Restaurants

Midtown’s Charming French Cafe Returns With New Restaurant Menus Thanks to its Rare Lawyer Chef

Café Poêtes Brings France to Houston

BY // 11.02.20

Last November, only months before COVID-19 would shut down Houston restaurants, Karine Favre-Massartic had taken over the kitchen of her Café Poêtes and transformed the Parisian-style coffee shop/tea room into a full-blown restaurant. But before word could spread about the oh-la-la expanded menu, the doors had to close. A year later, she is back.

Having bid au revoir to the signature éclairs that put the charming West Gray eatery on the map, the chef/owner is spotlighting the foods of her traditional Parisian upbringing with culinary influences from her mother and late grandmother. Café Poêtes’ new fall menu is a Francophile’s dream of classic French fare with a slight creative bent.

In fact, Favre-Massartic spent the summer in her family’s home in the woods of Dordogne, France creating the menus that are today enchanting Houston diners at lunch, high tea and dinner. In typical French tradition, the Café Poêtes dinner service includes a three-course prix fixe menu with three choices in each course and a welcome glass of Kir Royale.

From the menu we selected Foie Gras au Torchon and Briochette Escargots featuring house-made brioche and porcini mushrooms imported from France, and saved the White Button Mushroom Velouté Soup for a later visit. We swooned. The chef’s buttery foie gras was some of the best we have ever had while the escargots dish was refreshing and delicious with no emphasis on garlic and oil.

Our main course selections were the creative Beef Bourguignon plated with Artisan Fries and the Quenelle Soufflé, a savory, poached dumpling floating in a sinfully rich sea of cream and butter spiked with mussels. The third choice was Salmon Brioche, which is prepared with a creamy dill sauce with citrus, served in a house-made brioche.

For dessert, we shared the Iced Nougat Glacé and Chocolate Tarte with Fresh Pastry Crème. Diners at a neighboring table were equally pleased with the Verbena Pannacotta, a three-layer, smooth and light dessert gelée with a compote of pear and apple and pastry crumbles. There is also an a la carte menu at Café Poêtes for those preferring other French dishes.

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Briochette escargot (1 sur 1)
Briochette Escargot at Café Poêtes, the near-Midtown eatery on West Gray.

On this perfect evening, we chose a table on Café Poêtes’ romantic cobblestone terrace sitting beneath a striped awning at tables and chairs imported from France. In fact, Favre-Massartic  furnished the entire restaurant from her homeland, from the Limoges china to the French linens all of which lend a vibrant authenticity to the setting. Even the books that line the winsome wall of shelves come from her collection of 19th century French poetry.

“I brought all my memories from my childhood,” Favre-Massartic tells PaperCity.  “I spent a lot of time on all the details and materials, everything comes from France, the library as well.”

When she first opened Café Poétes almost three years ago, Favre-Massartic was the designer of the restaurant, its profile reminiscent of Paris’ L’Orangerie de Bagatelle. Likewise, she created the menus, oversaw the business and welcomed guests.

“And then I realized that what I really, really enjoy is cooking,” she says. “And this is something I had in my mind. So at first I had a team. It was my recipes, but I had a team. I was not working in the kitchen. I think I was a little bit scared. But you see where I am now — in the kitchen!”

Formally trained and working as a lawyer in France for Dassault Aviation, Favre-Massartic moved to Houston 16 years ago. It’s an interesting transition from the boundaries of legal gyrations to the creativity of the kitchen. It’s a dual expertise that she embraces.

“I’m kind of a giraffe. This is my animal,” she laughs. “You know why? Because my head is in the sky and my feet are on the ground. That’s my two sides.”

Due to the limitations of COVID-19, Café Poêtes is open for lunch and tea Thursdays through Sundays and dinner Fridays and Saturdays. Should restaurant business improve, she plans to open for dinner on Thursdays. Takeout is also available.

Lynn Zarr, JR - Martha Turner Sotheby's

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