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Étoile Serves the Simple, Hearty French Food You Fell in Love With

The traditional cuisine at Étoile is anything but passé.

For brunch, there are classic items including croissants and omelettes mixed in with less obvious offerings like a steak, hamburger or French toast. Lunch is similarly diverse, featuring a few salads and sandwiches along with duck leg confit and wild boar bolognese, and the "social hour" dishes are some of the best values in town. Étoile's bar isn't generally a place that I'd think to visit for happy hour, but cheese plates, truffled frites and crab cake lollipops, coupled with a diverse wine list, are enough to make me brave Galleria-area traffic at 5 p.m.

Where Étoile truly pulls out all the stops, though, is dinner. I can't imagine a better fancy-date place, with its reasonable prices and exquisite preparations of tried-and-true French dishes. The moules marinière are some of the best in town, thanks to rich white wine sauce containing just enough cream to thicken it slightly, but not so much that the flavor of the wine is lost. An off-menu special pasta dish featuring homemade ravioli filled with pulled short ribs in a cabernet reduction will titillate pasta-lovers tired of the same old combinations and carnivores who seek a rich, meaty flavor, even in ravioli.

Better still are the raviolis de champignon — possibly one of the best pasta plates I've ever eaten, including those I obsessed over while in Italy — raviolo filled with the smoothest mushroom puree and bathed in a lightly whipped sauce of port wine, truffle oil and aged Parmesan, then topped with thin wisps of cheese and finely sliced chives. Even after the ravioli were gone, I found myself stopping the waiter from taking my plate, which still had a thin layer of sauce on it. As soon as he left, I attacked the sauce with my spoon. I did not want any of it to go to waste.

Étoile's foie gras au torchon with a mousseline of mascarpone and dried fruit is the picture of classic French simplicity.
Troy Fields
Étoile's foie gras au torchon with a mousseline of mascarpone and dried fruit is the picture of classic French simplicity.

Location Info

Map

Etoile Cuisine et Bar

1101 Uptown Park Blvd.
Houston, TX 77056

Category: Restaurant > Eclectic

Region: Galleria

Details

Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.

French toast: $11
Gruyère omelette: $12
House ground burger: $12
Raviolis de champignon: $12
Foie gras au torchon: $19
Moules marinière: $13 (lunch); $20 (dinner)
Coq au vin: $14 (lunch); $19 (dinner)
Sole amandine: $25
Boeuf au poivre: $36
Dark chocolate pastilla: $10
Tarte fine aux pommes: $9



For more on √Čtoile:

Slideshow: A Closer Look at √Čtoile
Blog: √Čtoile Is Many Degrees Better Than All These Star Puns


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Though the menu contains a fine list of traditional items, a special caught my attention one evening: Braised rabbit with polenta and root vegetables. As he did with the pastas, Verpiand managed to incorporate Italian influences from the south of France in his hearty fare and somehow improve upon even the Italians. The bed of polenta beneath the braised rabbit was as smooth as pudding yet retained that all-important firmness, while the root vegetables were cooked to the point of being soft but not mushy. The star of the dish is, of course, the rabbit. It practically fell off the bone into the savory, earthy braising juice, which had just enough tannic red wine to make the mouth pucker.

Verpiand even manages to make a beef tenderloin — a notoriously mild-flavored cut due to its lack of marbling — a decadent dish. The chef recommends you order it medium rare (which to a Frenchman is closer to rare), so it will be served with a peppery sear on the outside while remaining dark-pink and juicy on the inside. It's topped with a black pepper cognac sauce that complements both the meat and the crispy frites served with it.

As any decent French chef must, Verpiand continues to wow even into the dessert course with his simple takes on familiar French favorites. A crispy tarte fine aux pommes topped with wafer-thin slices of apples, fleur de sel caramel and a scoop of ice cream is picturesque enough to have been ripped from the pages of Saveur, but the flavors are clean and rustic, as if it were prepared in the modest kitchen of a provincial farmhouse. So, too, is the dark chocolate pastilla divine in its simplicity: the richest chocolate ganache wrapped in delicate puff pastry and served with a few dollops of deep-magenta raspberry coulis, which give the plate a small but necessary punch of acid. If you insist that you have no room left for dessert, beware. ­Verpiand is so proud of his desserts (and rightfully so) that he might just send one out to you anyway.
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I fell in love with France within the first hour I was there. I fell in love with Étoile faster than that. From the food — perfect and unfussy enough to rival anything you could find in a beloved institution overseas — to the staff — friendly enough to greet regulars by name and converse about more than just the food or the weather — Étoile is everything I love about French culture and cuisine in the heart of Houston.

The French are often seen as generally rude, but I disagree. In my experience, any perceived rudeness is almost always the result of cultural differences. And it's important to remember that if and when (because he often takes breaks to check on the dining room) you meet Verpiand.

He's a man of few words and even fewer expressions, and talking with him, you get the idea he'd rather be in the kitchen, communicating through his food rather than with words. Upon praising his creations, smitten diners are met with a curt "Good" and "I know" rather than the typical "Thank you; I'm so glad you liked it!" gushes of gratitude.

Verpiand knows his recipes and techniques well, and he loves what he does so much that the care shines brightly in the final product. He conveys the best of French culinary tradition in his food, and he wouldn't serve it to anyone unless it was a perfect representation of his country and his craft. You needn't tell him that you enjoyed your meal. What Houston is learning, Verpiand already knows. His food is ­perfection.

kaitlin.steinberg@houstonpress.com

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