When Etoile opened in Uptown Park last year, it quickly became a Bayou City favorite, both for its exquisite French cuisine and its easy atmosphere. In reflecting on his first year in business, chef and owner Philippe Verpiand tells us about why he loves Houston, and why he thinks Houston loves Etoile. (All this month, you can sample a special anniversary prix-fixe menu at Etoile.)
You came to Houston from California to open Etoile. Over the last year, have you noticed a difference between diners in Houston and on the West Coast?
Whenever you come to a new city, you have to learn about the people and the layout there. But I've seen here in Houston that there is a welcoming feel. And people here are interested in different types of food. They love our really traditional dishes, like the lobster bisque and escargot. But they'll try new things, like rabbit civet, a rabbit stew. They are very open to new experiences. I love listening to their requests.
What made you select Houston and how has the experience been for you as a chef and restaurant owner?
My wife's [Monica Bui] family is from Houston, and we came here on a visit to see them. And we noticed that so many restaurants seemed to be busy, so we decided to investigate a little further. And it looked like being here would be a good opportunity for us. The first year has been busy. We always expected we would do well, but we've been more than encouraged. We're here for the long term.
Tell us about your approach to French cuisine.
I'm from the South of France, so we don't use a lot of those heavy cream and butter sauces you find in the north. I try to make the food as healthy as I can, using more olive oil, tomatoes, fresh herbs.
What are some of your most popular dishes?
The escargot and bisque that we were talking about before. But also the foie gras, and the mushroom ravioli. That was so popular from the first day that we've kept it on the menu.
What's been the most surprising thing about Houston for you?
Many things. A good surprise was finding out how much diners here like the wild game. I put partridge on the menu as a special and sold every single one, so we'll do more things like that. But I really like the energy here in Houston. People are really nice, you know? And they want to eat all kinds of things, so you can have a restaurant like this, or you can get Vietnamese or Mexican or anything else. It's a very diverse city. That's what I like about it.
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