Sunday, January 25, 2009

Café Rabelais – Houston

After a hefty Mexican lunch and a full day of grocery shopping, we needed something different for dinner. I can’t remember how we chose, but we decided on Café Rabelais.

At first glance, Café Rabelais is a little unassuming.

Situated in a strip mall in Rice village, you wouldn’t think this hole in the wall would be one of Houston’s best and accessible French restaurants.

By accessible, I mean easy to appreciate. Parking can be a nightmare, and since Rabelais doesn’t take reservations, the wait times can be ridiculous. Luckily, we were able to walk right in and have a seat at one of a dozen or so tables.

Continuing with the rustic theme, there are no printed menus at Café Rebalais. Instead both the lunch and dinner menu are hand written on giant chalkboards. This is charming at first, but if you’re seated under or near the menu boards, you can get a little unnerved having people stare in your direction or come and stand right in front of you.

If I had any second thoughts about Café Rabelais, they were quickly removed by the more than attentive wait staff and the arrival of my appetizer.

Even though the escargots required a stated 20 minutes to prepare, these little beauties were out in little more than 10. I can understand that some people might be worried about eating a mollusk that can be poisonous, but this sublime mixture of parsley, garlic and butter can ease any qualms.

Not long after the remains of our appetizers had been bussed away, a small procession of waiters arrived with our entrees.

Trying to be a little different, I had elected to go with veal sweetbreads with a sherry mushroom cream sauce. Much like the escargot appetizer, these sweetbreads were both a delight to behold and to eat. The delicate flavor of the crispy, pan fried sweetbreads was complimented by the unctuous cream sauce. While the potatoes were a passable side, the small carrots were an ideal companion to the sweetbreads.

Being a French bistro, Café Rabelais had a cheese plate as a dessert option. After my frustration with Pesce and their lackluster offerings, I was delighted by my cheese plate at Café Rabelais

From left to right, there is gaperon, the morbier, and the eppoise. It was refreshing that my waiter could tell me the actually name of the cheese rather than just “goat cheese”. The gaperon is a cheese from Auvergne and had very subtle flavors of garlic and pepper. The morbier is described as a subtle blue cheese. I have to admit, it was so subtle that I couldn’t even tell it was a blue cheese. The last cheese, the epoisse was your stereotypical runny, smelly French cheese, but good God was it delicious. Once you got past the initial smell, the flavor of the cheese was nothing short of divine.

As much as I can rave about the delicious simplicity of the food at Café Rabelais, the true feature of the restaurant is their wine list. Featuring a fantastic representation of French wine offerings, this list is more than 25 pages long. What’s a good wine list with some guidance? Thankfully, the entire staff of Café Rabelais is well versed in French wines and was more than happy to guide me to the appropriate bottle. Needless to say, I was enamored with the charm and quality of Café Rabelais, and I am looking forward to my next trip to Houston, if only to take another seat in this charming café.

Cafe Rabelais on Urbanspoon

No comments: