Restaurants / Openings

Inside Le Jardinier and its Michelin-Geared Wonders — Houston’s Hottest New Restaurant is a Museum Dream

Getting Reservations Will Not Be Easy

BY // 05.23.21

Jordan Nova, director of the two new restaurants at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, was stunned on a recent morning when he checked the reservation numbers for Le Jardinier. Open only two days, the stylish  jewel, mounted in a serene corner of the newly opened Nancy and Rich Kinder Building, at 5500 Main Street, was fully booked for the coming 60 days with a wait list of 150.

And that was before word of the swoon-worthy cuisine had seeped into the city’s most cultivated dining circles.

Having managed to secure a table for two along the cushy velvet banquette, we sat down on a recent evening for the most sophisticated dining experience that Houston has seen since the introduction of Nouvelle Cuisine decades ago. Simply put, it was gourmet perfection. With a Michelin starred chef at the helm, it came as little surprise.

But before we salute the Manhattan-based Bastion Collection’s culinary director Alain Verzeroli, who was very much a presence on this evening — both in the kitchen and greeting the occasional diner — we must applaud the decor which is as stunning as promised when PaperCity first broke the news of the new restaurant. Commanding views into the oak-shrouded Cullen Sculpture Garden are complemented by the intricate patterns of  rare African limba wood that grace one wall and the colorful Trenton Doyle Hancock tapestry on the opposite.

Mossy green velvet banquettes and dining chairs are complemented by a lighter green carpet that centers the dining area.

Le Jardinier Houston restaurant
Aristide Maillol’s bronze “La Rivière (The River)” in the Cullen Sculpture Garden was sited in the reflecting pool to face restaurant patrons. (Photo by Claudia Casbarian)

The restaurant will seat 70 indoors, including the open bar area where on this evening guests had sidled up to savor Verzeroli’s creations such as Faroe island salmon or ricotta agnolotti. Another 30 diners can be accommodated on the terrace. However, Nova explained that Le Jardinier (French for the gardener) reservations are currently being limited to 50 diners at a time.

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The smaller number allows the fledgling kitchen to maintain the standards demanded by the Bastion Collection, which earned four Michelin stars in 2020, including one for the Le Jardinier in Manhattan’s Midtown. The group’s L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon earned two stars. Its newcomer Benno earned one.

Le Jardinier French White Asparagus with Orange Reduction, Puffed Buckwheat, Green Strawberries (Photo by Shelby Hodge)

Le Jardinier’s Menu

Although Le Jardinier menu is billed as “vegetable-centric,” one would be mistaken to think kale salads, beets and an absence of red meat. We opted for the Seasonal Expression ($125) menu — five beautifully executed courses that included more than enough protein.

I do not profess to being a food critic, though I am certainly familiar with the finest cuisines having dined in Michelin-starred restaurants and sampled the best from Beijing to Paris and points in between. I was at one time a member of the Chaîne de Rôtisseurs and accompanied my husband at various gourmet dinners prepared for the International Wine & Food Society.

Thus, I feel sufficiently qualified to give my less than poetic evaluation. Every dish on the Seasonal Expression menu was a visual work of art, inspirational, and prepared and served to perfection. I leave the studied appraisals to those who critique food for a living.

The meal began with cured red snapper accompanied by an ample serving of Kaluga caviar and Persian cucumber laced with a hint of buttermilk dressing. The second course featured French white asparagus, orange reduction, puffed buckwheat and green strawberries. Nova shared that Verzeroli’s training of the kitchen staff included slicing the asparagus 33 times to ensure perfection.

Next came the delicious Maine scallops, carrot jus reduction with garden vegetables. The fourth course consisted of grilled Wagyu chuck underblade, broccolini, and eggplant mousse and chips. Dessert aptly named The Butterfly was a delicate  yuzu (a citrus fruit) mousse accompanied by a raspberry compote, pistacho sablé and the most artistic edible butterfly delicately balanced on its edge.

We exited happily in a food paradise coma.

Applause, applause for Verzeroli, executive pastry chef Salvatore Martone and chef de cuisine Andrew Ayala. It’s another winner for The Bastion Collection, which also has La Table in Houston and a third La Jardinier in Miami.

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