In France, it is not uncommon to have fine-dining powerhouses in villages so small that anyone but a local would need help to find them. In villages tucked into little corners near the Pyrenees or on small islands on the coast of Brittany, you can stumble onto restaurants that are not only Michelin rated, but virtual meccas for foodies around the world. In the U.S., there are many, excellent regional restaurants throughout the country.
Finding restaurants with world class food and award-winning wine lists tends to be much more likely in large cities with the finest ones concentrated in large “foodie” capitals like New York, Chicago, and San Francisco.
A recent business trip to Bryan, Texas revealed a pleasant surprise. Though not tiny because of the nearby Texas A&M University, Bryan is still a relatively small Texas town with a population of about eighty-three thousand. Its twin city, College Station, brings the total closer to two hundred thousand, but both are still surrounded by extensive cattle and farmland in Central Texas.
Christopher’s World Grille had come highly recommended. Situated in a beautiful Victorian farmhouse built in 1913, you seem to leave rural Central Texas as you walk into the cool, elegant restaurant. All the old rooms have become a succession of dining rooms ranging from cozy to grand with vibrant wall colors and classic details throughout. A nice reward for all this careful attention has come in the form of OpenTable’s, Top 100 most Romantic Restaurants in America designation for the last 2 years.
The front staff greeted us warmly and we got to meet the Chef briefly before being shown to our table. Our table was in a quiet dining room off the main entrance with a full view of the bar and the talented pianist.
The welcome was indicative of the service throughout the meal, professional but with a distinct friendliness that seems to come from the top.
Chef Christopher Lampo, is a proud native of Bryan and his family has deep roots in the region. He graduated with honors in 1989 from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. Merging expert technical training and what seems like several lifetimes of world travel he opened Christopher’s World Grille in 1999.
The restaurant has gained a tremendous reputation in the following years, earning a ‘AAA’ Four Diamond Award, dozens of important accolades in both Texas and national publications and is currently a member of DiRoNA (Distinguished Restaurants of North America). Their wine cellar featuring over ninety varieties of wines from around the world has won a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for the last thirteen years.
Different from restaurants that set a specific food theme, Chef Christopher’s menu is a collection of the things he loves the best. Some items, like Mrs. Pham’s egg rolls, even have unique emotional connections. Although they are not something you would expect in a fine-dining restaurant, they are special to Chef Christopher because they were inspired by a lady that used to invite his family to a traditional Vietnamese dinner every Sunday in great appreciation for his family’s assistance to them when migrating to America.
Taken as a whole, for seasoned restaurant goers the menu causes a problem: it ALL sounds terrific.
The Spring-Summer menu starts with a wild array of options from: Vietnamese Egg Rolls, Italian Beef Carpaccio, Burrata, a “Bento Box of Asian appetizers,” to an elevated Mexican Shrimp Cocktail.
Ultimately, the menu items do have a theme; they are some of the best sounding things from various parts of the world regardless of style and location.
To start things out, our amuse-bouche was a small blue corn tostada with a little pico de gallo (diced tomato, onion, and cilantro), and a small dice of avocado. It was surprisingly simple until you take your first bite. The shrimp was amazingly fresh as was every little detail of this tiny present. It was the best version of this simple combination I think I have had. It boded well for what was to follow.
As an appetizer we shared the Beef Carpaccio – the meat was beautifully thin with a just drizzle of grainy mustard sauce, shaved parmesan, and a dressed arugula.
Since we would be having a scallop special and steak, I chose a Schramsberg Blanc de Blanc 2014. The last several vintages of this brilliant sparkling wine from California have been consistently rated in the 90s. The wine’s crisp body with aromas of green apple, honey and even a hint of orange blossom would pair exceptionally with all the remaining courses.
Our entrées were the popular House Filet topped with fried crawfish (béarnaise sauce and port wine demi glaze), and large bacon wrapped scallops on toast surrounded by a vanilla-scented Buerre Blanc. The steak was perfect and generous, and we could have easily ordered another plate of the beautiful scallops.
Usually, after a meal like this, dessert can be a hard sell. Christopher’s short circuits this issue with a large tray of particularly beautiful, house-made desserts. Unable to decide, we ordered three.
We selected the English Toffee Cake, which was our overall favorite, though it is a typical English pudding (cake), it lacked the usual deadly sweetness. This version was lighter in consistency and restrained in the sweetness of the sauce. The intense caramel, toffee flavor took me back to my childhood. It was just excellent. The other desserts were a Mixed Berry Napoleon made with delicate tuile cookies and the Summer Berry Pudding. Both incorporated fresh strawberries and blueberries and were again light in consistency and delicious.
As the evening progressed, we got to talk with several members of the staff. Their friendliness was genuine, and the desire for the clients to have enjoyed their visit stems from a strong affection for Chef Christopher himself.
In a follow-up visit with Chef Christopher, we found that this care goes both ways. He loves his staff, and their treatment of the restaurants’ clients show that they value his trust and love him back.
One fascinating thread on Christopher’s World Grille came to light recently. Both the restaurant and Chef Christopher himself have had some very famous fans. George and Barbara Bush were frequent diners at Christopher’s World Grille while they were in College Station and Chef Christopher would become their personal chef on their many stays in the area.
Accolades and fame aside, the quality of the experience makes Christopher’s World Grille a destination restaurant. Fans as far away as Houston eagerly await his monthly ‘Dine around the World’ dinners and locally the restaurant is virtually synonymous with ‘special event’.
This July, the DAW dinner will feature the foods of Zihuatanejo Mexico and inspiration from a recent trip to Croatia will soon bring Cevapi, Peka and all things covered in Buzara sauce to Central Texas.
As we headed out into the warm Texas night, our parting words were to ask if Austin could please be put on a short list for a satellite restaurant.
OTL Food and Wine Editor