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Culture / Foodie Events

Bistro Menil

A Museum Worthy Work

BY Laurann Claridge // 12.02.14

Good things come to those who wait. And wait … and wait … Case in point: Twenty five years ago in the spot where a gray Arts & Crafts-style bungalow stood on the verdant campus of The Menil Collection, its internationally acclaimed architect, Renzo Piano, envisioned a restaurant that would serve both museumgoers and those living in the neighborhood. The museum’s board launched an exhaustive search for an operator about two years ago. Now Piano’s vision has fi nally been realized with the opening of the utterly sophisticated Bistro Menil. The cool contemporary space— clad with Spanish cedar, with a wideplanked deck, breezy outdoor seating and floor-to ceiling windows at its entry — was conceptualized by Stern and Bucek, the very firm that oversaw the meticulous renovation of the Menil House, the Menil family’s Philip Johnson-designed modern masterpiece on San Felipe. The bistro is owned by noted Houston chef Greg Martin (who spent years at Café Annie, working with the Schiller Del Grande group on their many restaurant ventures) and his partner in life and work, Dr. Paul Garcia. Martin called upon his memories of dishes savored through southern France, Italy and Spain to create a menu of American fare married with European-inspired flavors and classic cooking techniques. In homage to the Gallic museum founders —the democratic and unpretentious collectors Dominique and John de Menil — Martin prices his dishes accessibly, from small plates to light salads, pizzas and fl atbreads, and hearty entrees. Draft craft beers and trendy cask wines (all the rage out west) are served, too — eight varieties of the latter — making imbibing both an everyday indulgence and a biodynamic green choice. Reserve a table or the Privé room, pop in and sit at the rawedged walnut bar or, if you’re lucky, find a two-top in the Vue (aka the main dining room), tastefully appointed with gallery-white walls, cushioned Menil-gray banquettes and birch bent-plywood chairs and walnut tables, each wooden top painstakingly made by Garcia himself. Martin, one of the most talented chefs in Texas, crafts crave-worthy small bites ranging from eggplant fries with a briny anchovy aioli ($7) to olive and almond biscotti smeared with goat cheese and a drizzle of agave nectar ($6), puffy petite pizzas dressed with wild mushrooms and Italian truffled cheese ($14) and an Alsatian-inspired flatbread with crunchy pancetta, caramelized onions and dollops of crème fraiche ($9). Cozy bistro dishes include a petite quiche Lorraine cradled in a paté feuillete shell served with a house salad ($13), cassoulet ($15) and crepes — chicken and artichoke ($12) or crab and mushroom ($15). Grander entrees include roasted salmon with horseradish dill sauce ($22), the popular crab cakes ($22) and a Café Annie-inspired cocoa nib and black-peppercorn-crusted beef fi let ($34), all of which come with your choice of two sides. (Don’t miss the cool zucchini salad with a lemony zing, browned bits of pancetta and a sprinkle of parmesan). Desserts ($6 to $10) are as thoughtfully contemplated as the rest of the menu, with ice creams made in house, chocolate

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