For the last couple of years, the Heights has been Houston's hottest destination for new restaurants. Despite the number of high quality openings, the neighborhood has lacked a French bistro.
At least, it did. That situation changed last week with the opening of Maison Pucha Bistro. Located in the former Stella Sola/Black & White space at 1001 Studewood, the new restaurant is led by executive chef Manuel Pucha (Philippe, La Table) and his brothers, pastry chef Victor and sommelier/mixologist Cristian. Together, the three brothers bring over 60 years of experience to their endeavor.
Given its history, the space has a reputation for being "cursed," but the brothers seem poised to turn things around. That starts with the design, which features an open kitchen, a comfortable bar, and a simply-decorated dining room with wooden tables and blue banquettes. The look is more comfortable than stylish, which furthers the restaurant's goal of being a neighborhood spot that's casual enough for weeknight dinners but also fancy enough for date nights and special occasions.
Overall, Pucha's menu mostly sticks to French classics. Diners will find steak frites, coq au vin, duck confit, and trout almondine as choices. However, the chef does break with tradition to include personal nods to his Ecuadorian heritage with dishes like shrimp ceviche and tiradito. Fans of Pucha's work at Table on Post Oak (now La Table) will recognize dishes like an heirloom beet salad with goat cheese and ponzu crab with avocado and shishito peppers.
Texas products have a place on the menu as well. The restaurant's bouillabaisse uses Gulf shrimp, and Texas-raised Heartbrand akaushi beef comes as hanger steak in the steak frites, as a filet mignon, as a weekend-only special of chateaubriand for two, or in the steak tartare, which is prepared tableside.
Be sure to save room for dessert. Victor brings classic French technique to dishes like a coffee-flavored creme brulee and a white and dark chocolate souffle that's likely to emerge as a signature item. Both the coffee and chocolate are Ecuadorian.
On the beverage side, Cristian has created a list of seven house cocktails, but it's the wine list that really shines. Working with consultant Shepard Ross, the restaurant offers a range of affordably-priced bottles and by-the-glass selections with lots of both Old and New World options. A 2013 cabernet/merlot blend from Cheateau Croix de Mission pairs well with red meat for only $12 per glass or $44 per bottle.
Ross will be present in the dining room for a bit, where he serves as a familiar face to locals from his time at the now-shuttered Glass Wall. Assistant general manger Donnie Carroll is an industry vet who worked with Pucha at Table.
Whether Maison Pucha breaks the curse will be up to its neighbors, but the restaurant's combination of classic fare, smooth service, and reasonable prices should put it in a good position to succeed. Having opened quietly during Thanksgiving week, the restaurant got to practice for a bit while diners were focused on friends and family. Now they're ready to go full throttle during one of the busiest dining months of the year.
Maison Pucha Bistro: 1001 Studewood; Tuesday and Wednesday 5 pm to 10 pm; Thursday through Saturday 5 pm to 11 pm; Sunday 5 pm to 9 pm; 713-637-4976