Catherine Duwez rushed through the doors of Sophia nearly an hour late. She carried boxes and bags of food with her, and although she looked eminently stressed, she still glowed with the passion of a restaurant proprietress who has entered her domain. A round of applause went up from every table and Duwez glowed with a happy light before quickly making her way into the kitchen. Although the restaurant, Sophia, didn't belong to her and the atmosphere was decidedly different from the old, cozy confines of what was Houston's only Belgian restaurant, it was Cafe Montrose all over again.
Shortly after her entrance, large black pots of moules marinieres began making their way to tables alongside a few plates of cordon bleu and large baskets of frites. There was a hush as people eagerly tore into the steaming pots of buttery mussels and dipped their frites into the tangy, homemade mayonnaise. The sole waitress, harried but lovely, poured generous portions of wine at each table and, slowly but surely, conversation once again resumed.
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Between epically large portions of mussels, a pert and refreshing German salad spiked with dill, a surprisingly fabulous cordon bleu that oozed with exceptionally high-quality Swiss cheese and -- of course -- the crisp, salty frites that were the centerpiece of any meal at Cafe Montrose, it was easy to see that diners felt as if they'd never left the original restaurant.
Dinner at Sophia on this past Monday night was the second of Duwez's one-night-only Cafe Montrose dinners. Although the popular Belgian restaurant closed after Hurricane Ike last year and the space has now been transformed into another Marco Wiles joint, Vinoteca Poscol, faithful Houstonians have never stopped missing the food that Duwez and her ex-husband, Andrew Klarman, served there.
Klarman and his sister, Jeannine Petas, will soon be opening their own bistro -- the eponymous Jeannine's Bistro -- but fans of Duwez were at a loss until she started hosting her own occasional dinners at Sophia. For these, she flies her father in from Brussels to cook the meal, purchases the mussels fresh that morning and takes the time to stop by every single table to greet her diners, making sure they're enjoying the food and embracing them in a huge hug.
The dinners have been positioned as a way of testing the waters to see if there's still any demand for another Belgian restaurant. If the dinner on Monday night was any indication, there most certainly still is.