Pressed white tablecloths, silver-domed plate covers and true gastronomy are the hallmarks of a fine-dining restaurant. For the true gourmand, however, nothing beats the experience of tableside service with the ornate cart known as the guéridon. Forbes Travel Guide profiles five Houston establishments that not only uphold, but excel at this time-honored culinary tradition.
La Table Château
Whoever made the claim that fine dining is dead must have missed his reservation at La Table Château. This stunning French restaurant situated on Houston’s swanky Post Oak Boulevard has been wowing diners with its exclusive brand of service since it opened in late 2015. The guéridon plays a big part in its success.
“When designing the experience at Château, we decided to introduce shareable main courses that were memorable,” says Alex Gaudelet of the restaurant’s management firm, Invest Hospitality. “Because we are showcasing some of the best ingredients available in the USA, such as the heritage chicken from D’Artagnan, the carving trolley handled by a skillful maitre d’ brings the experience to a whole new level. Guests can smell the aromas of the dish, hear the crispy skin being carved and enjoy the show.”
Other choices for tableside service include a delectable Parmesan-crusted rack of lamb and an impressively sized 32-ounce rib eye for two.
When it comes to Tony’s tableside service, the lyrics to Carly Simon’s iconic ’70s ballad immediately come to mind: “Nobody does it better.” Proprietor Tony Vallone has been the king of Italian fine dining in Houston for more than 50 years. The secret to his longevity? He knows how to make everyone feel like royalty — never mind that he’s actually served Princess Margaret or that celebrities such as Barbara Walters or Andrea Bocelli have been patrons.
When you order dishes such as the chateaubriand or steak au poivre, a beautiful silver guéridon will be wheeled to your table so that the meat can be carved and served in front of you. Shaved truffle dishes and hand-pulled mozzarella get the same treatment, as well as myriad sweets, including flambéed desserts, baked Alaska and floating islands.
If you haven’t had the pleasure of having tiramisu served at your seat, book reservations at Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Quattro at Four-Star Four Seasons Hotel Houston. Order the signature dessert, and top toque Maurizio Ferrarese will personally wheel a cart to your table and assemble the mascarpone- and rum-soaked ladyfingers right in front of you.
It doesn’t stop at dessert, either. Quattro is the only restaurant in the city where you can get three-year-aged Italian Bonat Parmigiano served to you on a traditional wooden service cart. Other dishes that get the benefit of this elevated treatment include certain risottos and meats (prime tenderloin, rack of lamb and short ribs).
Brennan’s of Houston
Since its debut in Houston as the sister restaurant to New Orleans’ famous Commander’s Palace more than 45 years ago, Brennan’s has been synonymous with fine dining. It’s the place where Houston’s most distinguished families hold celebratory gatherings, where businesspeople come to power lunch and where couples visit for a night of romance and Southern hospitality.
It’s also one of the best places to go when you want to be pampered with cart service because the guéridon menu is so vast. Just take your pick of the Creole Cobb salad, shrimp Chippewa (shrimp flambéed in cognac with sun-dried tomatoes over goat cheese stone-ground grits), bananas Foster, café brûlot (clove-flecked orange peel flambéed with brandy and triple sec) and other items, then sit back and watch it come together.
B&B Butchers & Restaurant
When proprietor Benjamin Berg debuted his steakhouse and butchery in mid-2015, many wondered if Houston’s saturated market would have room for yet another steakhouse. Berg, an industry veteran and former general manager of Smith & Wollensky, quickly showed them that it did. Now, B&B is a hot spot known not just for its prime steaks aged in house, but for its service — specifically its cart service.
According to Berg, the restaurant was designed around this paradigm. “Guéridon service is a real old-school and classy way of serving food,” he says. “For a steakhouse, it’s probably the most efficient and safe way to serve as well, considering our portions are really heavy. We deal with larger tables, and I wanted to have a lot of the bigger cuts and sharing dishes; they’re great for serving tableside.”
For steaks carved at the table, look on the menu for the “Cellar Cuts.” Selections include 55-day dry-aged prime rib eye and A5 Wagyu tenderloin from Kagoshima Prefecture in Japan.