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This Week's Cafe Review: You Can't Teach an Old Dog Nouveau Tricks at Salé-Sucré

This crêpe suzette is as traditional -- and as wonderful -- as they come.
This crêpe suzette is as traditional -- and as wonderful -- as they come.
Photo by Kaitlin Steinberg

Admittedly, it's been awhile since I spent any amount of time in France. I've heard that since I was last there, the dining scene has changed to reflect a more American sensibility and appease tourists. No longer do waiters take themselves a little too seriously and meals last upwards of three hours. Waits are less a quaint cultural difference and more of an inconvenience. Cafés are less inclined to invite dogs to quietly enjoy a latte under the table.

These are notions that haven't quite reached Salé-Sucré, the subject of this week's cafe review. At this small restaurant on White Oak Boulevard, conventional French ways of operating are still prevalent. The waits are long, the service is stoic but pleasant, and the French recipes are about as traditional as they come.

There are no frills at Salé-Sucré, no gels or foams, no intricate platings, no fusions of any sort. It's French food, plain and simple.

I do wonder though if, in an age of constant culinary innovation from molecular gastronomy to the cronut, simple French food will ever be sufficiently interesting again. Of course, it helps when it's prepared well, which is not always the case at Salé-Sucré, but I worry that even the most perfectly cooked steak hache and frites will someday soon cease to impress palates accustomed to a constantly evolving food scene.

Will there come a day when frites are not acceptable without a generous drizzle of sriracha? Must mille feuilles framboise eventually be served with raspberry gel instead of real raspberries? We may not quite be there yet, but it's still oddly refreshing to see Salé-Sucré traveling along somewhat behind the times.

It sounds like an oxymoron to claim that something dated is refreshing, but I like knowing that there are small pockets of tradition in a world racing so fast toward the future. It's for this reason (and because they make amazing bread) that I want Salé-Sucré to succeed so badly. It may verge on boring now, but I feel confident that it could flow seamlessly from boring to traditional with just a little effort.

Yes, I'd like to see the restaurant start relying on better ingredients and get rid of anything canned or frozen, and no, I'm not always able to take three hours for a languid evening meal. But I would love to have the option of solid, traditional French cuisine on a ridiculous, traditional French timeline if I want it. All of the elements are there, so with a few improvements, Salé-Sucré could be a top-notch French bistro of my dreams in a charming little space right here in Houston.

It's sure cheaper than a plane ticket.


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