The $36 Jar of Bœuf Bourguignon at Foody's Gourmet

Foody's Gourmet is the newest addition to the ever-expanding Le Mistral empire out on the west side of town. The French restaurant -- run by brothers Sylvain and David Denis -- once operated out of a tiny strip center space on Eldridge.

These days, it occupies a large building next door that boasts a chic bar and a sleekly modern dining room. To the building, the Denis brothers have now also added a side patio draped with fairy lights and fronted by a wrought iron gate, both of which add to the feeling that you're not really eating in Houston. And on the opposite side of that patio is Foody's Gourmet, an upscale bodega/boulangerie which shares a kitchen with Le Mistral and offers many of its most popular dishes packaged and ready to take home.

If you're willing to pay $36 for a Bell jar of bœuf bourguignon, that is.

"I'm in the wrong business," my mother chuckled as we examined the jar this past Sunday afternoon. It was a standard beef stew with carrots, pearl onions and wine, a jar of which would serve two people. That's $18 each for a bowl of beef stew. Delicious beef stew, to be sure, but still just beef stew.

I wanted to see how much a bowl of bœuf bourguignon would run at Le Mistral, to compare the two, but the soup isn't listed on the restaurant's menu. On the other hand, the least expensive dinner entree is $24 (a broiled salmon steak with wasabi spaetzle), so perhaps $18 for an entree-size bowl of soup isn't so bad taking Le Mistral's general pricing into account.

On the other hand, it's still just beef stew. Peasant food. One of the oldest and most basic French peasant dishes, at that. Per serving, the stuff should cost a few bucks unless Le Mistral is using an expensive cut of meat (which defeats the purpose of braising it for hours in wine, but...whatever) or really expensive wine. Forget about restaurant mark-ups; the real mark-ups around this joint are found next door in Foody's Gourmet.

My mother and I eventually backed away from the jar of bœuf bourguignon before our heads could explode, and explored the rest of the store. It's still new and still needs a little filling out -- in this sense, it reminds me of the also-charming but somewhat understocked Relish Fine Foods -- but offers a few specialty items here and there that you won't find at the Kroger next door, or even at Phoenicia up the street.

One of those specialty items are the macarons, which are available here for $2 each. They're beautifully crafted things, with brush strokes of edible paint across the tops and swirls of color mixed deftly into the batter. I bought three -- rose, passionfruit and chocolate -- and couldn't wait to get them home.

Sadly, the macarons were not Foody's best foot forward.

The cookies of all three macarons were hard and tough, crushing the delicate filling inside. It was as if they'd been baked a week before, then left to linger in the case until an unwitting customer (me) came along. And none of the three really tasted all that different from one another -- a big problem when you're talking about such diverse flavors as rose, passionfruit and chocolate. Not even my father would finish them, and so the pretty little pastries ended up in the bin.

The best macarons I've found so far in Houston are at Rebecca Masson's from Revival Market/Fluff Bake Bar and at Petite Sweets. Neither are particularly convenient for West Houstonians to pick up -- which is the whole appeal of Foody's Gourmet, after all -- but macaron fans would be doing themselves a favor to pick up their pastries from the pros.

And bœuf bourguignon fans would be doing themselves a favor to make the stew at home; it's easy, and boy does it impress.

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