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The French Conundrum: The Culinary Idiosyncrasies of Salé-Sucré

Salé-Sucré's meals are worth the wait, but some lesser ingredients are a puzzlement.

Traditional, beloved French dishes like moules marinières or escargots en persillade are given the respect they deserve, but neither was overwhelmingly magnificent. The mussels were soft, flavorful and not at all gritty, but the white wine and onion sauce promised on the menu was more of a heavy cream sauce that overwhelmed the delicate brininess of the mussels and didn't properly display the acid of the dry white wine. It's a generous portion of mussels, but several of them were unopened and thus inedible. The snails also had a great texture and flavor, if a little salty, but lacked the oily herbal sauce that's so great for sopping up with a piece of baguette.

Another well-known French item, steak frites, featured an unfortunately chewy piece of ribeye that was otherwise well seasoned and plated nicely. The fries that came in a mini fry basket with both the steak and the mussels were divine, though, and I was incredulous when Romain informed us that they are pan-fried rather than deep-fried, because the ratio of crispy outside to soft inside was about as close to perfect as I've seen. We didn't finish anything on our plates except the fries. In fact, we had to ask for extra ketchup because we were so enamored of the incredible frites. Call it gauche. We didn't care.

A few inconsistencies are forgivable, but the sourcing of ingredients at a restaurant that seeks to exemplify French food culture is of utmost importance. The best meals I ate in France were the ones where I watched the chef meet with the cheesemonger right before dinner and choose the freshest pyramids of chèvre or traipse out to her garden to retrieve some vine-ripe tomatoes for a dinner salad. The quality of ingredients is everything to the French.

The moules marinières are good, but it's the delicious and crispy pan-fried french fries (or frites) that steal the show.
Troy Fields
The moules marinières are good, but it's the delicious and crispy pan-fried french fries (or frites) that steal the show.

Location Info

Map

Sale-Sucre

2916 White Oak Drive
Houston, TX 77007

Category: Restaurant > French

Region: Heights

Details

Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday and Monday, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Escargots en persillade: $10
Camembert chaud: $17
Soupe à l'oignon: $8
Salade Côte d'Azur: $11
Strawberries salad: $10
Moules marinières: $16
Steak frites: $27
Crêpe forestière: $10
Crêpe White Oak: $9
Crêpe Suzette: $8
Crème brûlée: $7
Mille feuilles framboise $8



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Which is why the use of lesser elements in a few dishes was so baffling. Before I even took a bite of my crêpe forestière, I could tell just by looking at them that the mushrooms stuffed inside were canned. Canned mushrooms are somewhat gray and have a slimier texture than fresh cooked mushrooms. Why anyone would use canned mushrooms when fresh ones are readily available is bewildering. I also noticed that the olive slices in my salad seemed to come from canned olives, and the fruit in a dessert crêpe tasted as if it had been previously frozen. Why, Chef, why?!

The most mystifying ingredient, though, was in the desserts. The crème brûlée was tasty enough, as were the crêpes themselves, but both the crêpes and the mille feuilles framboise, a stack of puff pastry, fresh raspberries and whipped cream, used canned whipped cream. Again, I ask, why? It's so simple to whip up some fresh cream and add a touch of sugar. Is it because canned whipped cream and canned vegetables last longer? Did they think people wouldn't notice? I just don't get it.

I would go back for that Camembert platter in a heartbeat, and I'm still dreaming about the divine crêpe Suzette, a simple dish of orange zest, orange juice and flambéed Grand Marnier poured over a gently folded, paper-thin crêpe with the edges just slightly crisped.

Dishes like these make it clear that Harel knows what he's doing. He's a French native and a classically trained French pastry chef. But somewhere between the concept and the execution, a bit of what makes French cuisine and flavor combinations so delightfully natural and wholesome is lost.

Unlike many French restaurants in Houston, Salé-Sucré doesn't put on any airs, and I appreciate the relaxed atmosphere and pleasantness of the people and the space. But the French expression "Il y a quelque chose qui cloche" comes to mind. It essentially means that something is amiss, but clocher literally translates to "to limp."

Salé-Sucré is limping a bit, but I desperately hope it's on the mend. Houston needs an unpretentious little pocket of France nestled in the Heights almost as much as the French need good cheese, good bread and good wine. And that, as the French would say, is beaucoup.

kaitlin.steinberg@houstonpress.com

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4 comments
alex
alex

Thanks for the article Kaitlin, I couldn't agree more with you and the comments posted. Being french and living in the heights, I had big hopes forr sale-sucre only to have been really disappointed by the lackluster meals i have had at the restaurant; the use of non fresh ingredients does not help. Even the savory crepes, highlighted by some, are average at best and frankly the chef would seriously benefit from a family trip to Brittany to discover what real crepes should taste like and how they should be made.

LaurenK
LaurenK

I think this place is suffering from an identity crisis. Some elements say “fancy French restaurant” and others say “casual creperie/café.” Personally I don’t think it has the chops to be the former—too many places with better food and service already serve $30 French entrees—but it could succeed as the latter, especially given its location. The thriving restaurants on White Oak tend to be relatively quick and casual with good food (however you define that) at a reasonable price. Focusing on things like crepes and moules frites and getting people in and out more efficiently would appeal more to the target market.

I could be wrong, but my impression is that the current strategy isn’t working since it’s nearly empty every time I go by. I wonder if the lack of business is part of the reason behind the less-than-fresh ingredients.

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@LaurenK I wondered if slow business had something to do with the canned/frozen ingredients too. Makes me sad, cause I really like the space and the people running it. 

salesucre-tx
salesucre-tx

@KaitlinS
 

Dear Kaitlan:

Thank you for dining with us recently and sharing your experience with your readers. It was an honor to have you and your friends with us. You certainly seemed to enjoy yourselves that evening.

I am puzzled by several things in your review: You mentioned that you thought the mushrooms, olives and the whipped cream were all canned. I assure you, everything I served at my restaurant is fresh. I hand select each fruit and vegetable, and butcher my own meats. 

As to why it takes so long between courses, is because everything is made fresh to order.

We hope you visit with us again soon.

Merci,

Philippe Harel

Sale Sucre

 
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