Chef Philippe Schmit calls himself "the French cowboy." It's a self-assigned nickname that can also apply to the overall aesthetic at his namesake restaurant, Philippe, which is the subject of this week's cafe review.
Schmit's food is strongly French, make no doubt about it. But in among the French standards -- the coq au vin or the foie gras -- are cheeky Texan touches that translate elegantly in dishes like duck tamales or "pigs in a blanket," a slightly Texan twist on pork blanquette.
On his blog, Schmit explains these touches in a recent post about adding pecan pie to his list of holiday offerings alongside Bûche de Noël: "Texas traditions also make me happy," he says, going on to assure his diners that the pie is "deep dish style, with bourbon and chocolate chips!"
The Texan touches at Philippe extend to the decor, too, which hosts pops of cowhide among the steely-chic lounge downstairs and the modern Louis XIV-style vibe upstairs in the grand dining room.
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It's precisely these fond nods to Texana that keep Philippe itself grounded and fun without ever being fussy, and it's what gives the impression that you're both in a New York City hotspot and a Houston restaurant all at the same time. (The aggressively priced menu doesn't hurt either.)
Take a trip through Philippe's richly appointed dining room and busy kitchen, then make your own reservation at the restaurant to experience it all for yourself. It's my top pick of places to spend New Year's Eve (were I able to spend it in Houston): The downstairs lounge will feature a balloon drop and champagne toast at midnight, with food specials all evening long. Just remember: At Philippe, you always need a reservation.