When translated from France to America, the culinary capital of the world's traditions often amount to starched white table clothes and stuffy service. Houston is luckier than most cities, as there are a few places in the Bayou City to get a great croque madame or a delicious foie gras torchon. In order to recreate the real magic of a day in Paris here, however, you'll need to spend some time in Rice Village, travel to The Heights, and traipse around the Menil's lawn.
The French phrase for breakfast begins with the word "petit." Keep that in mind when kicking off your day. Instead of going overboard with a brunch-style morning meal, stick to the basics at Croissant Brioche or French Riviera Bakery. The former is a homey place good for a quick croissant (or brioche), Americano and glass of juice. The latter has a generic interior -- don't expect to see any clay roosters or decorative plates -- but the pastry case is anything but. Don't miss the cream-filled profiteroles or delectable eclairs.
In true French fashion, Cafe Rabelais in Rice Village keeps strange working hours. The restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday (dinner is served from 6 to 9 p.m.). Your best bet is to stop by for lunch. The afternoon menu features sandwiches and salads like Salad de chevre pane with warm goat cheese and hazelnuts, and there is also a specials board with soups, quiches and plats du jour that changes twice daily.
Instead of enjoying all three courses in one place, skip dessert at Rabelais and walk to the nearby Sweet Paris Creperie. Nothing says Paris like a lemon and sugar pancake with whipped butter and just a hint of vanilla. Fashionable decor and a long, open kitchen complete the tres chic picture.
For crepes on the go, seek out the Katmania Crepes food truck, which is frequently parked at the food park on St. Emanuel, and can also be found from time to time outside of BJ's Antiques on the corner of Park Street and Westheimer.
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Instead of sitting down for a steak frites dinner, prepare an evening picnic with some help from Houston Dairymaids. The small shop in the Heights has that rich, earthy smell unique to fromageries, and boasts staff that know dairy products better than you know your first-born child. They have a selection of prepackaged selections, and offer regular tastings for more curious customers. Some of the 150-odd varieties on offer are local, and the maids buy cheeses made with unpasteurized milk when possible. You won't find President-brand brie here. Pick up one goat cheese and one spreadable soft cheese for your evening snack. The fromagerie also sells Slow Dough bread, cured meats and a wide array of booze, so you can complete your basket here.
If you are looking for a Sauternes or magnificent Rosé, you will find a wide selection of French vins at Houston Wine Merchant. The 2012 Mourchon Loubie from the Cotes du Rhone is an especially good deal, and perfect for a warm spring evening.
Bring your wares to the grassy knoll between the Menil Collection and Rothko Chapel. As you would if picnicking in the Jardin du Luxembourg, you'll need a bottle opener and a knife. A brown bag and a designated driver are additionally required for your Houstonian-Parisian snack.
Finally, when a flight to the City of Lights for dinner at Taillevent is out of reach, the foie gras at Etoile will transport you to Paris for about the price of admission to the Louvre. The upscale eatery is perfect for a special occasion, and the magret de canard is tres magnifique.