Le Colonial and Toulouse are two culinary gems in the glitzy crown of Houston’s River Oaks District where Houstonians are going to see, be seen, shop, drink and eat fantastic meals.
Le Colonial serves up authentic Vietnamese cuisine with a 1920s ambience. The restaurant’s décor is beautiful and whether you eat in the main dining room, outside courtyard or enjoy a light meal and drink in the upstairs lounge you will be transported back to French Indochina circa 1910-1920. Chef Nicole Routhier is the Culinary Director of the restaurant just as she was in New York City 22 years ago when the original Le Colonial first opened. “This restaurant is a showpiece where I can play a little bit“ said Routhier. “I want this restaurant to be my legacy – I wanted to do things a little bit differently than I did in the New York restaurant, and I think I have.”
One of the menu standouts is Vit Quay/ Lacquered Maple leaf Duck which is prepared in a three day process. First the duck is cured, then it is roasted and the final step is the maple leaf lacquer. “My favorite dish on the menu is the duck. It is a long and time consuming process to make it, but I think the end result is worth it,” said Routhier. The dish is served with a sticky rice cake and tamarind dipping sauce. With the cooking process and combination of flavors it is easy to understand why it is one of their most popular dishes.
The menu at Le Colonial is standard with seasonal specials. During my visit, one of the seasonal dishes was the Ca Nuong/Grilled Salmon with Mango Sauce. The dish is light, refreshing and nicely cooked. “Being in Houston I wanted to use local flavors that everyone would enjoy,” said Routhier.
Toulouse, a casual bistro from Lombardi Concepts, is also a wonderful option for brunch, lunch or dinner. The décor is light, airy and framed with natural light on all sides. The drinks and menu will delight both enthusiast of French cuisine and the uninitiated. Terrine de Foie Gras and Steak Tartare are wonderful options from the Hours De’Oeuvres menu. The toast and marmalade in the Terrine de Foie Gras complete the dish with their wonderful flavors. If you order the Steak Tartare let the server mix in the egg and mustard tableside, but take note when it is first served because the quail egg is a beautiful addition to the dish.
During my visit I also tried the salmon which was cooked perfectly served over seasonal vegetables with seafood bisque. The rich and flavorful bisque contained chunks of shrimp, snapper and salmon and looked so good that a couple who were seated near my table took a look at it and ordered the same thing. Anything you order at Toulouse can be paired with just the right wine or cocktail. The list is extensive the cocktails are masterfully prepared. The Spicy Rossinni Margarita and Toulouse Swizzle are both excellent. The House Specialty Pommes Frites with dipping sauce are a must order. You have not tasted a good French fry until you have tasted the Pommes Frites from Toulouse.
Houston’s River Oaks District has great shopping, but the food is what will keep you coming back for more. Make your reservations early and often – you are going to need them.