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Finally, a Houston restaurant takes wines by the glass seriously: More than 80 choices at redone lounge

Finally, a Houston restaurant takes wines by the glass seriously: More than 80 choices at redone lounge

September 2012 Happy Hour Deals, Phil's Wine Lounge, Philippe
Philippe's bar space has undergone a bit of an update, but the pumped-up wine menu is the real difference. Philippe Houston
Phil's Wine Lounge, food, cheese, light bites
You need something to nosh on with that wine — and Philippe delivers there as well. Courtesy of Phil's Wine Lounge
Vanessa Boyd, Phil's
Vanessa Boyd Photo by Melissa Quo
September 2012 Happy Hour Deals, Phil's Wine Lounge, Philippe
Phil's Wine Lounge, food, cheese, light bites
Vanessa Boyd, Phil's

Most restaurants have a wines by the glass list so short you could try everything on it and still drive home safely. (Just kidding! Do not try this.)

Then there's the wines by the glass list at Phil's Wine Lounge, the newly revamped bar area downstairs in Philippe Restaurant + Lounge. The space has gotten a little bit of an update, with new wallpaper and a new exposed wine rack area to one side of the bar, but most of the changes at Phil's are on the menu, the greatest of them being a list of more than 80 wines by the glass  —starting at $7 each — created by sommelier and wine director Vanessa Treviño Boyd.

The breadth of the list is possible because of an argon-based preservation system, which isolates the wine from the oxygen that degrades it, allowing bottles to stay fresh for up to four days.

"The argon lays like a blanket over the wine," Treviño Boyd tells CultureMap. "It's not like a pump where you are removing all the aroma along with the air."

 The breadth of the list is possible because of an argon-based preservation system, which allows bottles to stay fresh for up to four days. 

Treviño Boyd hopes the new system will allow guests to try new varietals and producers —  from a crisp Basque white to a Shiraz blend from South Africa — without the commitment of ordering a bottle. She's also offering wine courses on Mondays at the new Phil's community table to further introduce guests to what the extensive list has to offer.

While I might never spring for a bottle of Vincent Girardin Chambolle-Musigny from Burgundy (the wine list prices it at $98), tasting a glass for $33 feels like an accessible indulgence. Even better: Stop by during happy hour from 4 to 6:30 p.m. on weekdays and all opened bottles of wine are half off, meaning the same fancy Burgundy could start for under $17.

While the wine by the glass list downstairs has multiplied, the food portion of the menu has shrunk significantly. Gone is the mish-mash of small plates that ranged from the classically French (escargot, croque monsieur) to typical American bar bites (calamari and sliders). Instead chef/owner Philippe Schmit is paring down to some cheese and charcuterie plates and a menu of thin crust pizzas designed to complement the drinks.

The Riviera, a mix of gruyere, arugula, ham, figs and wine vinegar, isn't the first pizza in town to balance bitter and salty flavors against the rich sweetness of fig (Alto and Saint Genevieve offer other versions), but that doesn't make me any less in love with the combo, though Phil's version was a bit more spare in the toppings. I also tried the Castilian (Schmit's professed favorite), in which the dense blanket of mussels, shrimp, chorizo and chicken is spiced up by some bell peppers.

Overall the theme downstairs feels more cohesive, more French (well, except for the name Phil's — I'm not used to that yet) and more focused on wine as the centerpiece of a relaxed good time.