Houston’s favorite French cowboy is ready to saddle up and ride back into the restaurant scene. Chef Philippe Schmit returns to the kitchen at PS21his new restaurant in the former Queen Vic/Olive & Twist space opening March 9 (2712 Richmond Ave).
Houston foodies will recognize Schmit’s name from his time at Bistro Moderne at Hotel Derek and for his eponymous restaurant Philippe Restaurant + Lounge, a French gourmet restaurant where he served as chef and partner from 2011-13 (it eventually became La Table after his departure ).
At PS21 he has teamed up with Sébastien Laval, the front of house personality who has worked at restaurants such as La Table, Le Colonial and MAD and consulted on the openings of Musaafer, Ciel and others. The restaurant’s name is simple – it’s the partners’ first initials and the year they got serious about trying to open something together, although the roots go back further than 2021.
“I chased him, trust me, Eric. For several years I tried to reach out to him, says Schmit to CultureMap. “I wanted to work with him because he has the knowledge to open many restaurants. I also wanted someone who could look at the financial side. I can focus on the restaurant, the creativity, and Sébastien can look at the business.”
Both men have a good food background, but PS21 will be more casual. Schmit describes it as a neighborhood restaurant where he expects to see regulars a few times a week.
“They’ll know we’ll have a great wine list and great cocktails. Hopefully the food will be okay,” he says.
Laval has a more serious answer to the question “why not good food.” It comes down to the atmosphere the duo is trying to create. “We want a place that is pleasant, where people enjoy themselves. Where they feel at home, he explains.
Part of that conviviality comes from a section of the menu entitled L’Apéro. Laval describes it as a French version of tapas or mezze where people share small plates over drinks and glasses of wine. One offer will be a raclette presentation at the table where hot cheese is eaten with potatoes, crudité and charcuterie.
“These are things French restaurants don’t usually do in the U.S. It’s something we want to bring,” says Laval.
The menu will mix French classics with items designed to suit the times, especially vegetarians and those following a keto diet. Expect dishes such as Foie Gras Terrine with artichokes, smoked duck breast, Sauternes gelée, kumquat and marmalade; Duck Breast Wellington; steak fries; and whole chicken for two. Schmit’s updated version of bouillabaisse lightens the dish by using grilled seafood.
“I want people to watch [the menu] like my interpretations of classics with Texan and international style, says Schmit.
PS21’s cocktail menu draws its influence from cities around the world that have been influenced by French culture. Montreal, for example, combines rye whiskey and Yellow Chartreuse and comes garnished with a mini doughnut. Beirut puts a Lebanese spin on a negroni by including Za’atar and figs, while Paris a French 75 that’s enhanced with Normandy cordial and garnished with a mini lemon macaron.
While the cocktails are international, the wine list is 100 percent French. Laval says bottle prices range from about $50 to $250 with many choices under $100. A more exclusive reserve wine list contains more expensive selections from Burgundy and Bourdeaux.
Schmit may not have worked full-time in a restaurant for a number of years, but the chef says he keeps his stamina up by jogging. A recent shift working alongside his former colleague Manuel Pucha at Maison Pucha Bistro in the Heights showed he hasn’t lost a step in the kitchen either.
“I used to help him on New Year’s Eve,” says Schmit. “Manuel said to me, ‘You’re still faster than most of the kids I’m having.'”
PS21 opens for dinner Tuesday-Saturday from 5 p.m. Lunch and brunch services will follow in the coming weeks.