In 2009, Philippe Verpiand and his wife, Monica Bui, came to Houston to visit her family. They dined around town, observing the robust restaurant scene, and on the strength of that alone decided to leave the life they had built in San Diego for a chance at making it in Houston. The risk they took paid off. Houston has embraced the charming French restaurant they opened in Uptown Park, and this week they've reached an important milestone: It is the one-year anniversary of their restaurant, Etoile Cuisine et Bar. To celebrate, Verpiand has put together a special tasting menu comprised of classic favorites as well as dishes created especially for the occasion, available from now until November 9, 2013.
I previewed the dinner, and from the moment our server poured the amuse of sparkling rose into the Champagne flute the occasion felt celebratory. I leaned back in my comfortable armchair and let myself enjoy the evening, which kicked off with one of my absolute favorites: foie gras poêlé, or seared foie gras.
The generously portioned hunk of foie was perfectly seared, so that the top side crust shown deep brown with a rich caramelization. Served with a julienned slaw of green apple with a red bell pepper chutney, it was delicious, and definitely one of the best you'll find in the city. For those who don't like foie gras, or want something lighter, a tuna tartare starter is on the menu as well. It's a dish that was created specifically for the anniversary menu, and includes a mixture of grapefruit and compressed cucumber and fresh herbs.
A second course of loup de mer Chilean, or Chilean sea bass, offered an unexpected surprise. Plated in a deep bowl with a very wide rim, the piece of fish covered the deliciousness underneath -- a short-rib ravioli over leek fondue with cabernet reduction. I found myself digging into the bowl with my fork to uncover the hidden bounty, very much enjoying the interplay between the meaty flavors of the ravioli and the mild butteriness of the Chilean sea bass.
The third course was plated very simply, but it was without a doubt the star of the night: Magret de canard. Roasted duck breast, cooked to medium-rare, was so tender that I had to force myself to eat slowly, because I wanted to savor every single taste. An ultra-fine butternut squash puree, so light and smooth it could have been a whipped air mousse, completed this fantastic dish, which had been drizzled with a simple ring of lightly sweet, and viscous huckleberry gastrique.
For the finale, we were given a choice of Verpiand's famous tarte fine aux pommes, or apple tart, served a la mode with a dusting of powdered sugar and a fleur de sel caramel, or a praliné noisette et lait mousse au chocolate, or hazelnut praline and chocolate mousse.
Both desserts are scrumptious. The apple tart, a Verpiand signature, is hands down the best in the city, while the hazelnut chocolate mousse, served with a beautiful tuile covered in cream flowers and whole hazelnuts, tasted like a divine whipped-milk chocolate Nutella.
Thinking that the evening had come to an end, we received a nice surprise in the form of a plate of delicate mignardise, including a baby French macaron, chocolate, fruit jelly, and a sugar cookie. In the tradition of fine-dining restaurants, guests are given a pretty plate of petit fours to finish off the evening, to be enjoyed with an after-dinner coffee or digestif.
Etoile's four-course Primer Diner D'Anniversaire menu is being offered at $68 per person from now through November 9, 2013, and includes a complimentary glass of sparkling rose as the amuse bouche. An optional wine pairing is available for $32, and includes the following: 2009 Haut Charmes; Sauternes 2011 Stags' Leap, Chardonnay, Napa Valley; 2009 E. Guigal, Cruzes-Hermitage; 2005 Chateau Marsau, Cotes de France; and Dow's 10-year-old Tawny Port.
For more information: Etoile Cuisine et Bar, 1101 Uptown Park Blvd, Tel: (832) 668-5808