More changes are coming to Table. Since the restaurant parted ways with original chef Philippe Schmit in 2013, then moved to a more American menu, and changed its name at the beginning of 2014, it's lacked an identity to help it stand out from both established Galleria-area restaurants and the recent arrival of high-profile newcomers like Peska Seafood Culture, North and Caracol.
Thankfully for the property's future, that's been changing since May 1, when New York-based Invest Hospitality began to manage and transform the restaurant. Before getting into the specifics of those changes, let's make one thing very clear: Invest's partnership with Joël Robuchon on two New York restaurants does not mean the Michelin-starred celebrity chef is coming to Houston.
"The only person who could make it happen is me, and I’m not doing it," Invest CEO Alex Gaudelet tells CultureMap. "I have the exclusivity to do Joël Robuchon restaurants in the U.S. No one else can do it, and I’m not doing it."
Turning from rumors to the changes Invest is actually making, the company has crafted an ambitious plan to transform Table into a more flexible French concept with offerings that should appeal to a broad array of diners. Similar in principle to Mario Batali's wildly popular Eataly — although much smaller in scale — the space will soon be renamed La Table (pronounced as it is with cooking accessories store Sur La Table) and will feature a casual restaurant downstairs, a fine dining restaurant upstairs and private event/catering spaces all under one roof.
"I’m all about maximizing space and maximizing real estate, along with the opportunity for a great food and beverage experience," Gaudelet explains. "What we decided to do is create a sophisticated yet humble French fine dining restaurant on the second floor . . . Downstairs, we saw the opportunity to create a casual restaurant with a sense of the market where you would have a bakery component with a significant coffee component. A space that can be utilized throughout the day from 7 am until 11 pm or midnight."
As the new name implies, La Table will mark the space's return to being an explicitly French dining experience. After visiting high-profile Houston restaurants like Tony's, Da Marco, SaltAir Seafood Kitchen, Brasserie 19, Etoile and others, Gaudelet says he realized that the city lacks a truly "sophisticated, high-end French restaurant."
Soon to be known as La Table Chateau, the upstairs' new look and menu represent phase one of Invest's transformation. The space has been brightened with lighter colors and warm woods. A new menu builds on the strong cooking skills of executive chef Manuel Pucha while introducing lighter flavors and a more contemporary approach. While familiar dishes like simply grilled fish and steak frites remain, Invest has also introduced more ambitious fare like seared foie gras with seasonal fruit, lobster butternut squash bisque and a roast chicken for two that utilizes high-quality poultry from D'Artagnan.
"I think we’ll compete with Tony's, Da Marco," Gaudelet says about Chateau. "I think those two dining rooms for sure in terms of the service, the elegance, the way things are presented. I think we’re going to be in the same realm."
Bakery and a bookstore
Meanwhile, downstairs will be known as La Table Marche. In addition to the new bakery and prepared items (see rendering above), the space will feature renovations that add a raw bar and transform most of the patio into indoor seating. Plans for the physical changes have been submitted to the City of Houston, and Gaudelet is optimistic the work will be complete by the end of 2015.
"What we want to do with the overall building is basically be a place where everyone can find a reason to come. If I’m a young professional and I moved to Houston from LA or New York and I’m working for an oil and gas company, I might not come (to Chateau) on a Friday night with my friends," Gaudelet says. "However, in the casual restaurant, I might bring my colleagues after work, have some oysters, have a bottle of wine or something like that."
Of course, the bakery will feature a full pastry program including macarons and sweet and savory brioche breads. In a sign of either a commitment to research or a serious sweet tooth, Gaudelet says he's been to Common Bond seven times to familiarize himself with their offerings.
The market theme also explains the addition of an outpost of the luxurious Assouline bookstore within the space. While those titles will continue to be available at department stores like Neiman Marcus, La Table has been granted an exclusive license to operate a standalone store in the Galleria-area.
"What we thought about with Assouline was really bringing culture into the space. The downstairs, with the bakery, throughout the day, you’ll have a coffee shop atmosphere. It’s the perfect place to pick up a book and read it or even purchase a book," Gaudelet says. "If you’re going to a house and you’re bringing a baked good, you might as well also pick up a book and give it."
Taken together, La Table represents an ambitious plan to provide Galleria-area diners with a valuable new addition. Whether Houstonians embrace the changes remains to be seen, but Gaudelet's Michelin-starred resume and time spent learning about the city suggest it will be successful.