100 Best Restaurants 2016

At Your Service: 4 Restaurants Redefining Hospitality in Houston

Service hasn’t always been a selling point for Houston’s culinary scene. But in recent years, it’s seen a resurgence.

By Alice Levitt and Katharine Shilcutt September 19, 2016 Published in the October 2016 issue of Houstonia Magazine

Interior photo by debora smail qhrbm5

Étoile Cuisine et Bar

Image: Deborah Smail

Service hasn’t always been a selling point for Houston’s culinary scene. In fact, in recent years, it’s been declared all but dead. Taking its place: the seeming rise and rise of clatter-and-clutter-filled, deafening dining rooms, staffed by we’re-already-on-a-first-name-basis waiters, who coolly deliver dishes along with a chef’s instructions on how to consume them, all while somehow forgetting to even once refill your water glass.

Lately, however, something unexpected has happened. Excellent, white-tablecloth service has seen a local resurgence at places like our Best New Restaurant of 2016, La Table. And it’s not just older diners who have a renewed appreciation for this almost-lost art, either. Thanks to millennials, who dine out for most meals, it’s cool again to devote your life to food—and to serve it with care and pride.

As Houston restaurateurs have realized that diners are willing to pay for this luxury—for a short, delicious escape from the pressures of daily life—they’ve not only started seeking out staffers who can memorize a wine list and execute left-handed service, they’ve started paying them a better wage. In tandem with this development, the era of the career server, long since considered done for, is slowly reappearing.

By and large, these brave men and women come from two places: Europe, where knowledge of how to carve a perfect chicken tableside and operate a duck press is not lost, and UH’s Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel & Restaurant Management, which offers both masters and PhD programs in hospitality management—and which Houston diners are lucky to have nearby.

Below, four restaurants where dinner always goes off without a hitch:

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Étoile Cuisine et Bar

For best results: start with an aperitif at the well-stocked bar, followed by an expertly fileted sole amandine for dinner.

BCN Taste & Tradition

For best results: book far in advance, prepare to valet, and leave the evening—yes, even the food and wine suggestions—in your server’s more than capable hands.

Steak 48

For best results: get a table with a view of the glassed-in kitchen, where a white-attired army works with swift precision to keep the steaks coming all night long.

Manor House

For best results: appreciate the serenity afforded by a dining room with carpet, tablecloths and comfortable upholstered chairs, while admiring the way your jumbo crabcake pairs so well with the maque choux and pickled okra salad below it.

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