By Alice Levitt
Bring your friends to these fancy luncheon locales.
GATHERING YOUR FRIENDS FOR THE MIDDAY MEAL? Here are our picks for a lovely luncheon, sans overindulgence—unless of course you just must order that dessert.
There are tables outside, but the wooden pews inside create the feel of an indoor picnic with your squad. The wholesome cuisine attracts diners on their way to and from the gym, for whom a smoothie or juice is a must. For more substantial nourishment, try the crisp salmon over farro salad or a super-food bowl—with or without meat—full of seasonal veggies, brown rice and a sweet, gingery miso vinaigrette.
The Washington location features a mod room fit for an Antonioni film, with lunchtime salads that are just as colorful. The chopped Asian chicken is a lightly spicy classic, while smoked fish, cherries and pumpkin seeds in dill-soy vinaigrette make for another exciting option.
Brennan’s of Houston
Even the ladies’ room is bound in floor-to-ceiling marble at Houston’s elegant 50-year-old outpost of the New Orleans legend. Don’t finish that bowl of liberally seasoned turtle soup, no matter how enticing, when there’s still catfish to be consumed. Sparks will (literally) fly when you order the signature Bananas Foster, all the better to soak up the booze in the 25-cent lunchtime martinis.
Étoile Cuisine et Bar
If there’s anything more civilized than a déjeuner Parisienne, we’ve yet to try it. And there are few approximations more accurate in Houston than at chef-owner Philippe Verpiand’s upscale bistro. Salads include the obligatory Niçoise, but it’s probably worth a caloric splurge to feast on one of the city’s best burgers, with Gruyère and tomato confit, or pasta with wild boar ragout. And profiteroles, bien sûr.
The Kitchen at the Dunlavy
Outdoorsy types and grandes dames alike are willing to wait in line—and share a communal table—for the privilege of dining beneath a dense collection of chandeliers, surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows that reveal the beauty of Buffalo Bayou Park. A generous helping of rotisserie lamb makes the Greek salad uncommonly robust, but we’re in a committed relationship with the buttery turkey, apple and Brie sandwich.
At this year-old restaurant, a colorful roasted beet salad with blood orange vinaigrette and Blue Heron Farm goat-milk yogurt and cheese is an instant classic. The $29 business-lunch option encompasses two courses including the standout wild mushroom ravioli with Parmesan foam. Picking from the dessert cart isn’t included, but nonetheless necessary.
The Manor House
While the dining rooms of this John Staub–designed home transport guests to the easy civility of 1955, chef Neal Cox’s cuisine updates Gulf Coast classics with modern tweaks. Cajun-pork pot roast is spiced with boudin gravy; chicken schnitzel with brown butter is goosed up with Poblano mac ‘n’ cheese. Finishing with a Valrhona chocolate dessert is a must.
An all-soufflé lunch might sound like an indulgence, but a sizable puff of lighter-than-air pastry won’t exceed 540 calories. Some dessert varieties, including raspberry and dark chocolate-mint, go as low as 122 calories. The handful of non-soufflé offerings include cheesy “marshmallow soup,” a collection of salads, and a classic Parisian ham-and-butter sandwich.
State of Grace
The hair is often as high as the seafood towers at this see-and-be-seen lunch palace adorned with leather banquettes and chandeliers, but the cuisine attracts serious foodies, too. We suggest ordering shared plates, including the Szechuan eggplant with peanuts and mint, and the fried rice with smoked redfish that recalls Laotian nam khao.
Expect a line when planning to lunch in the gardens here. The petite filet salad is the best bet, with tender beef served over lettuce, avocado mash, jicama and black beans, for an elegant take on Southwestern fare. And no matter what you order, don’t forget a chocolate chip cookie with the chips still melting.