First Taste

Storied chef unretires (yet again) to open new H-Town restaurant — and change French food's overpriced ways

Storied French chef unretires to open a new Houston restaurant

Bistro Des Arts Houston June 2013 exterior day
Photo by Desiree Alvarez
Bistro Des Arts Houston June 2013 food
Photo by Desiree Alvarez
Bistro Des Arts Houston June 2013 food
Photo by Desiree Alvarez
Bistro Des Arts Houston June 2013 food
Photo by Desiree Alvarez
Bistro Des Arts Houston June 2013 exterior day
Bistro Des Arts Houston June 2013 food
Bistro Des Arts Houston June 2013 food
Bistro Des Arts Houston June 2013 food

He's been off the radar for a little while — and many may think he's old enough to be forgotten. But well-respected French chef Georges Guy and his wife Monique have returned from a short-lived retirement to open up a new restaurant called Bistro des Arts.  

Located at 12102 Westheimer, the new spot sits on the far right end of a shopping strip where Mumbai Spice used to be. The restaurant is capable of seating 80, with patio seating readily available.

Chef Guy is now 66 years old and a cancer survivor, but you would never know it by looking at him. During a recent CultureMap visit to Bistro Des Arts, every once in a while Guy would take a break from the kitchen to come out and ask each table about their dish, in his signature broken English of course (he's a true Frenchman).

 "It can be cheaper and still be good. If you prepare it the right way, it is not the price that makes it better." 

Guy also knows Houstonians and what they love. He wowed at Bistro Provence (now operated by his son Jean-Philippe Guy and his daughter-in-law Genevieve Guy) up until Guy's third attempted retirement in March 2012. Having had a great run in the states, Guy returned with his wife to their hometown in Provence after handing over Bistro Provence.

But it wasn't long before the couple came back to Houston — with a new plan.

Guy says he created Bistro Des Arts with one mission in mind: To make French dining affordable and timely, without sacrificing technique or taste. 

"I think it is better, but 20 years ago we talked about a 'new age French cooking,' " Guy says. "Then, we had chefs [20 years ago] and they tried to imagine French cooking with large plates and small portions. They tried to do something more light or it's supposed to be just cooking light, but the portions were very small and price was excruciating!

"People used to think that if you buy something that is expensive, then it will be better.  It can be something separate like bread or beans. But it can be cheaper and still be good.

"If you prepare it the right way, it is not the price that makes it better. French cooking for me is you have to respect the ingredients."

A Unique Approach

Bistro Des Arts opens at 11:30 a.m. and serves lunch and dinner six days a week (it's closed on Tuesdays). Lunch and dinner are multi-course, prix-fixe meals starting at $16.95 for lunch and from $24 to $28 for dinner, iced tea or coffee included in the rate. You can also take home lunch or dinner with Chef Guy's Pre-Made To-Gos for as low as $10.

 "I have worked all my life. I’ve been in the kitchen for 52 years, it is my life."   

Before the main entree is presented, the table is promptly served a generous portion of starters including French bread, country pate with pickles and olives on the side, and a self-serve salad.

The menu offers plenty of options, but the chef specials make for unique alternatives.

The Chef's Special for Monday was Chicken Quenelle, a dish you could expect to find at a cafe in Lyon, France — although, Monique Guy says it is traditionally served with fish or veal. The all-natural chicken breast was made into a ​souffle with a light texture, yet it was rich in flavor, baked with fresh crawfish in a crawfish sauce until bubbling.

The meal finishes with your choice of dessert. I opted for a not-too-sweet apple tart, baked to perfection.  

The key to Bistro Des Arts' plan of having shorter wait times is cutting down on preparation during the workday. Guy explains that he alone pre-makes most entrees in the morning, hours before the restaurant even opens.  Right now he is understaffed and in the process of training cooks, but he guarantees more help and improvement in the coming months. 

Perhaps, Chef Guy and Monique will return to France for good and live happily ever after one day. Three failed retirements in . . .  well, it's probably not wise to expect that type of ending now.

Once again, it's all about the French dining experience and keeping the Guy family legacy alive in Houston for another 30 years.

"I have to go back to my roots and see the way of doing things,"Guy says. ". . . But I have worked all my life.

"I’ve been in the kitchen for 52 years, it is my life."