It's Monday night, a night when I'm usually at home, puttering around the kitchen making something for myself while watching The Bachelor or Dancing with the Stars or whatever reality TV show I'm into at the moment. Instead, I feel a little bit like Cinderella going to the ball as I walk up the winding driveway of a picturesque, beautifully lit, 7,000-plus-square-foot Bentley Custom Home in Bellaire.
I'm there for the debut of Philippe Restaurant's catering program, and what an evening it was. I've had many an excellent meal at Philippe's restaurant on Post Oak Boulevard, but from the moment I entered the beautiful foyer, where I was greeted at the door by a uniformed server bearing a silver tray of champagne flutes filled with thoughtfully chosen Bellavista Cuvee Brut Fraciacorta Italian Sparkling Wine, the evening had this magical quality about it.
I think it was planned that way. Billing it as a "Home Dinner Showcase," Schmit and his team pulled out all the stops with a five-star event worthy of Sunday night's Oscars.
It started on the patio, where guests could find a lavish ice-sculpture display of shrimp; Wellfleet and Beau Soleil oysters; and crab salad stuffed in the shell, served with a choice of cocktail sauce, shallot mignonette or creamy tartare. At the adjacent table, a huge bowl of caviar sat next to little rounds of blinis and a bowl of bright pink, diced pickled red onion.
Inside, where guests were mixing and mingling, sommelier Vanessa Trevino Boyd traversed the room, making sure that no champagne glass was empty. In the two-story open kitchen, Schmit and his team were busy plating the hors d'oeuvres: frog's legs in a pond, wherein frog's legs had been deboned and pinned to a small brioche over a bed of green sauce; Philippe's chicken wings, deboned so that each wing looked like a big orange-topped lollipop swathed in barbecue sauce; and my favorite of the night, scrambled eggs served in the shell and topped with fresh black truffle.
Then began what was supposed to be a five-course seated dinner, with a surprise three quarters of the way through. The first course, a Gascogne salad fashioned after something you'd find in the south of France, included frisee and mesclun topped with crispy potatoes, duck confit, smoked duck breast and bits of foie gras over a duck jus vinaigrette.
I love duck, and enjoyed this salad immensely, but what I loved even more than the salad itself was the side serving of quail leg and quail egg on brioche. The two were served together as part of the first course, beautifully paired with a 2010 Chevalières Meursault from Domaine Matrot in Burgundy.
Next came a "wow" moment for me as individual servings of Gorgonzola soufflé with cauliflower, chervil and toasted nuts were presented at the table. I still go a bit gaga over soufflé, and I have to give props to Schmit for attempting to serve so many soufflés at once. He looked a little nervous as he came by and explained a slight delay due to an oven malfunction, but the end result was perfection.
The fluffy, light-as-air texture with the creamy richness of gorgonzola and occasional crunch of the toasted walnuts topped off with a rich port sauce was a definite wow. The somewhat surprising pairing of this dish with Savannah Verdelho NV Medeira also worked exceedingly well, the acidic component of the sweet, rich Madeira cutting through the richness of what would otherwise have been a heavy dish.
Our third course -- of grilled, boneless rouget, notable for its "rouge," or red-colored skin -- served on a bed of braised fennel, tomato chips and foamy poufs of saffron sauce, garnered exclamations from around the table for its delicate aroma and firm texture. It was paired with what was for me the most notable wine of the night, a 2009 Savennieres by Nicolas Joly of Vieux Clos in the Loire Valley, a white wine with a beautiful nose that smelled of apricots and a smooth, silky finish.
It should be noted that as each course was served, both the chef and the sommelier stopped by the table to present their selections. I enjoyed these visits just as much as the food, because it gave a chance for each to show his or her personality -- Schmit with his exuberant, lively, French-accented, charming quips and stories, and Trevino Boyd with just her wealth of knowledge about wine.
The fourth table visit came before the food, with Schmit explaining that he was going to ask the guests to do a bit of work. Surprised, we all stood up to find a huge buffet of carving table-sliced horseradish and mustard-crusted sous vide beef sirloin with all the fixin's: ratatouille, macaroni and cheese fries, creamed spinach, haricots verts, corn bread and root vegetables with a choice of béarnaise, barbecue, bordelaise or chimichurri sauce.
My stomach was already protesting by the time we were introduced to this fourth course buffet, but I dutifully filled my plate as my eyes drank in the richness of the presentation -- and then I proceeded to clean my plate. The sous vide sirloin was so tender and flavorful, it tasted like wagyu. The ratatouille was so delicious, I went back for seconds. The crispy mac and cheese fries were an exercise in restraint, and the corn bread, made by pastry chef Jaime King, was so fantastic I couldn't stop at one bite. All this -- served with a dark red South African 2010 Heritage Blend, "Secateurs" by A.A. Badenhorst -- could have been the only course, and I would have been happy.
"Catering can be many things," said Schmit as he explained the surprise buffet. "You can do hors d'oeuvres, you can do a sit-down dinner or you can opt for a buffet like this one -- I wanted to show you all that I can do." And that he did.
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For now, Schmit and his team are offering in-home catering for 12 to 50 guests, which can include specialized menus, help with wine pairings by Trevino Boyd, and assistance with other details like floral and linen. After the experience I had on Monday night, I wouldn't hesitate to call them for my next big party.