Banana tapioca pudding at Le Colonial
Bo Lu Lac at Le Colonial
A cooking man: chef Dan Nguyen
Inviting colors abound at Le Colonial Houston.
Ca Chien Saigon at Le Colonial
Le Colonial’s chic boîte in mid- town Manhattan has held sway for more than 20 years. Now, owners Rick Wahlstedt and Joe King have brought to Houston their stylish re-creation of 1920s French colonial Southeast Asia with the much-anticipated Le Colonial Houston, which recently opened in River Oaks District.
It’s a homecoming of sorts. When Le Colonial first opened in New York City, Nicole Routhier was a young starlet chef, daughter of a Vietnamese mum and French papa, who was making a bold name for herself in the big city. Wahlstedt’s and Routhier’s paths crossed, and she was hired to create Le Colonial’s first Vietnamese menu.
Fast forward 23 years, and Routhier — a longtime Houstonian and award-winning cookbook author — is in the kitchen at Le Colonial, this time as its culinary director, cooking alongside Houston-based chef Dan Nguyen.
The two-story restaurant crackles with excitement as heads swivel to see who’s coming and going, drinking and dining. Upstairs, girls in short Suzie Wong Cheongsam dresses greet those who want to lounge and enjoy a lychee martini or Saigon gin (a tincture of St. Germain liqueur, lime juice, cucumber, and gin) or light bites outside on the open-air veranda or inside overlooking the sparkling, fairy-lit trees after dark.
Downstairs, the intimate dining room was no doubt inspired by late designer Greg Jordan’s stunning Manhattan original. Jazz plays as diners, poised on black wicker chairs and caramel-leather banquettes, sit at white-linen-cloaked tables amid towering potted palms and feathery ferns.
Waiters in oversized Nehru-like jackets beckon with small plates such as Ca Tim Nuong, succulent Japanese eggplant grilled with a spicy basil-lime infused fish sauce ($11), and Cha Gio, spring rolls stuffed with shrimp, pork, and mushrooms meant to be rolled up in the bibb lettuce, with fresh herbs on the side ($13).
Don’t miss the signature dish, Ca Chien Saigon, a red snapper that looks like its been flash-fried mid-swim. It’s brushed with a piquant garlic glaze and accompanied by watercress salad (market price). Other notables on the Vietnamese menu include Tom Xao Sate, Texas Gulf shrimp sautéed in a spicy sate sauce with asparagus, scallions, and onions ($27), and Vit Quay, marinated and lacquered duck roasted and deboned with a tamarind dipping sauce, sticky rice cake and house pickles ($28).
Our favorite sweet ending was the pineapple flambée with a coconut-passion fruit ice cream and rum sauce ($10).
Le Colonial, 4444 Westheimer Road, River Oaks District, 713.629.4444.