Bistro Le Cep, Houston, TX
December 18, 2007
I’m on a slow, occasionally frustrating path to introducing my somewhat reluctant coworkers to something other than what is nuked and passed off as food at the Alonti cafe downstairs or at the utterly horrifying Olive Garden across the street. To that end, I suggested Bistro Le Cep for lunch yesterday. And — to my surprise — they agreed.
Since it was a last-minute decision, we didn’t make reservations. But the folks at Bistro Le Cep were more than accommodating, seating us immediately even though the restaurant was thoroughly packed. This was a marked and welcome departure from our debacle at that other French bistro a few weeks ago. A few of my dining companions were amused to see that one of the daily specials at Bistro Le Cep was wienerschnitzel, a typically Austrian dish (although they actually said “German” and I had to restrain myself from being that unsufferable twat who corrects people on things they didn’t really care that much about in the first place), and this is one of the things that I love about the Bistro.
Bistro Le Cep doesn’t limit itself to only Bourguignonne or Provençal cuisine; it takes the best dishes from each region in France and crafts them into delicious, little one-night-stands that you can have with an adventurous andouillette from Cambrai or a handsome cassoulet from Castelnaudary or even some stoic spaetzle from Alsace.
As we settled into our booth, admiring the homey warmth of the place, we were quickly and cheerfully attended to by a waiter who, when asked by my coworker which dish would make her happier — the salade Niçoise or the salmon — existentially informed her that while they are able to serve her a delicious meal, they could not manage her happiness and that it was hers alone to determine. His off-the-cuff philosophy of self-fulflling happiness was the bright spot of my day.
My companions ordered their dishes and I was pleased to note that most of them were trying authentically French dishes — an order for coq au vin on one side, an order for lapin aux haricots verts on another. My foie de veau aux pommes avec confit d’ oignons arrived looking like something out of a 16th-centrury tapestry hanging in a castle; it was indecently large and sumptuous-looking. I ate with abandon.
The foie de veau was delicately rich and the taste of the slightly musky liver flooded my mouth with a rush. Paired with the apples and onion confit, it was sophisticated in its simplicty, yet somehow still decadent. I was transfixed. You’d think I’d never had liver before, with the way I was raving about the dish. In retrospect, it might have even been a bit embarassing. But such are the hazards of eating out with me.
Everyone else apparently enjoyed their dishes as much as I enjoyed mine. Before we knew it, we had all cleaned our plates and were peering around at each other curiously, as if we’d just emerged from a group trance. There was no sharing of bites or pecking at the plate next to you; we had all simply and greedily enveloped ourselves in our own little, rabbity or chickeny worlds before finally falling back into our chairs, exhausted and sated. Afterwards, we all sipped the Bistro’s delicious coffee, which tasted slightly of chicory, and resumed any polite discussions which had fallen by the wayside during our food orgy.
Now that’s what I call a good lunch.
All photos courtesy of Bistro Le Cep’s website; I didn’t take these myself, sad to say.