This Week's Cafe Review: √Čtoile Is Many Degrees Better Than All These Star Puns
Look, we're guilty of it, too.
Photo by Kaitlin Steinberg The braised rabbit at √Čtoile is a simple masterpiece.
When I first sat down to write a headline for my review of √Čtoile Cuisine et Bar, the first thing that came to mind is "A Star Is Born." After that I was thinking about the fact that √Čtoile is a shining star and its star is on the rise and the food is downright heavenly. This is easier than thinking up puns with the word "pho" in them.
It's really a good thing that √Čtoile is so out of this world, or the puns would lean a decidedly different direction. I'm sure chef Philippe Verpiand is thanking his lucky stars that the name of his restaurant lends itself so well to rave reviews, but really, the name has nothing to do with it.
I feel as if I'm hitching my wagon to the stars by proclaiming √Čtoile's excellence yet again, after it's already received rave reviews from other publications, but there's no denying that the small, traditional French restaurant in Uptown Park has reached for the stars and, for the most part, achieved its goals. From the service to the food to the house sparkling ros√©, nearly everything about √Čtoile is stellar.
OK, I think I used nearly every star pun I could. I'm done now.
But in all seriousness, √Čtoile surpassed my expectations. I consider France my second home; I spent much of my childhood there, running around sunflower fields in the Loire Valley, roaming the halls of museums in Paris and shopping for baguettes and olives at markets in Provence. It's been a while since I've been back to France, but the memories of its phenomenal, life-changing food have stayed with me.
I think I became a food-lover in France, seated at a long wooden table at an auberge in the countryside, discovering coq au vin, rillettes of pork and pyramids of goat cheese dusted in ash for the first time. I've eaten French food in the U.S. since then, though primarily cooked by my mother or at mediocre restaurants in Texas, never at the likes of The French Laundry in California or Le Bernardin in New York. But I don't think that's what √Čtoile is aiming for. And that's why I love it so much.
Verpiand's classic French food tastes like what I remember eating in France all those years ago. It's familiar and welcoming. This is not to say by any means that it's stagnant. It's classic, and I appreciate a chef who can take on a much-revered cuisine and not meddle with it. Verpiand makes the best of classic recipes like coq au vin and canard a l'orange rather than trying to elevate them to something that no longer reminds people of traditional French food.
There is, of course, something to be said for evolving tastes, techniques and types of cuisine, but sometimes it's refreshing to order something traditional and know you'll be getting the best possible iteration of a beloved food. √Čtoile manages to be different from everybody else precisely because it isn't trying to be.
It's a star, no pun intended.