your fork like a finely torched crème brûlée to reveal the unctuous, marrow-like liver inside. And only a restaurant like Charivari could serve that foie gras alongside everything from squid ink pasta to black bear — both in season, of course — and make it all work together in one truly beautiful, good mix.
As a long patron of Charivari I have had to defend the antiquated decor more than once and i do so with a very simple response. I tend to go to restaurants for the food. If the food is no good what good does a contemporary decor do. Antagonizing to that, if the food is as good as at this restaurant, who gives too much about the decor. My dining experience is made by the food first and foremost and second for the chance of spending a great time with great people which will usually accompany me to a dinner like this. And without taking away from the servers in this or any other restaurant, if they simply do their job, they are mere sideline notes of the dinner. I am not going to a restaurant because the flowers on the table are fresh every day, or because the furniture is Hermes lined, or because all servers are super servile and give me stuff for free. I also love to eat at some hole in the wall places that have never seen a white table cloth.
Also I want to make it known to Ms. Shilcutt, that the beer lines have been around for a while, as long as I patronize Charivari, so at least five years, and I should know, as my friends and I have emptied the kegs underneath more than once completely. To all those beer lovers, if you have never tried a properly served German Pilsner, and I only know two places in town that do that, you need to come here. Try the beer and stay for a bar menu item before going to dinner somewhere else if you do not like the decor. But beer served like this tastes completely different to a Bud Light served at freezing temperatures in a breastaurant or beer served out of stale and moldy tasting lines as seen and experienced in a beer bar.
Foie Gras is indeed a treat to be had from time to time, lets hope the crazy PETA people do not succeed to get it banned in Texas (maybe an advantage of having armed people in higher numbers than California or of the Do not mess with Texas slogan, but so far I have not heard of any propositions to ban foie from Houston restaurants).
@paval Just wanted to make sure that it was understood I don't dislike Charivari's decor. I think it's perfectly nice. Although - as stated - "it may seem a bit antiquated" at times, this certainly doesn't detract from the overall dining experience. In fact, it fits with the overall feel of the restaurant. I just don't want it to sound as though I was using "antiquated" in the pejorative.
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