If I close my eyes tight, I can still taste the cloudlike custard filling of Au Petit Paris’s tartelette de tomates confit, with its milky hint of mozzarella and sweet, delicate bits of tomato; the warm, flaky pastry crust is simply museum quality. On the side is a pristine salad of mâche, its velvety green leaves gilded with red-wine vinaigrette. The word “memorable” gets kicked around a lot in restaurant reviews. For once it’s totally accurate.
As if in answer to a question posed to me a while back—“Are there any good, really French restaurants in Houston?”—Au Petit Paris popped up at the end of November in a renovated house in central Houston. Just how French is it? Très. We’re talking a classic menu and both Moulin Rouge–type posters and black and white photos of national heroes like Brigitte Bardot on the wall. The napkins are starched and white, and the servers have been trained within an inch of their lives to never say phrases like “I’m Jim Bob, and I’ll be taking care of you this evening” (an introduction that always makes me quite certain I’ll be ignored). Completing the effect is the presence of baby-faced chef-owners Dominique Bocquier and Eric Legros, who worked at the Ritz-Carlton, in Paris, among other venues, before striking out on their own. Wearing immaculate toques and jackets, they make the rounds of the dining room, answering questions with utmost seriousness and generally charming the pants off everyone.
But back to the food. Given that sublime tart, I wondered if anything else could match it. As it turned out, the appetizer was the star of the evening, but nothing was less than marquee-worthy. The almost frothy yet lush cream of leek soup revealed a cache of aromatic, precisely cut root vegetables within. The salade des Champs-Elysees took crisp, well-dressed greens and bolstered them with a naughty hunk of foie gras plus a trifecta of bacon nibbles, Parmesan shavings, and a poached egg. The deliciously runny yolk melded with all the rest to make a savory sauce.
After dithering over entrées, we opted for something old and something new. The rack of New Zealand lamb honored tradition, its flesh tender and pink. For our flirtation with the new, we took a chance on a special of stuffed calamari, a pleasant enoughMediterranean concoction of small squid filled with chopped yellow and red bell peppers, eggplant, and bread crumbs. The braising liquid brought a welcome dash of salty kalamata olives and Spanish chorizo to the party.
If the main courses were slightly less exciting than the starters, the desserts put things back on track. A puff pastry tart came topped with a pinwheel of thin-sliced pears. Deeply caramelized, its golden-brown crust had a subtly smoky edge.