We went to the same restaurant at different times.
• Neither of us had been to this restaurant before.
• We read no previous reviews.
• We wrote our reviews separately.
• Once written, the reviews were not changed.
Cafe Rabelais specializes in French cuisine and is located in Houston’s Rice Village. We’ll be doing this once a month…it was just too much fun not to make it a regular blog entry. Hope you enjoy!
Atmosphere: (3.5) Stars
Café Rabelais’ décor has a nice cross-section of modern and rustic. Nice bold colors, cement floor, exposed duct work…all the standard things that make you feel like you’re somewhere. They have a wonderful bar taking up about 25% of the restaurant and wine racks running along the walls. We went for lunch…pretty laid back vibe with a nice flow of customers. The menu was displayed on an enormous chalk board. I wasn’t too keen on this…couldn’t see the board from where we sat. Sara actually had to get up and stand over someone’s table. I’m guessing for dinner Café Rabelais has a nice, romantic feel…and who knows…maybe even some menus.
Atmosphere: (4) Stars
Having never been to France, this is what I imagine a French bistro to be. Simple but clean décor. What some may consider cozy, I found a bit crowded, especially since I was trying to navigate through the tightly packed tables with a child in a car seat. By 7:00 (they open at 6:00 on Mondays), the place was crowded with only a single table open and patrons waiting at the bar for a table outside. Could be romantic if not so noisy. Also, while the chalkboard menu on the wall may be considered quaint, I found it annoying, as I had to crane my neck around to order. Other diners stood in the middle of the restaurant deciding on their dinner choice. Hey, Café Rabelais, splurge on some menus, please!
Taste: (4) Stars
Nothing bad about the meal. They brought out some bread which was pretty good…super crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside…steaming hot! Sara ordered a glass of wine and Nat and I split an Orangina. The Orangina was a first for me…citrus flavored drink with a slight bit of carbonation…very refreshing. Sara ordered the Sandwich au Poulet. This contained sautéed chicken, onions, tomatoes and swiss cheese. It came on that wonderful French bread with a butter condiment. She let me steal a bite…solid sandwich. I ordered the special…Shrimp with Garlic Butter. This came with white rice and a sautéed vegetable medley. The rice and veggies didn’t do much for me but the shrimp were spectacular and the presentation was nice. Five jumbo-sized, head-on shrimp…bathing in a pool of herbed buttery goodness. The shrimp were perfectly cooked and I know this sounds gross to some, but don’t be shy about eating the head innards. Very tasty! My dish also came with a side salad that was pretty run-of-the-mill. Dessert was the most interesting part of the meal. We all split a Lavendar Pear Tart. Sara loved it…I just liked it. It was a bit too savory for me but the lavender throughout was undenieably good. It came with a raspberry sauce. If you are into trying unique desserts, give this one a try. We both had coffee. Given that it was a French place, I expected more out of the java…it came up short.
Taste: (4) Stars
Luckily, I am taking my husband’s meal into consideration here. I must admit, my disappointment with my meal may be due, at least in part, to my expectation. I ordered the Sandwiche de Nice, described as “fresh tuna steak, egg, tomato, spring mix, aioli.” Picture it….got it? OK…so the tuna steak was maybe ½” thick and lacked the crisp sear that I love on a tuna steak. Did you picture hard boiled egg? I did. It wasn’t. It can best be described as “egg snot,” fully cooked, but lacking flavor or texture. The sandwich was redeemed by the incredible ciabatta bread on which it was served and some of the best damn French fries I’ve ever eaten. Perfect crunch, salty…yum! Warren ordered fish soup and the pork chop with oyster mushrooms and bacon (although the menu stated it was oysters, bacon, mushrooms…). The fish soup was very fishy and somewhat one note but presented beautifully with a garlic crostini. The pork chop was delicious. Tender and juicy with the most wonderful big chunks of crispy bacon. Just proves my theory that everything is better with bacon.
Service: (2.5) Stars
The service just was lacking for me. Our waiter was a nice guy, but didn’t seem knowledgeable about the food nor wine menus. By the way, the wine menu was thick…scanned it and saw several bottles that hit the $2500 mark. Our food took a bit longer than expected and the plates took awhile to be cleared. As Sara tells me…the French don’t use bread plates. This annoys me. I hate sitting in a mess of crumbs and if you aren’t gonna give me a plate, you better clear that stuff off my table quickly.
Service: (2.5) Stars
The service left much to be desired. The restaurant was nearly empty when we arrived, yet we waited for nearly 10 minutes for the waitress to come to our table. We ordered wine and again waited. When asked if there were any specials, our waitress responded, “The entire menu is special.” No mention of the soup of the day. Hmmm… The gentleman (the manager, maybe) who took our order seemed significantly more professional and knowledgeable, but there appeared to be a lack of communication when the waitress brought me utensils and a wet one to eat the mussels which I had not ordered. Food arrived quickly, but the waitress was inattentive. We would have ordered a second glass of wine if offered and we needed to get her attention for the check.
Pricing: (3) Stars
My meal was $15.00. For lunch, I was feeling more the 12.50-13.00 range. But go figure…they weren’t up for negotiating. Although, as a side note, wouldn’t that be fun if you could do that at restaurants? Sara’s sandwich was reasonably priced at about $8. I wouldn’t go back here for lunch but I’d check it out for dinner. Café Rabelais was a bit overpriced, but not outrageous.
Pricing: (3.5) Stars
Pretty much what I expected in the Village. Wines ranging from $5 – $20 per glass, $8.95 for my sandwich, $25.00 for the pork chop.
Overall Opinion: (3.5) Stars
I would go back to Café Rabelais. My highest rated category was Taste…and that’s never a bad thing. Those shrimp were awesome. I could see myself getting a craving for them with a nice glass of wine. I firmly believe this is one of the key ways to make it as a restaurant. Do something (at least one thing) so well, it will keep the people coming back. The service needs to be better, and quite possibly I caught them on an off day. When you open an authentic French cuisine restaurant, every person better be knowledgeable.
Overall Opinion: (3.5) Stars
I would probably go back if someone else suggested it. Nice ambiance, hit-or-miss food, not so hot service.