HTX Good Eats 2013
The CultureMap Interview

Houston's best French restaurant? Uptown hotspot quickly proves it's a contender

Houston's best French restaurant? Uptown hotspot proves it belongs

Etoile first anniversary tasting October 2013
Tuna tartare, grapefruit, compressed cucumber Photo by Eric Sandler
Etoile first anniversary tasting October 2013
Foie gras, apple, red bell pepper chutney Photo by Eric Sandler
Etoile first anniversary tasting October 2013
Chilean sea bass, short ribs ravioli, leek fondue, cabernet reduction Photo by Eric Sandler
Etoile first anniversary tasting October 2013
Roasted duck breast, huckleberry gastrique, butternut squash, mushrooms Photo by Eric Sandler
Etoile first anniversary tasting October 2013
Apple tart, vanilla ice cream, fleur de sel caramel Photo by Eric Sandler
Etoile first anniversary tasting October 2013
Etoile first anniversary tasting October 2013
Etoile first anniversary tasting October 2013
Etoile first anniversary tasting October 2013
Etoile first anniversary tasting October 2013

When Etoile opened a year ago, there was some skepticism as to whether a chef from San Diego could prepare French food that Houstonians would embrace. After a year, one wonders what the fuss was all about.

Etoile has emerged as one of those rare restaurants that's equally appropriate for a casual weekday dinner or blow out family celebration. People of all ages and diners of all levels of sophistication can find something on the menu. Whether it's a classic French entree like cassoulet or a more modern preparation of screamingly fresh seafood.

At the helm, the husband and wife team of chef Philippe Verpiand and Monica Bui have set an example for their staff and remain engaged everyday to ensure a high level of quality of and consistency.

 "I have 15 days off in the year. Something like that. I don’t count them."  

The restaurant is celebrating its first year with a special four-course, $68 menu that includes roasted duck breast and the signature apple tart. The menu's available through Saturday. Check out the photos above to see the dishes and read on to see what the unexpectedly loquacious Verpiand has to say about his first year.

CultureMap: Could we start at the beginning? Why did you and your wife choose to move to Houston?

Philippe Verpiand: We were looking for a change. We came out here to check it out. The restaurant industry here is doing very well. It’s the best market in the United States. I think everybody knows that. We decided to move out here.

CM: How did you pick this location?

PV:  I liked the feel of the building and where it’s located. We decided to go for it. We decided to take a chance.

CM: Why do you think you've been so successful?

PV:  I try to make everything right. On the seasonal part of the menu, we try to change things when they come in season. 

CM: How important do you think it is that you offer a mix of both traditional French cuisine and more modern dishes? 

PV: We have a lot of customers who go to Paris. They’re well-traveled. They have those old French dishes they like: Escargot in green parsley with butter. If it’s made right, it’s good. They go to a French restaurant. They see that. They like it.

It’s about consistency, too. It’s pretty important how you make things everyday.

CM: How do you ensure that?

PV: I’m here everyday. I’m here most of the time. You can’t work everyday. I have 15 days off in the year. Something like that. I don’t count them.

It’s easier when you open and you have a burst (of people), but you want to make sure they come back. Everyday we’re trying to polish things. Make things better. Everyday you want to do a lot of little things to keep attracting people.

CM: Are you surprised by how much people like the burger? It’s unexpected to have a good burger at a French restaurant.

PV: I made a burger for lunch. It’s not on the dinner menu, but at lunch you want to have the right items. We’re selling some, but we’re selling more brie sandwiches with pear and arugula inside.

I like my burger. It’s brioche bun. It’s buttery. We’re grinding the meat ourselves. We’re putting a good effort into the burger.

CM: Houstonia magazine recently called Etoile "Houston's best French restaurant." Do you have an opinion about that?

PV: It’s good for me they say that. It means we’re doing something right, but it’s not stopping me. I don’t think I’m set up for the next 10 years. I’m always worried. When you run a business, you’ve got 40 employees, 200 guests a day, you want the little things to go right.