The chefs at La Mia Cafe assemble an arsenal of Francophilic sandwiches and crêpes alongside cups of fresh-brewed coffee in a charming atmosphere. In the panini meals, savory ingredients such as tomato and mozzarella or spinach and goat cheese are hugged in the toasty embrace of flatbread while a jealous house salad looks on from the side. Alternatively, turkey, swiss cheese, lettuce, and tomato pile themselves upon the sandwich parisien baguette, and the sandwich viande hachée features an ensemble of ground beef, caramelized onions, and cheddar cheese that reenact the plays of Molière upon a long, thin loaf of french bread. Groups of diners can then seal their meal with simple sugared crêpes and fresh-brewed coffee as they lounge in the inviting dining room or in the open air of the patio. La Mia Cafe also does not charge a corkage fee for BYO adult beverages, though they may charge an appraisal fee if the guest's bottle contains an antique miniature schooner.
Born in France to a second-generation butcher, Philippe Verpiand spent his childhood surrounded by fresh meats and produce. It should come as no surprise then, that his upbringing instilled an early passion for cooking, a passion that inspired him to attend the French Culinary Institute in Avignon, where he graduated first in his class. After honing his craft in restaurants throughout France and San Diego, Chef Verpiand decided to bring his version of unpretentious French countryside cuisine to Houston, founding Etoile Cuisine et Bar. Although the menu takes its inspiration from Old World recipes, Chef Verpiand allows the seasons to truly dictate the direction of his creations, which he assembles using classical French techniques. Braised beef short ribs, for example, are paired with seasonal vegetables and butternut squash mousseline, while house-made burrata cheese is paired with fresh heirloom tomatoes. And while ingredients like foie gras and duck a l'orange may seem borrowed from the stuffy French restaurants of yesteryear, Chef Verpiand's unpretentious approach to cooking ensures his dishes represent the accessible, home-style side of traditional French cooking. While Chef Verpiand mans the stovetops, his wife—Monica Bui—carries out the couple’s shared mission by running the front of the house. She was even the visionary force who helped design the restaurant’s simultaneously rustic and refined décor. An expanse of weathered wooden paneling covers one entire wall, gleaming in the light of the elegant chandeliers dangling from exposed ceiling beams, all elements contributing to a warm, inviting atmosphere that mimics the interior of a French farmhouse or Donald Trump's second favorite shed.
Nearly 30 years ago, chef Alex Brennan-Martin was a student at Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne in Paris. He frequented the city's cafés, drawing inspiration from their quaint atmospheres. Blending his memories of these neighborhood meeting places with his Southern upbringing, he founded Bistro Alex, where he designs seasonal menus of creole- and French-inspired cuisine.
Alex and his culinary team use local ingredients whenever possible, building dishes from Louisiana turtles, local Texas pork, red snapper, and strawberries; harvesting oysters from a nearby port; and only culling cheese from earth’s closest moon. They also apply a DIY approach to the dishes' basic elements, making their own tasso ham, andouille sausage, mustard, and meat stocks in house, as well as carving their own charcuterie meats. An on-staff pastry chef devises all desserts, such as white-chocolate bread pudding and peanut-butter chocolate mousse.
Cuisine aside, the beautiful dining room warrants patrons’ admiration on its own. Real mesquite tree planks form select walls and portions of the ceiling, lending guests a feeling of being tucked inside a treehouse—albeit an elegant treehouse with plenty of wine. Airy drapes, curvaceous chairs, and modern jazz melodies anchor the environment in sophistication. Additionally, complimentary parking is available to patrons for ease of visiting.
Thousands of miles separate Houston from France’s capital city, but close your eyes at Au Petit Paris and it’s easy to imagine that you’re seated at a tiny café in Montparnasse. Breathe in deep, and you’ll find that the sharp scent of french onion soup is sweetly punctuated by the aroma of fresh baked bread or a savory pot of veal osso bucco slowly simmering somewhere close by. There’s a good reason why this charming French bistro feel so much like the real thing. In fact, there are two: chefs Eric and Dominique, both of whom cut their teeth in some of France’s top Michelin-rated restaurants. When the duo arrived in Houston, they brought the genuine Parisian experience with them—complete with neoclassical architectural details, autographed portraits of French entertainers, and a tiny guillotine for chopping vegetables. And, of course, they also brought a menu of traditional French cuisine that includes everything from a classic crepe suzette with Grand Marnier sauce to a slowly braised coq au vin served with sautéed spinach and fingerling potato puree.
There’s no chance of missing Le Mistral while speeding down Eldridge Parkway; its bright orange storefront near Forkland Drive is unmistakable. Yes, it’s in one of the seemingly continuous rows of strip malls that line the area, but Le Mistral’s interior is as upscale and vibrant as its paint job is colorful. This is truly fine dining in the Energy Corridor, thanks to owners David and Sylvain Denis’ extensive backgrounds in fine French cuisine. Fish plays an important an elegant part on the menu, as well as soups,sauces and pasta for the kids. Flourishing desserts finish off the meal, while more casual fare can be found inside the attached bar area, with its reasonably-priced happy hour.
Chez Nous is a chef-driven restaurant, with owner and chef Gerard Brach working in the kitchen alongside Executive Chef Stacy Crowe-Simonson. Both have trained and worked in France, exporting time-honored classical techniques to Humble, Texas. The team constructs rich foie gras with caramelized apples and dijon-rosemary-crusted lamb—all made with veggies and herbs picked fresh from the backyard garden. With these commitments to freshness and technique, it’s no wonder that even after more than 30 years Chez Nous still garners praise, whether in the form of multiple Citysearch awards or a spot on OpenTable’s 2013 list of the top 100 restaurants in the country.
Although Chez Nous’s former sous chef Scott Simonson now spends most of his time at the front of the house or huddling over wine catalogues, he’s completely comfortable slipping back into the kitchen when needed. This intimate knowledge of Chez Nous’ cuisine gives Scott an edge when stocking the house wine cellar—he knows just what culinary flavors to draw out with his carefully selected pairings.
Zagat notes that you just might see a fellow diner pop the question at one of Chez Nous’ white-clothed tables. This makes perfect sense, given the restaurant’s location inside a former church. Combined with the first-rate cuisine, Chez Nous’s quaint country dining room, which features wicker chairs and light-blue accents, make it well worth the 20-minute drive from Houston.