Restaurants / Openings

River Oaks’ Hottest New Restaurant is All About the French Kiss

At Bisou, It’s a Sleek Party Scene — With a Serious Chef

BY // 10.26.18

Bisou has been open all of four days, and the new River Oaks District restaurant has Houston’s hot crowd, many of them Clé fans, clamoring to snag a seat. You could say it’s been a busy week for the owners — the minds behind trendy nightclubs Clé and Spire — and chef Frédéric Perrier.

This new spot — which PaperCity first broke the news of back on June 27 — takes the place of the abruptly shuttered Taverna.

It’s difficult to articulate the biggest draw. Is it the burgeoning social scene, spinning with DJs and bottle after bottle of bubbly? Or is it Perrier’s food, his promise to satisfy the modern palate with French techniques and innovative influences?

It looks like the biggest draw is, well, a draw.

This is not the Frenchman’s first rodeo in the Lone Star State. Perrier, with a hefty resume featuring an apprenticeship under legendary French chef Georges Blanc, a stint as executive chef at La Cité and four years as a private chef for the French Ambassador to the United Nations, has opened Grille 515, Café Perrier and AURA Brasserie in Texas.

With 42 years in the business, Perrier has seen it all — almost. He hasn’t seen anything quite like Bisou before, he’ll tell you with a smile.

The chef steps out of Bisou’s kitchen, a frothy cappuccino in each hand. He sits down at one of the high-top tables next to the tall window, looking out over River Oaks District, the view of Westheimer to his back.

It’s no surprise that the chef makes a mean cappuccino. But Perrier’s shocked it turned out so well. The restaurant’s coffee maker is a bit mystifying, needlessly complicated — a token of this digital age.

“It’s an electronic machine, with a screen,” Perrier laughs.

A little coffee sloshes onto the glossy, sleek marble tabletop. For a second, it’s easy to forget that the high-shine material was made to withstand spills. The whole of the interior design is sleek, all dove and charcoal grays and brass accents.

“It’s casual chic, I think. I like to say it’s slick,” Perrier tells PaperCity. It’s a reflection of his food, with its modern accents and French style. “It’s a lot more than just a kiss,” the chef laughs.

bisou rack of lamb
Chef Perrier blends French techniques with modern influences.

Bisou’s embracing the culinary arts alongside the clubby vibe. It’s a delicate balance between speaker systems and pan-seared foie gras. Perrier doesn’t want one to outshine the other. He thinks they’ve found the formula.

“We put the ‘fine’ in fun. That’s what we wanted to do,” he notes.

Bisou’s Healthy French Food?

Bisou’s fine dining is skewed toward light, bright and healthy. So much for caloric French cuisine being synonymous with cream and butter. Think infused olive oil, homemade red wine reductions, chimmichuri and pesto.

“It’s to flavor the food and not give it that heavy finish,” Perrier says. The same goes for herbs, from tarragon to Thai basil, and the kaffir leaves he plucks from his own tree.

French food with a not-too-rich, delicate flavor profile might sound impossible. But Perrier’s got his eye on the prize. Imagine a robust lobster bisque that won’t stick to your ribs.

“I use strictly coconut milk and kaffir leaves. I use lemongrass and galangal to make it very flavorful but also dairy-free and gluten-free. Not a lot of people get to eat a dairy-free, gluten-free lobster bisque that tastes like lobster bisque,” the chef says.

Perrier insists that Bisou isn’t an entirely French restaurant, but so far the head-turners fall squarely into that category — foie gras, bone marrow, escargot — with a contemporary twist, of course.

“In the beginning, they were worried about being labeled as French. I said ‘Well, let’s put it this way. You have a French chef, you’re going to have some French twists, and you have a name that is French,’ ” Perrier laughs.

For him, it’s more modern American fare with a dash of French here and there — a kiss of it, maybe.

The pan-seared foie gras comes on a bed of fresh yellowtail sashimi with a pad of apple butter and fresh, julienned apples and a masala reduction drizzled over the top. The crisp apple cuts out the fattiness of the foie gras.

The bone marrow dish gave the club creators pause at first, but Perrier was confident from the start.

“The bone marrow with escargot is one of the most popular items,” he says. “I didn’t want escargot in garlic butter like everybody’s used to. We have a bone marrow we cut length-wise and bake it and top it with caramelized shallots, garlic and pickled mustard seeds to give it a little depth.”

The In Crowd

Perrier wants to bring a certain level of pizazz to dishes considering the polished, well-traveled patrons knocking on Bisou’s door. “I think you have to be as creative and innovative as possible to meet those demands,” Perrier says.

It’s the same kind of crowd you’d see strolling through River Oaks District or hitting up Clé. Sure, you’d expect a lot of business heading into the weekend. But the real winner? Why, it’s Wednesday. Bisou’s looking to turn the typical mid-week slump into a full-on party.

This Wednesday was no exception. “(Wednesday) at midnight it was still going. It was crowded, it was as busy as it gets,” Perrier says. Get ready for the kitchen to stay open till midnight from Wednesdays through Saturdays.

They just want your extra time. And, of course, your kiss.

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