It's possible to identify three phases in a rising culinary scene: First the locals with restaurants raise the game. Second, those with local ties return from working elsewhere and contribute the best of what they've learned. Finally outsiders want to get in on the action and make their way to town.
It looks like Houston's growing food mecca has reached the third stage with the opening of Étoile, a shabby-chic French restaurant by Philippe Verpiand. Verpiand is a native of the French region of Provençe who has spent the last decade cooking in San Diego, first at Tapenade in La Jolla and later at his own restaurant, Cavaillon.
"We tried some of the French restaurants and we were disappointed. It's not authentic."
Verpiand revealed his plans to uproot and head to Houston last year after visiting the city and finding the restaurants full of patrons even on weeknights.
"We really love the energy here," says Monica Verpiand, who runs the dining room at her husband's restaurant.
According to Monica, the decision to move wasn't just about Houstonians' famous love for dining out — although being ranked the city that eats out the most by Zagat doesn't hurt. It was also about finding somewhere with a better standard of living and more flexibility as their family grew.
Monica says the couple also felt that Houston was lacking in authentic Provençal-style cuisine. "We tried some of the French restaurants and we were disappointed. It's not authentic," she says.
Among Verpiand's specialties that he is bringing to Étoile are mushroom ravioli and braised beef short ribs, along with other classics like lobster bisque, coq au vin, mushroom risotto and a beautiful apple tart.
Étoile, which inhabits the former Thierry Andre Tellier Café spot in Uptown Park, officially opened for dinner on Wednesday with a full menu. Lunch will follow on Nov. 12.