With a name referencing a village in the Champagne region, and pronounced “ah-boozy,” this stop near the heart of Upper Kirby – and, not incidentally, River Oaks – that began service in early August is a delightfully cheesy and immediately very popular place with a fantastic selection of wines, including easily the best collection of champagnes in the area, which are priced much more cheaply than any other restaurant or bar in Houston. The prices are even cheaper than Spec’s in many instances: Pol Roger Extra Cuvee de Reserve is just $46 versus $51.46; Delamotte Blanc de Blanc NV is $55 versus $62.99, and that baller favorite, Cristal, is $189, $21 less than retail at Spec’s. Though the champagne is the biggest attraction among the wines, there is much more than sparklers here, including about three dozen rosés, perfect for ever-hotter Houston, big Napa Cabs, Turley Zins, and wines like an enjoyable Moulin-a-Vent for a pitifully small amount, $26. This is a great place to drink, and the patrons seem to be drinking a lot. At least they were on an early evening visit on a Friday about a month or so after they had opened. It was an expensively attired crowd that looked to be attorneys extending their Friday lunch into the increasingly cloudy early evening, aging trust-funders and other types of the blissfully-often-idle well-to-do.
One of the proprietors is the former general manager at Brasserie 19 and the playbook is similar, if expanded: more wines on an extremely enticing wine list, cheaper wine prices, an even more boisterous crowd, and food that seems to be even more of an afterthought; at least all our dishes were on the first visit, just to provide some sustenance with the wine. It started visually, and poorly, with a trio of sad-looking raw radishes, two of which were marred by black or brown splotches, were brought to our table, for some reason. Since the waiter did not immediately offer up why there were raw radishes on our table, I had to ask. He responded that this is a tradition in the south of France. Not a’Bouzy or elsewhere in the Champagne region. OK. Here they were served with the fairly banal whipped herb butter. No matter their provenance, they were unsightly and unappealing, and not terribly tasty, as I typically find raw radishes, especially of these caliber. It did get better, for the most part.
The Baked Oysters, with a mélange of tomato, onion, pesto, Parmesan and bits of bacon was mostly the greenish and middling topping and very little discernible oyster. I would have been disappointed if I had made it at home, though I certainly would have used sufficiently sized oysters. Pomme Frites, the French fries, were all right. Featuring russet and cooked in duck fat according to the menu and served with aioli, they were probably fried just once, as they were limper than you would expect at a top restaurant and a far cry from the fries at Café Brussels or even the recently shuttered Little Bigs. These were still fries, though, and we finished them without too much problem; good backing for the champagne.
The bread, Artisanal Bread which you have to order at $5, is baked in house, was the worst I have had at a restaurant in a while. It was fresh, but that was about it in terms of taste, none of the life or welcome vibrancy, you associate with quality bread; “artisanal” is not at all the proper adjective for it. As I ate my first piece, I thought that this tastes like what a place like Applebee’s might serve, and a key sign that the kitchen is far from first rank. The restaurant should just buy their bread from a top-notch local purveyor like Common Bond, Kraftsmen or Slow Dough. Even the par-baked breads from La Brea would be a big improvement.
But, the food is not the attraction here, or shouldn’t be. We still enjoyed our visit: the champagnes we drank were great, and it was fun to watch the other patrons. You are here for the crowd and the champagne, the attractive, comfortable patio, or the chance for some to meet someone wealthy or for others, the amusement in watching the dances, sometime drunken, play out all around. That night, parked prominently in the pole position of the valet station was a newish Rolls Royce with suicide doors, nearly the size of a half-track, edging out a Ferrari, but only of California class. Their owners and owners like that are a big part of the draw.
The listlessness of our server when he arrived was emblematic of functional, if not-so-professional service throughout. The expansive and terrific array of wines is presented on a tablet, which is fine if you know your way around what you want to drink, but with such a broad, varied and nuanced list of champagnes to investigate a sommelier would have helped. Maybe one is there, we didn’t see one, nor did my dining partner on her next visit. With this in mind, it might be a good idea to do some research on champagne beforehand to help navigate the extensive offerings.
Go to a’Bouzy to try some new champagnes at terrifically low prices and enjoy the louche sights and lights among your fellow patrons. And, hopefully, lift a bottle or two for the Astros at some point after they finish up business in Los Angeles. Hopefully.
2300 Westheimer (east of Kirby), 77098, (713) 722-6899