The Skinny: Step into a time machine and experience fine dining, before it was run of the mill.
The Fat: A co-worker, who loves food as much as I do, recommended that I try this little restaurant, nestled in a mid-town plaza. It’s a restaurant that he and his equally food loving wife dine at regularly.
When I checked out the menu on the internet, I was pumped by the great selections. I have to admit that I was also drawn by two other exciting features; the fact that the chef is from Transylvania and (maybe my judgment was a little more superficial on this one, but) the super-sweet picture of the chef, striking a "tough guy" pose in his dining room. Gotta love that.
My dining companion and I made reservations for Friday night. While there were plenty of seats available when we arrived, we made late reservations and so I can only imagine that during peak hours, reservations are quite necessary.
To get to our table, we were ushered through the small, classic dining room. It reminded me of the "fancy" restaurants I went to when I was a little girl; white linens, random paintings, flowers on the table, etc. The decor was fairly basic, but genuine.
With a thick and charming accent our petite waitress came up to the table and asked us if we'd like some water - sparkling or regular. As we waited for our regular water and a bottle of Syrah, I had a great opportunity to check out the room and, of course, the guests.
With the exception of one table of 20-somethings, the place was filled with 60-somethings. That being said, if you're looking to "see and be seen" by the younger crowd, skip this place and try the bar down the strip.
We started with the escargot; I'm a sucker for it. I prefer the luscious snail drenched in a traditional garlic butter mix, but I went for this herb and Burgundy infused variation. It was tasty, but needed a little salt.
Before it arrived, we were given a modest basket of white and multi-grain bread with a side of, what looked like, butter. As it turned out the "butter" was actually a salmon roe mousse made of whipped olive oil, roe, and bread crumbs. The description of the ingredients puzzled me because it tasted like none of those things, but more like an airy and very mild version of hummus. In any case, it was delicious, simple and we liked it. If we'd had more bread, we would have eaten it all.
Now, here's where the "fancy" part fits in. After our appetizer plates were cleared, we were each given a crisp wafer topped with an olive tapenade. We didn't order this item, it was just a treat; larger than the standard amuse bouche, smaller than an appetizer. It was just part of the meticulous and well thought out process.
In between (silver dome covered) courses, we were served a tart sorbet palate cleanser. First of all, who uses silver domes to cover and present food anymore? Nonetheless, you had to give it to this place for promoting the frill of exquisite service. While seemingly gratuitous, it was a lovely flare to the, otherwise typical, routine.
I ordered the Seafood-Choucroute; a steaming hot plate of Red Fish, Lobster and Salmon Filet served on a sultry bed of Riesling Sauerkraut and topped with an amazing reduction of Riesling sauce. My plate was lacking the vibrant color that many restaurants try to add to their dishes with squirts of superfluous sauces and sprigs of unnecessary herbs, but where this dish was lacking in presentation, it made up for in flavor - and isn't flavor what we really want?
Just after my entree was de-domed, my server proudly uncovered a miniature dome with the three parsley speckled potato chunks. I was underwhelmed by the pale side order of steamed potatoes, but mildly amused that my server made an enormous deal out of plating them for me, table side. The gesture was appreciated though. After all, it's rare to be surrounded by a staff that seems more intent on providing top-notch service than getting off of work in time to join their friends at the local watering hole.
Now, I'm not usually wild about sauerkraut, but I could barely keep my fork away from this perfectly prepared and lusciously seasoned mound of sauerkraut. It nearly overshadowed the delicious trio of seafood that encircled it. Finely sliced and seared to perfection, both the red fish and salmon were a delight.
The small lobster tail - while moderately undercooked - was beautiful as well, which is why it was so hard to ask my adorable server to have that portion of the dish re-fired.
While I don’t send back food often, (and after my classic hesitation) I lean toward enjoying my meal versus offending the chef. Furthermore, I’d really like to think that most great chefs would prefer to take a culinary jab than sacrifice perfection for their guests.
The waitress gladly scooped it up and swiftly returned it, cooked to perfection. The chef appeared, shortly thereafter, to apologize. It's always uncomfortable when they come out to apologize, but in a situation like this, I’d almost be upset if he hadn’t.
My dining companion had the Veal "Zurich"; thin strips of Veal sautéed in a decadent reduction of Sherry Wine and smothered with fresh mushrooms and herbs. It was great, but I would not have traded my dish for it.
Charivari serves a ton of other incredible entrees like the famous Wiener Schnitzel, the Saffron Wine Grilled Shrimp and the Filet Mignon with Cognac-Madagascar Green Pepper Sauce. While clearing my plate - from appetizer to entrée - left little room for dessert, I’ve heard they have an outstanding selection of sweets.
Here’s the deal - if you feel like it’s been far too long since you've visited a restaurant where all the I's are dotted, T's are crossed and the prices fit the preparation, you’ll get your fix at Charivari.
Location: 2521 Bagby 713.521.7231
Nobody likes a sad, skinny baby...nobody!
Whether I’m ordering a meal at a restaurant or cooking up something at home, enjoying what I eat brings me immense satisfaction. On the other hand, being disappointed in a meal sends me into tantrum mode.
I expect certain things out of a dining experience. I’m realistic about the standards I hold for each place, from the local taco bar to the five star steak house. What I've decided is that it's about a perfect balance between service, food quality, ambiance and price. That may seem like a lot to juggle, but Houston is a big city with a plethora of restaurants to choose from. There’s no reason to expect anything less than the best.
If you strip my needs down to the bare essentials, you'll find I'm very much like a baby; I love tasty food and I love to be happy. If an experience doesn't generate a sense of fulfillment for those two basic needs...you're gonna hear me cry.
Nobody likes a sad, skinny baby...nobody!