Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Houston Bistros (Part Two)

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.


Anonymous said...

Interesting stuff. Don't know if you read the cover story in 'My Table' that was the basis for the listing, but it tries to explain the use of the term 'bistro' for purposes of that listing. Their definition is by necessity broader. We often choose a restaurant because it offers a certain quality of cooking in a casually upscale atmosphere, a bistro in the broad sense like Laurier, rather than for the cravings of a specific cuisine. The article captures that sentiment.

'Bistro' is just one term whose use is much beyond its use in its home country (what really is a 'cafe' after all?). From the article:

"So, what about Houston? It is true that the city has a comparative dearth of bistros in the narrowest French sense, with their integral and often solo plat du jour meals, but there are a number of places that serve a similar function for the lifestyles of residents of dining-happy, auto-centric Houstonians. To match the French concept, or concepts, for our purposes, a bistro is a restaurant that combines the attributes of intimacy and comfort with food that is approachable, hearty, and which can be creative, but not fanciful, and is (generally) affordable. There should also be a complementary wine list with a number of decently-priced options. But, a bistro should be something more than that. It should inspire some level of contentment and even joie de vivre (to use yet another French phrase). It doesn’t have to serve French food, nor sport numerous Gauloise-smoking patrons, though it probably doesn’t hurt, at least in terms of atmosphere. Bistros are really more about the feel, the atmosphere, the intimacy, the relative informality, than a particular cuisines."


Online Credit Score said...

I just wonder if you heard of the RSVP service only called "Open Table? Pretty good!