This casual cafe recently opened in Vintage Park in far Northwest Houston, a welcome addition to an area that has few French dining options. While the crisp-skinned chicken is always on offer, there’s also a rotisserie meat special that changes daily, not to mention classics such as steak frites, Basque mussels and fries, and the croque monsieur, a toasted, open-faced sandwich with ham, Dijon mustard, and gruyere on brioche. Add a fried egg and turn it into a croque madame. A plethora of great side dishes are delightfully difficult to choose from, but the elegant ratatouille and the cheesy, garlicky Dauphinoise potatoes are some of our favorites. The wines-on-tap program provides a cost effective way for diners to have a little vino and turn their meal into a little celebration.
What happens when two long-standing French chefs (Jacques Fox of the Culinary Institute LeNôtre and David Denis of Le Mistral) and a French sommelier (Sylvain Denis, also of Le Mistral) launch a restaurant together? You get a beautiful, well-designed restaurant with a huge open kitchen, plenty of windows, and a selection of dishes elegant enough for either business lunches or date nights. The $79 five-course chef’s menu features foie gras; scallops with spinach ravioli and lobster “cappuccino”; Chilean sea bass with risotto and sugar snap peas; beef tenderloin; and opera cake. That sounds like an ideal date-night dinner to us. Need to really impress someone and have the bucks to do so? Spring for the Petrossian caviar with two glasses of bubbly, $120 for the set. On the more reasonable side, the three-course business lunch for $27 may be just what you’re looking for.
The cute little cottage that houses Au Petit Paris is on a side street off of South Shepherd Dr., and you may have driven past it dozens of times without noticing. It’s definitely worth your time and attention, though. Au Petit Paris is perfect for a romantic date night, and the two dedicated chefs who run the place make everything from scratch, even the bread. The menu is staunchly French, and while the descriptions are amusingly verbose (“Pan Seared Skinless Red Snapper Filet Layered On Top Of Sauteéd Baby Spinach and Garden Vegetables Which Are Slowly Oven Cooked and Topped With A Granny Smith Apple Sauce”), they’re just trying to explain how lovely the dish will be when it hits your table. The restaurant also offers trays of canapés and little desserts to-go for delivery, perfect for impressing the guests at your next party.
Aura started out with a modest location in a Missouri City strip center before moving in 2012 to a sunny, bustling spot in Sugar Land’s Town Square, where chef Frédéric Perrier’s playful menu, featuring burgers and ceviche riding boldly alongside French classics, has continued to draw crowds. Bounce from pork belly tacos to mimosa salad with cold-smoked salmon, or go full-on fancy with the herb-crusted rack of lamb with mint jalapeño jelly and flageolets (white beans). The restaurant is closed between 2:30 and 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, but an extended happy hour at the bar that runs from 2:30 to 8 p.m. bridges the gap. Get there a little early for your reservation and enjoy $5 wines, cocktails, and appetizers before dinner. During weekday lunch, the $14.99 three-course menu is a boon for bargain seekers.
Modest West Houston hideaway Bistro Provence, which specializes in simple, hearty French fare, benefits from the Guy family pedigree—paterfamilias Georges Guy has owned multiple French restaurants in Houston. His daughter-in-law, Genevieve Guy, owns Bistro Provence, and manages it with husband Jean-Philippe. Visitors to the dark, cozy dining room treat themselves to salads, rillettes, or wood-oven pizza topped with duck confit, or indulge in comforting entrées such as Bistro Provence’s riff on beef au poivre (a New York strip steak with green peppercorn cream sauce and country-style potatoes), or scallops and shrimp atop goat cheese–filled ravioli and ratatouille.
Brasserie Max & Julie is a perfect weekend brunch spot where diners satisfy their cravings for crepes and gaufres (thin, crispy waffles). There are sweet and savory examples of each, such as gaufres topped with creamy spinach, lardons, and a poached egg, or a crepe with local honey and lemon zest. At dinnertime, you can delve deeper into hardcore classics like steak tartare et frites (beef filet ground and served raw with fries) and boeuf Bourguignon (traditional Burgundy beef stew). It would be a shame to not order wine, as Brasserie Max & Julie sports one of the finest lists of French vin in Houston.
At Chez Nous, a long-held bastion of fine French cuisine in a nondescript neighborhood, the entrées arrive on a cart, under a domed lid, before being placed on your table by the doting staff. Allow time for a leisurely dinner; you’ll need it for perusing the excellent list of wines (with several great options from Loire Valley, Burgundy, and other French regions for $65 and under) and working your way through artful, decadent entrées like the Muscovy duck breast and confit and the juicy, bacon-wrapped beef tournedos with whipped potatoes and Bordeaux mushroom sauce. The end of the meal brings the dessert cart—that is, unless you’ve scored one of the puffy, creamy, delicate soufflés, which are available in a limited number every night (we like the Grand Marnier and chocolate versions).
Chef Philippe Verpiand decided to relocate from San Diego to Houston—where wife and operations manager Monica Bui has family—to open Étoile, and up the city’s Gallic game with his splendid takes on classic French dishes. There are two menus here: traditional, featuring dishes such as coq au vin and sole amandine, and seasonal, where Verpiand showcases his inventive side with offerings such as braised short ribs with butternut squash mousseline. For dessert, it’s hard to pass up the fondant au chocolat with its gooey, warm filling, an elegant contrast to the mango gel and coconut ice cream that comes with it.
Kris Bistro serves two important functions: it’s an elegant and much-needed fine-dining option on the north side, but it’s also a teaching environment for the students who study at the Culinary Institute LeNôtre. Service here is usually top-notch, and there are longtime industry pros on hand to guide everything along smoothly. A remarkable, custom-built charcuterie cart glides past the tables at dinnertime and is not to be missed, its cured meats created in-house by chef Kris Jakob. For dinner, treat yourself to fine fare such as diver scallop Normande—scallops and mussels in shellfish reduction with pickled mushrooms and white yams. Or, choose the lasagna Bolognese with slowly braised oxtail. Thanks to its affiliation with the school, Kris Bistro is able to offer upscale meals, beer, and wine at surprisingly reasonable prices.
An appreciative West Houston crowd has been dining at Le Mistral for over a decade—first in its original location, opened in 2001, and now in the elegant, modern quarters the fine French restaurant moved to in 2008. If you’re ready to get decadent, the Denis brothers offer their guests plenty of options, including escargots with plenty of butter and garlic and two foie gras dishes (seared and torchon, a chilled preparation). Ever mindful of the Energy Corridor meat-and-potatoes types, Le Mistral also offers a 20-ounce bone-in ribeye with green peppercorn–and–Cognac sauce, Béarnaise with green beans, and french fries. Looking for a unique experience and have some extra bucks to blow? Reserve the private room in the back for a chef’s tasting menu. Meanwhile, weekday lunch specials include a two-course Express Lunch for $10 and a three-course Business Lunch for $20.
The name of this modest cafe in the Heights means “salty-sweet,” and Salé Sucré has plenty of each available: the menu boasts nine savory and seven sweet crepe varieties. If you fancy French standbys like moules marinières (mussels steamed in white wine), coq au vin, or trout amandine, they’re also here. The cassoulet is one of the best in Houston, rich with buttery-soft coco beans, chunky chicken and duck sausage imported from Toulouse, roasted hunks of pork belly, and a whole confit duck leg. If you don’t want a sweet crepe for dessert, crème brûlée and chocolate mousse stand ready to serve. A full bar kicks out classic cocktails like Kir Royales, Sidecars, and The Montparnasse, a blend of Calvados, St. Germain, lemon juice, and Sauvignon Blanc.