This Under-the-Radar Houston Restaurant Deserves Attention: Food’s Not Always About Being Cool
Rockfish, ginger, lemongrass, butter ... and excellent flavor and technique.
Charivari is one of those Houston restaurants that flies under the radar. It’s not trendy, it’s not buzzing, and it’s not on the “cool kids” circuit. I have dined there on several occasions, and during both times (I have been to Charivari for lunch only) the dining room was nowhere near empty and the guests were lively and engaged in the cuisine. That’s what every restaurant wants, no?
Who needs the latest, coolest playlist and a plethora of tattoos? Judging by yesterday’s packed lunch service, no one.
Charivari has staying power … it’s occupied the same location for 16 years now, no mean feat. Chef Johann Schuster was born in Transylvania and arrived in Texas for the first time in 1997, and he liked what he saw. He and his wife, Irmgard-Maria, were running a restaurant in the Black Forest at that time, but found the openness of Texas to their liking, and established Charivari — French for “beautiful good mix” — several years later. She commands the front of the house, and Schuster, who is an accomplished, experienced, and knowledgeable chef, runs a tight kitchen (his European background includes stints in Romania and Hungary as well, to name but two more locations, and his classical training is clearly evident).
Schuster told me about a rockfish he had received, so I ordered that for lunch. Good decision. Firm flesh, skin crisped with aplomb, a beurre blanc with ginger and lemongrass. It was a dish that pleased the senses, all of them. Beautiful to the eye, fully. The color of the skin — vivid pinkish reds and browns — is what one noticed first, then the billowy butter sauce. On the palate, the textural juxtapositions were wonderful. Crisp skin and firm yet delicate flesh mingled in the mouth, and the foam was redolent of butter and ginger and lemongrass, but not overly. It was a nuanced dish, testament to Schuster’s talents.
If you have not been to Charivari in a while, the rockfish is more than ample reason to pay the restaurant a visit.