First Look at L'Olivier Restaurant and Bar

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Photos by Minh H. Truong
Homemade chicken liver pate: like buttah.
I am a bit of a Francophile. My brother lived in France for a year and when I visited him in the small town of Vichy I was hooked. The language, the laissez-faire attitude and in particular the food drew me in. I even took eight years of French, but please don't ask me to say anything.

So for someone like me who enjoys all things French it's great that Houston has its share of French restaurants: Cafe Rabelais, Brasserie Max and Julie and recently Philippe and Brasserie 19 come to mind.

And now there is L'Olivier Restaurant and Bar, the new baby of Chef Olivier Ciesielski, formerly of Tony's. Chef Olivier describes his new restaurant not as specifically French but as more of a European brasserie with an American twist that will draw from his French background. This is important to know, as you shouldn't expect the typical French fare at L'Olivier.

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Tropical ceviche
I visited the restaurant on the Friday of its first week officially open. Word had spread, as there were a good amount of people -- even a large group of 12. The space is beautiful, with no trace of its former resident (an adult bookstore) to be found, except for maybe the sultry red tones that evoke a bit of romance. The aesthetic is more modern than it is European, the soft lighting and light chairs are more feminine, with the darker bar area a nice contrast. The beautiful, glass-walled wine room is the eye-catcher.

When we visited, the service was friendly, if a little scattered. We weren't quite sure who was going to be our waiter since three different people greeted us in succession. The menu is still a work in progress as they try to figure out what works and what doesn't, so it is still quite limited. We decided to share a few appetizers and an entree. Unfortunately, it was the last day of Lent and my dining companion was still unable to eat meat, so most of our dishes that day were seafood-based.

The first to arrive was the beef tartare ($9): hand-cut tenderloin served with toast. The tartare was a small serving hidden under some greens. It sadly did not look very appetizing, the color of the beef a little gray. The flavor was not clean but rather a little tangy, and the texture was mushy. My companion wasn't able to eat it, of course, and I could only manage a few bites. What is usually one of my favorite dishes was a disappointing beginning.

The next dish however was far better. The homemade chicken liver pate ($11) -- although not much to look at presentation-wise -- was utterly delicious. It was creamy and smooth, and the touch of brandy added a slight sweetness. The only thing that would've made it better would perhaps have been some cornichons on the side to break up the richness and add a bit of acidity and crunch.

The next appetizer was the tropical ceviche ($12), one of the "twist" dishes on the menu. The ceviche consisted of white fish, scallop, shrimp and pineapple with yuzu juice. The seafood was fresh but a little overcooked, and the combination of the pineapple and yuzu was far too fruity and sweet. It is not a dish I would order again.

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Sauteed shrimp with black risotto
For the entree, we also ordered something that was a twist, this time Italian: the sauteed shrimp with black risotto, Brussels sprouts and garlic white wine sauce ($19). The dish smelled amazing and was beautifully presented. It was a very flavorful dish -- garlic was infused into every bite, and the black risotto was al dente, just to my liking. It was a good dish but not spectacular. And that was pretty much my impression of the whole meal.

I was really expecting to be wowed but came out rather underwhelmed. Granted, the restaurant is still new, so I am willing to try it again. I would definitely return to try the steak frites or the Boeuf Bourguignon, the more traditional French dishes. One thing to note, the menu is affordable; nothing is more than $22. But don't expect huge portions.

Regardless of my lackluster first visit, I will be returning to L'Olivier once it gets its bearings. It's a welcome addition to Houston's new "restaurant row."



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Location Info

L'Olivier

240 Westheimer Road, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant


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17 comments
Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

Is there any particular reason you've copied and pasted parts of Alison Cook's review of L'Olivier at the beginning of your comment, because it seems as though you're trying to pass her writing off as your own...

Alain G. Harvey
Alain G. Harvey

L’Olivier means “the olive tree,” and you can see the visual pun on chef Olivier Ciesielski’s name cast in leafy, reddish shadows on the brick walls and gleamy zinc tabletops of his new French restaurant. In a home of his own, former Tony's executive chef Olivier Ciesielski's modern Franco-American bistro fits in perfectly with the rest of his eclectic mix of Lower Westheimer neighbors. The patio is casual and playful, the bar elegant and refined, the dining room sumptuous yet modern. The menu and the impressive wine list offer relatively inexpensive French standards like Boeuf Bourguignon with nontraditional offerings, such as a tropical ceviche in pineapple and yuzu juice. The menu offerings are frequently updated, prepared with fresh produce, and feature innovative items and seasonal creations, all with the signature taste and artful presentation of Chef Ciesielski. L'Olivier is a fantastic addition to Houston's restaurant scene. On a recent visit each course was well thought out and perfectly executed by Chef Olivier. Sommelier extraordinaire, James Watkins, was tableside to offer advice. Chef Olivier was kind enough to allow me into his very busy kitchen to speak with him. He revealed himself to be an extremely competent, hard-working, talented and humble man possessing an extraordinary skill for creating dishes that are at once both innovative and savory. On my next visit I’ll ask James' permission to take a peak in the cellar with him to check out his organizational system and the restaurant's amazing collection of wines. In addition to numerous splurge bottlings, they have over 100 wines which are affordably priced at under $65 on their list. I look forward to trying out their lunch menu soon. I highly recommend this establishment for their ambiance, quality, good value and service.

FRANCOIS
FRANCOIS

We had dinner Friday night a l'Olivier restaurant, to show our support to Olivier. The restaurant was crowded, and we got an excellent table on the patio...quickly.Our 1st course was excellent...Oysters on a 1/2 shelf and Goat Cheese salad...The 2nd course was not exactly what we were expecting...from a well known chef...Those 2 dishes will never been allowed to be serve at Tony's Restaurant.I picked the Special Of the Day deliciously described by the Waiter...Mario.I received 3 boiled claims ( Straight Claims) with about 20 Italian Sausage Mini Bowls...used as a frozen pizza ingredient...With that, was served 10 cubes of Red Bell Pepper...under-cooked topped with a brown liquid sauce without any flavor...Olivier...What is going on???Special of the day...should be your best dish...Mini bowls of frozen Italian sausage with my claims was not acceptable...WAKE-UP...YOU HAVE TO DELIVER...STOP WATCHING YOURSELF IN THE MIRROR...and start cooking.The Salmon Risotto had salmon cubes of the size of  needle heads... You can do better...The black Risotto is a good idea, but the Salmon was almost absent from the plate, and definitely absent from the flavor...We turned back the desert, and went to " Au Petit Paris" to finish our dinner.

Francois Hollande May 4th, 2012

Derekblack44
Derekblack44

I just had lunch there, and for a first look at a Restaurant in its infancy stage, I thought it was excellent. I had smoked salmon, the pate and beef bourguinon and all were very good. The wine list is well on it's way also.

I worked in Restaurant biz for quite a while and have been on both sides of a review. All and all I think it is what it is. Your never going to please everyone and it's a critics job to point out shortcomings, warranted or not.

Hey, as they say, there is no such thing as bad press..........unless of course you are a new restaurant.

flabbergasted
flabbergasted

Why would you go to review a restaurant in the first week? Further, bring a person who limits you to only being able eat maybe half the menu, if not less?! Seems foolish and down right disrespectful to Olivier

Vonwaffenblut
Vonwaffenblut

I came away impressed after trying l'olivier last week. The menu was still being tweaked but the tartare was amazing (flecked w/ parmigiana reggiano!), the ceviche just right---more nuanced than simply acidic----and eggs bourguinon, a dish I could eat endlessly for breakfast.

Looking forward to his pate and oysters at the bar.

Btw, great wine list...are you a teetotaler?

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

I had a great first meal there (East Coast oysters, steak tartare, farmer's salad, parmesan-crusted short rib), my only complaint being that the salads were overdressed. Interestingly enough, a friend of mine was also dining there at the same time and her food was rather lacking. I'm keen to see how it shakes out in the coming months.

But I loved that dining room, loved the smart wine list -- although its pricing isn't in keeping with the food prices, I appreciated that they would open any bottle on the list as long as you commit to two glasses -- and loved the casual patio. Agree with Minh overall: It's a great addition to Lower Westheimer.

mike
mike

The ceviche was, eh, overcooked?

ThisAuthorisCrazy
ThisAuthorisCrazy

Have you not been to Le Mistral or Artisans???  How do write an article about French food in Houston and not mention Le Mistral - quite possibly the most recognized french restaurant in the city??!!

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

Welcome to Eating Our Words! If you're new here, I think Bruce covered most of the basics. Our reviews come out once a week, in print, and are written by our food critic (that's me). You can also see them online here: http://www.houstonpress.com/re...

Bruce R
Bruce R

Let me explain.  This review is part of the "First Look" series where the blogger goes to a new restaurant and writes about the experience.  The blogger is fully aware that the restaurant is new and reveals this information to the reader.  The benefit to the reader is that they might learn about this restaurant months before a "proper" review is published.

As for your horseshit about her dining companion and the limited menu options, they ate one meal.  The meal included beef tartare and chicken liver pate.  And two completely different seafood dishes.  I'd say the plucked plenty of variety from the menu, certainly enough for a First Look.

Minh T Truong
Minh T Truong

the acidity in ceviche will "cook" the ingredients but ceviches that include shrimp will usually use pre-cooked shrimp...it tasted like this was the case here...the scallop and fish were fine though...

Duce630
Duce630

Yea, I thought ceviche had raw fish in it.

Desjardins
Desjardins

Le Mistral is perhaps the most recognized French restaurant in the city.But Frederic Perrier's Aura is the city's best.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

I think Minh just mentioned a few that immediately sprang to mind; I doubt the comment was meant to be a comprehensive listing of all the French restaurants in Houston. :)

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

Ceviche starts with raw fish. The fish is then "cooked" by the acid in the citrus juices in which the fish is marinated -- usually lime or lemon. And it can definitely be overcooked -- as in, overmarinated. It's not pleasant raw, it's not pleasant overcooked; it needs to be right in the middle to be good.

mike
mike

We're splitting hairs here--what else is the comments section for, if not--but cooking does imply the use of heat.  Certainly, marinating the fish serves a similar purpose as cooking, but it's not correct to use that term. 

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