I am not one of those diners who lives for dessert. Often I order it more from a sense of professional duty than out of desire for something sweet at the end of my meal. But if more desserts were like the raspberry millefeuille I encountered at Sale-Sucre recently, I think I might change my tune.
This modest new family-run French bistro on White Oak is tucked into a strip center between Fitzgerald's and the bustling Onion Creek. Chef Philippe Harel happens to be a pastry specialist, which explains the backlit pastry case at the rear of the restaurant. These are precise, formal French pastries, befitting Harel's training at LeNotre Paris, and I wound up goggling at them appreciatively while I waited to order at the bar.
When dessert rolled around (more about the salé, or savory, part of my meal presently), I knew not to pass it up. And the triple-decker Raspberry Millefeuille was nothing short of a dream: billows of barely sweetened whipped cream studded with fresh raspberries and sandwiched between crisp, thin layers of flaky pastry. Okay, there weren't a thousand of them (millefeuille is French for "thousand-leaf"), but they were lovely.
I basically inhaled that dessert, which is quite unlike me. I couldn't get over how light the effect was, how pure the textures, how subtle and satisfying the flavors. It left me wanting to sample the rest of Harel's sucré repertoire.
I'll also come back with pleasure to drink some wine from the delightfully French list, and to sample more broadly though the menu. It's a bit of a mixed bag, mixing crepes with a selection of bistro entrees and some substantial first courses suitable for grazing or a light meal. And while the quality varied, the best dishes were fun to eat: most notably a democratic version of Tournedos Rossini with a thin slice of seared foie gras on top.
The beef filet was seared perfectly rare, and it reminded me that a filet can be a pleasure, even if it's one scorned by prime steak snobs. Once I had smooshed the side relish of fig chutney through the sauce of dark pan juices smoothed with a bit of butter, and added a half bottle of 2008 Domaine de la Garenne Bandol bursting with resinous hillside herbs, I was pretty much in heaven.
Or I would have been, had the sides with this rustic edition of a fine dining warhorse not been so disappointing. There was a sort of twice-baked potato that was barely lukewarm; and a similarly tepid melange of carrots and mushrooms housed in an enameled cast-iron mini-pot that was used for show rather than for conducting and maintaining heat.
At least the little enameled cast-iron pot for my first course of Escargots Bourguignonne was used as the kitchen gods intended. It came to the table so hot that the garlic butter swamping the plump snails was practically bubbling. Nice version. I kind of wished I had a cone of twice-fried frites, like my neighbor at the counter, just so I could dip them in the butter.
There's a certain rakish, post-graduate appeal to the bits and pieces of Salé-Sucré's decor. It's flea-markety and sort of devil-may-care, which seems right for this eccentric little business.
Service seemed disorganized the night I visited, but it was charming: both from the waiters and from Philippe and Béline Harel's son, who's quick to recommend the right wine and may even produce something that's not on the list yet.
I'll be curious to see how this unassuming, rough-edged restaurant develops. It's already a source for at least one of the best desserts in Houston, and it's a funky spot for some holiday grazing and toasting, with 8 different champagnes and sparkling wines by the glass or (half) bottle, starting at $8 and $20 respectively.
Salé-Sucré, 2916 White Oak Blvd., 713-623-1406. L&D Monday — Friday 11 a.m. — 10 p.m.; BL&D Saturday & Sunday 7 a.m. — 10 p.m.)