French and Texan intertwined at Phillippe of Houston

    Every year just after the winter holiday hustle and bustle, Mom and Dad let me choose a restaurant for my early birthday dinner. Last year it was Martin’s Place for barbecue. Dad never tells me no, but let’s just say that Mom didn’t feel too confident of my aesthetics since then. This year she gently insists on French. But I manage to sneak in a twist of Texas. 😉

    After all, Chef Philippe Schmit dubbed himself the French Cowboy. His two-story Philippe Restaurant & Lounge opened last February just a mile north of The Galleria. Looking out to the Houston’s limitless horizon, the second-floor dining room is bathed in a warm chocolate hue of the furniture, accented with soft vanilla light and word decorations made of Chef Schmit’s quotes in watermelon red. In contrast, the menu is bold, extensive, spanning from Texas BBQ and cactus to foie gras and fish pâté, from the classic croque monsieur to the carefree duck confit tamales; there’s a little something for everyone.

    “The Moroccan”, beef tartare with raisin, almond and the Tunisian hot sauce harrisa served with flat bread, rings amazingly close to Mexican flavors.

    The roasted duck magret is drowned in a rich clementine-Cognac sauce and accompanied by one crispy fried duck confit ravioli on a lustrous carrot flan.

    The four monkfish medallions topped with sun-dried tomato tapenade are pleasing. Although their texture errs on the dry side, the supple artichoke confit makes a fine complement.

    The most pleasant surprise must be the garlic-butter escargots, listed among the “contained decadence”, served in a jar with airy brioche toast on the side. On one hand, my Vietnamese friends have chastised me many times for not having eaten snails ever; on the other hand, Little Mom isn’t a snail advocate. Today, the snails win. In Mom’s words: these snails have the fragrance of the roots of rice plants, the earthy but comforting hint of mud and grass. To me, they’re like chubby shiitake smothered in fennel puree and a “tipsy mushroom” paste. It’s a good first impression.

    And finally, the deciding factor in my choice of restaurants: the desserts.

    A smooth tonka bean creme brulee. The lime scent in the chantilly is a bit too faint for me, and the liqueur taste in the griottines is a bit too strong that I almost felt drunk (guess I’m not cut out for Western alcohol); besides, I’ve never fancied whipped cream and candied cherries. But Little Mom likes this one. And I like that there are three cherries for our family of three bears. 😀

    The second dessert, plated like the setting sun on a mountain range, is much richer than the first, as it’s whimsically named the “Texas Millionaires tart”. Decadent chocolate and lace cookies are tempered by the super sour grapefruit. To top it off, the jasmine ice cream is a sweet lullaby.

    As we get to the desserts, the dinner rush starts, the patrons fill the room, but the atmosphere remains easy. A waiter, tall and slouching, whose bushy Abraham Lincoln’s goatee makes him look like a toothbrush, leisurely takes a gander into the bright night cityscape. Through the voluptuous portions and the rich sauces, Philippe the Restaurant embodies Houston: bountiful, down-to-earth, wittily romantic. And above all, it is wholeheartedly welcoming.

    Address: Philippe Restaurant and Lounge
    1800 Post Oak Blvd, Suite 6110
    Houston, TX 77056
    (713) 439-1000

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