No, last night wasn’t my birthday. But it was the perfect way to celebrate the upcoming 10th birthday of one of my favorite French restaurants on the face of the earth – yes, even counting France – Le Mistral in West Houston. A special birthday celebration is planned by brothers David and Sylvain Denis for Sept. 30.
Of course, the birthday party won’t be held at the original Le Mistral, the tiny bistro space in a strip center that still plays host to other eateries next door. No, the celebration also recognizes the savvy of brothers who bought an acre on Eldridge Parkway practically minutes before it took on another name – Houston’s Energy Corridor.
These days, the M atop this wild mushroom soup must stand for “Greater Le Mistral,” which takes in not only a super-stylish French restaurant but an upstairs catering facility, a high-end grocery called Foody’s Gourmet and even a wholesale baking operation serving 18-20 restaurants all over Houston. The Denis brothers talk a lot about the American Dream, and they’ve worked a lot through very hard times to achieve it.
Representing the good life, as French cuisine so often does, Le Mistral does as many dishes as possible with celebratory ingredients such as lobster. This lobster risotto was a big winner last night, for instance, as was some lobster ravioli that turned up added to a bowl of cream of artichoke soup. This is nothing like the snooty French cuisine our parents and grandparents had to deal with; it’s something closer to the earth that tastes like heaven nonetheless.
Chef David assured us that his halibut dish had no sauce, but he also suggested that it didn’t need any. That turned out to be the case, since the lovely, mild fish was topped with a generous layer of thinly sliced tomatoes, with roasted potatoes sneaking in underneath the fish. It was a perfect dish, reminiscent of the South of France from which the Denis brothers hail. You are definitely a long way from Paris when you’re here.
Typically, I don’t approve of oversized plates with undersized food on them – much preferring things the other way around. But I must admit, this version of beef tenderloin left me very happy indeed. I think it was the small cast-iron skillet for the potatoes that did the trick, breaking up the polar-bear-in-snowstorm of all the white. Oh, and I should mention that every component of the dish was delicious.
This wasn’t exactly birthday cake, though there presumably will be some around Le Mistral on Sept. 30. It was a lovely, dense and intense chocolate dessert that benefited greatly from the ice cream-like substance in the shot glass. So Happy Birthday, Le Mistral. Happy Success Story, David and Sylvain. When it comes to vision, focus, sacrifice and plain hard work, you guys may be more American than most of us in your dining room.