maître d’ - Philippe Restaurant, Houston
Written by J.C. Reid
In a city known for big, gaudy gestures, Philippe Restaurant in the upscale Galleria area of Houston exudes a cool confidence in atmosphere and menu.
The two-storey space features a lounge on the lower level with cowhide-upholstered seats, a zinc bar, and a menu of small plates, such as flavourful lamb tart with French feta cheese, harissa, and cucumber salad. More traditional French dishes are also available, such as escargots with red potato, tomato confit, and garlic butter.
A double-height staircase leads to the main dining room upstairs. Here, designer Lauren Rottet combines muted, elegant colours with rich textures that are welcoming but not overwhelming. Artwork from an acclaimed local gallery, Colton & Farb, lines the walls.
Working from a kitchen he designed himself – there are separate cooking lines for regular and tasting menu items to ensure both attention to detail and prompt service – Chef Philippe Schmit delivers a menu that includes the ultimate Franco-Tex combination: a classic ‘steak frites’ with a 12oz strip steak, peppercorn sauce, and – of course – French fries.
After arriving in Houston in 2004, Philippe Schmit began the process of fusing a career grounded in the classic traditions of French cooking with the ‘wild west’ culinary scene of the USA’s fourth-largest city. Born in Roanne, France, Schmit trained in several Michelin-starred restaurants in Paris, and at Le Bernardin in New York City.
Is it possible to combine the meticulous rules of French cooking with the diversity of a Texas city known for Mexican, Vietnamese, Chinese, and South Asian cuisines? “Absolutely,” says Schmit. “The complexity and richness of ingredients I’ve found in Houston – for instance, the different types of chilli pepper used in Mexican cuisine – can be wonderfully integrated with traditional techniques of France.”