Houston’s favorite French cowboy is ready to saddle up and ride back into the restaurant scene. Chef Philippe Schmit will return to the kitchen at PS21, his new restaurant in the former Queen Vic/Olive & Twist space that will open March 9 (2712 Richmond Ave).
Houston food lovers will recognize Schmit's name from his time at Bistro Moderne in the Hotel Derek and for his eponymous restaurant Philippe Restaurant + Lounge, a French fine dining restaurant where he served as chef and partner from 2011-13 (it eventually became La Table after his departure).
At PS21, he’s teamed up with Sébastien Laval, the front of house personality who’s worked at restaurants such as La Table, Le Colonial, and MAD and consulted on the openings of Musaafer, Ciel, and others. The restaurant’s name is simple — it’s the partners first initials and the year they got serious about trying to open something together, although its roots go back farther than 2021.
“I was chasing him, trust me, Eric. For several years, I tried to reach out to him,” Schmit tells CultureMap. “I wanted to work with him because he has the knowledge to open many restaurants. I also wanted someone who could look at the financial side. I can focus on the restaurant, the creativity, and Sébastien can look at the business.”
Both men have a fine dining background, but PS21 will be more casual. Schmit describes it as a neighborhood restaurant where he expects to see regulars a couple times a week.
“They’ll know we’ll have a great wine list and good cocktails. Hopefully, the food will be okay,” he quips.
Laval has a more earnest answer to the question of “why not fine dining.” It comes down to the atmosphere the duo are trying to create. “We want a place that’s convivial, where people enjoy themselves. Where they feel at home,” he explains.
Part of that conviviality will come from a section of the menu titled L’Apéro. Laval describes it as a French take on tapas or mezze where people share small plates over drinks and glasses of wine. One offering will be a tableside raclette presentation where warm cheese is eaten with fingerling potatoes, crudité, and charcuterie.
“Those are things French restaurants typically don’t do in the U.S. It’s something we want to bring,” Laval says.
The menu will mix French classics with items designed to suit the times, specifically vegetarians and those following a keto diet. Expect dishes such as Foie Gras Terrine with artichokes, smoked duck breast, Sauternes gelée, kumquat, and marmalade; Duck Breast Wellington; steak frites; and whole chicken for two. Schmit’s updated take on bouillabaisse lightens the dish by using grilled seafood.
“I want people to look at [the menu] as my interpretations of classics with Texan and international flair,” Schmit says.
PS21’s cocktail menu takes its influence from cities around the world that have been influenced by French culture. For example, the Montreal combines rye whiskey and Yellow Chartreuse and comes garnished with a mini doughnut. The Beirut puts a Lebanese spin on a negroni by including Za’atar and figs, while the Paris a French 75 that’s amped up with Normandy cordial and garnished with a mini lemon macaron.
While the cocktails are international, the wine list is 100-percent French. Laval says bottle prices run from about $50 to $250 with plenty of selections under $100. A more exclusive reserve wine list contains higher priced selections from Burgundy and Bourdeaux.
Schmit may not have worked full time in a restaurant for a number of years, but the chef says he keeps his stamina up by jogging. A recent shift working alongside his former colleague Manuel Pucha at Maison Pucha Bistro in the Heights proved he hasn’t lost a step in the kitchen, either.
“I used to go help him on New Year’s Eve,” Schmit says. “Manuel told me, ‘You’re still faster than most of the kids I get.’”
PS21 will open for dinner Tuesday-Saturday beginning at 5 pm. Lunch and brunch services will follow in the weeks to come.