I haven’t had brandade since I was a teenager in Paris—I remember having to double check that the sea of what looked like mashed potatoes served in an enormous casserole dish was my order. I’ve carried fond memories of that burbling dish since, and so I was delighted to see it on the appetizer menu at Alice Blue.
With roots in France, Italy and Spain, brandade is typically an emulsion of salt cod and olive oil and only sometimes bulked with the addition of potatoes. Luckily, Alice Blue’s rendition leans French, with a base of buttery mashed potatoes flecked with bits of fish for a very subtle piscine flavor, elevated by crispy slabs of garlic-rubbed toast on which we daubed the silky mixture.
Alice Blue is the newly remodeled version of Shade, sister restaurant to Canopy in Montrose. Restaurateur and owner Claire Smith turned the new restaurant around in just three and a half short weeks. Like Canopy, Alice Blue emits a slightly upscale but approachable neighborhood vibe: you’ll find diners clad in work attire alongside patrons in shorts and polos. Apps and salads are all under $15, pastas are under $20, or you can splurge for slightly pricier entrees in the mid-twenties range.
Whereas Shade had an open layout with tons of white space, Alice Blue reuses some of the same elements to create a completely distinct area that gives off the air of a chic beach house Vertical wooden slats section off the front of the space, outfitted with a full bar and centered around a cozy lounge area with low tables and a couch—home to daily happy hours. Booths line both sides of the room and walls are adorned with beach-inspired art and geometric prints. The restaurant is awash in shades of blue, although the namesake Alice Blue—a favorite color of Alice Roosevelt Longworth, who became a fashion icon once her father was elected president—is only be found in one set of ceiling lamps.
With a kitchen run by Kent Domas and Jason Vaughn, Alice Blue bills itself as having modern bistro cuisine based on classic European technique. The menu does clearly take inspiration from all sorts of European roots: housemade pasta, Mediterranean-esque grilled eggplant, a snapper-topped version of bouillabaisse, the French seafood stew.
For the most part, they are good renditions of their namesake. We loved the comforting cavatelli, tender and chewy and tossed in a mild tomato sauce with melting dollops of torn burrata. So tender was the housemade pasta that we could overlook the slightly clashing notes of the arugula and nasturtium strewn over the top.
The bouillabaisse arrived partially eclipsed by a dramatic baton of ciabatta dotted with an artistic splotch of rouille that thrums with red pepper, a thick bread-based sauce meant to brighten the broth-based stew. A chunk of snapper is seared separately and served on top of the stew—our piece was beautifully tender and flaky, although the deeply briny clams were rather chewy.
The seafood was also hit or miss at lunch, where we opted for the nicoise salad with fresh, lightly dressed butter leaves, a very soft egg and nibs of tuna that were oddly compact and slightly chewy instead of flaky. However, a hunk of salmon that bore a streak of briny olive tapenade over a savory farro salad studded with red onion and feta was moist and well-crisped. It’s not revolutionary, but it is perfectly respectable lunch fare.
Where we found the most excitement was in the prolific appetizer section (the appetizers outnumber the entrees at dinner). When asked for a few recommendations, our waitress professed that everything was good—but were we in the mood for heavy or light? For heartier appetites, she pointed to the brandade or the morcilla (blood sausage) fondue, which are served with bread. For lighter dishes, the eggplant dip or the tuna crudo.
Utterly photogenic, the grilled eggplant comes with thin, seedy lavash crackers and scarlet pomegranate seeds scattered over the top. My only complaint: tiny nubs of pistachio clashed with the creamy texture of the eggplant and I wanted a pinch more salt to bring out the flavors highlighted by a squeeze of the charred lemon. However, the salt is present in a perfect balance in the mild chickpea flour-dusted squash fritters, which are fried until bronzed with spiky ribs of squash erupting from the center: a perfect foil for the citrusy, punchy, sumac-spiced yogurt sauce.
When looking for something to complement the eggplant, we breezed past the wine list—populated with many natural European wines—in favor of the cocktail list populated with many updated classics. The Japanese-style highball caught our eye, served in a frozen glass is served with the diner’s choice of spirit: plantation pineapple, Sazerac rye or nikka coffey grain. The pineapple rendition was subtle, refreshing, and a great companion to the light pomegranate studded dip.
Appetizer portions range from sensible to generous and the entrée portions are sizable but not outlandish—it truly feels like a good neighborhood restaurant, a perfect date night out, the kind where you’ll return often for homemade pasta or a bouillabaisse that won’t break the bank.
And the kind where gluttons will return for the massive slice of marjolaine, a cake that traditionally consists of alternating layers of meringue and crème pâtissière. The menu notes that the marjolaine is "adults only," and they mean it. Our slice was nearly the size of my forearm, the whole thing supposedly soaked in rum (though I only detected it in one of the layers of ganache). Yet somehow between the decadent layers of cream, the coating of chopped hazelnuts and a fat dollop of freshly whipped cream, it manages to not feel excessively heavy.
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If you’re wondering if you can order the marjolaine at lunch, well, we are too. When we finally managed to flag down our waitress during a lunchtime visit, she simply brought us the check sans dessert menu even though desserts like the intriguing peanut butter snacks are listed on their online lunch menu.
I’m not sure if the restaurant is aiming for the Italian-esque, linger-over-your-meal vibe, but during both visits—particularly lunch, in which we had rather perfunctory service—we had to wait awhile before we could flag down our waiter for a check. At least our water glasses were always full, and waiting gave us ample time to observe our surroundings. The full bar at the front of the restaurant caters to the daily happy hour from 3-6 p.m., or you can rent out the entire front area for a party.
250 W 19th, 713-864-2050, alicebluehouston.com. Hours: Monday, 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Tuesday, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., Wednesdays and Thursdays, 3 p.m. to 10 p.m., Friday, 3 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., Saturday, 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., Sunday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Price Range: $$
Cuisine Types: American
Payment Types: All
Alcohol: Full bar
Outdoor Seating: Yes
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Good for: Dinner, brunch
Good for Groups: Yes
Good for Kids: No
Noise Level: Average
Happy Hour: Yes
Waiter Service: Yes