After I posted my December 17 discussion of Houston bistros, I noticed a similar discussion in My Table Magazine. See http://www.my-table.com/section/issue/70/restaurant.html. Their list of Houston bistros includes all the bistros on my list plus some additional restaurants.
The additional restaurants listed by My Table are mostly non-French bistros. For instance, they include the "American Bistros," Mockingbird Bistro and Backstreet Cafe. Both restaurants are casual restaurants that serve very good, creative American food. But are they bistros? They serve very few of the standard bistro dishes, and the food is far more new American than traditional French. Similarly, the My Table list included some "bistros" that serve the food of other countries: Taste of Portugal (Portuguese), Cafe Montrose (Belgian), Julia's Bistro (Latin-inspired fusion).
The My Table list illustrates a problem with the current usage of the word "bistro." It is too expansive. It seems to include any mid-priced, casual restaurant, regardless of what kind of food it serves. Under this definition, a restaurant could be a Chinese bistro, a Mexican bistro, a Cuban bistro, or even an Ethiopian bistro. Do those examples sound too extreme? Are they really more extreme than a Portuguese bistro or an American bistro? "Bistro" really should be limited to casual, French or French-inspired restaurants. That definition would be much more descriptive of the food diners should expect. Instead, when a restaurant is called an "American Bistro," the only real descriptive information you get is (1) don't bother to wear a sports coat, (2) the food could be anything, and (3) the owners are jumping on the cool "bistro" trend. Plus, they probably serve shaved fennel.
The My Table list does include one outstanding French bistro that I omitted -- Bistro Calais. I had my wedding reception in the same space in 1994, when it was previously occupied by a different restaurant. Overlooking a gazebo and park area off of Bammel Lane, it is one of the prettiest restaurant locations in Houston. They serve very traditional French food, which is outstanding. On my last visit, I had a foie gras terrine and a duck stew. Both were very French and delicious. Although the wine list is not as extensive as some other bistros, at least the wine, like the food, is primarily French.