Brasserie Max And Julie, Houston

The old house on Montrose that was once home to both Aries and Pic has been turned into a charming new French outpost, courtesy of the folks who own Café Rabelais. The servers dress brasserie-style, the wine list is serious (with plenty of selections by the glass and half bottle), and the food is more ambitious than standard cafe fare. Our party started with two good appetizers: soupe au pistou (a lovely basil-and-vegetable mix) and a very nice goat cheese salad. Equally Gallic, the pot-au-feu was brimming with fork-tender beef and vegetables in broth, while the steak au poivre, wonderfully tender and flavorful, came with our choice of pommes dauphine. The grilled salmon was anointed with béarnaise. We vow to save room for the dessert soufflé next time. Beer & wine. 4315 Montrose Blvd (713-524-0070). Lunch Tue–Sat 11–2:30. Dinner Mon–Wed 5:30–10, Thur–Sat 5:30–11. Closed Sun. $$–$$$ W+

Soleil Bistro and Wine Bar, San Antonio

Soleil—meaning “sun”—is casting some welcome light on the former quarters of Café Europa. The demeanor is comfortably laid-back and convincingly Provençal, certainly for San Antonio, and the service on our visit was well practiced and smooth. From a competent kitchen emerged two appealing starters (both daily specials), bacon-and-avocado soup and a single prosciutto-wrapped scallop with mango sauce. Extremely happy with these, we moved on to a superbly tender pork chop on polenta and a mild rack of New Zealand lamb. Desserts were more ho-hum—an ordinary crème brûlée and a baked apple on tough pastry, oddly called a tarte Tatin on the menu. But even with a few glitches, Soleil is already a bright and popular addition to the city’s north side. Beer & wine. 14415 Blanco Rd at Cadillac (210-408-2670). Open Tue–Sat 11:30–2 & 5:30–10 (tapas and wine 11:30–11). Brunch Sun 10–2. Closed Mon. Reservations recommended. $$–$$$ W+