Generally, a place specializing in Champagne is a rare thing (ok, less unusual in a place like River Oaks, Houston) but, finding one with a huge curated selection, and known for having great prices, is one in a million…. throw in great oysters, grilled steaks, and an outrageously good “doughnut,” and you have a’Bouzy at 2300 Westheimer, between Kirby and Shepard.
Named after the small village of Bouzy on the southeast edge of the Montagne de Reims in Champagne, a’Bouzy is the brainchild of Shawn Virene, long known in Houston for his success and great wine skills at River Oak’s Brasserie 19.
The restaurant’s style is mostly rustic French with exposed brick, reclaimed wood, a profusion of plants, and lots of vintage champagne buckets, but a few modern touches really stand out. To the right of the entryway is a long backlit marble wall that functions as a wine display. It’s loaded with Champagne bottles and practically screams photograph me. Also, above the main dining room is a profusion of clear glass globes hung to give the impression of Champagne bubbles.
As you enter, the first impression is that this place must be perfect for celebrations, and indeed we could see a few tables were hosting small birthday parties.
We were greeted by no fewer than three of the staff and got a table nicely away from other folks. (social distancing is well enforced) – In cooler weather, a’Bouzy’s street-facing patio is another popular and a good option.
The restaurant’s wine list is on a tablet, and given its (physical) 41 pages, it makes far better sense. It’s easy to navigate and is well organized.
There are well over a thousand wines listed, including prestigious wines in every category and region from French Bordeaux and Burgundy greats, to California classics like Silver Oak, Opus One, and Colgin Estates. With a nod to Virene’s past success, the rosé selection is better than you’ll find in most places. Where else would you find a Methuselah of Rosé? (Chateau Peyrassol in an 8-bottle size!)
The Champagne selections are particularly thoughtful – there were many options in price ranges starting from $48 for small format bottles through $2,100 for a prestige magnum. There are many well-known makers in the $60 to $90 range, and for deeper pockets, many specialty Champagnes from $300 to $1,100. There are various examples from luxury makers like Dom Pérignon, Krug, and Salon, and many more from lesser-known greats like; Georges Laval, Philipponnat, and Egly-Ouriet.
There are a few extraordinary 3-bottle “wine flights” like the René Geoffroy “Cuvée Millésime Extra Brut” featuring the; 2000, 2002, and 2004 vintages.
Though the exact dates are unknown, various sources state that Bordeaux producers began using notable names for large format bottles in the 17th century while the Champagne region began using the biblical kings’ names for larger sizes starting only in about the 1940s.
Saving the more exotic labels for another time, we opened the evening with a well-chilled bottle of Bollinger “Special Cuvée” Brut (usually a great go-to), followed by an even nicer Roederer Brut Premier. I must point out that both were very reasonably priced compared to retail, which is unusual in a restaurant, but also a Virene hallmark.
We had heard from several friends that a’Bouzy had great oysters, so we started with a dozen Malpeques from Prince Edward Island. These are relatively small oysters, but with a deep cup. They have a mild briny taste, great texture, and a lovely clean finish. They came with the traditional lemon wedges, grated horseradish, cocktail sauce, and mignonette sauce, but I truly enjoyed several without any accompaniment at all.
(Five other varieties were available that evening ranging from Texas Gulf to several northeast favorites.)
On an average evening, there are nineteen appetizers on the menu, making decisions pretty difficult. Moules Frites, Calamari, and an Avocado-Crab Salad were available alongside Tuna Poke, Gumbo, and Baked Oysters!
We ordered the special Maryland-style crab cake with a remoulade and a terrific Tuna Watermelon. The latter sounds odd but is actually a Sushi bar special – small squares of watermelon topped with sashimi-grade bluefin tuna and garnished with a tiny dollop of caviar! (We could easily have had more than one of these plates.) Cold Champagne was perfect with both.
A’Bouzy’s menu is “American with a nod to French style.” There are eleven standard entrée options ranging from Braised Rabbit and Stuffed Quail to a good N.Y. Strip and a Smothered Pork Chop. As would be expected, many Seafood selections are available with occasional specials.
I chose the Smothered Pork Chop, which was tender and very generous, and my companions selected the New York Strip and the popular Stuffed Alaskan Salmon. The salmon was filled with a very good mixture of crab, shrimp, and brie and was perfectly baked. Though not exactly planned, all our mains continued to work with the Roederer Champagne.
As generous as the entrées were, we couldn’t help but chose three desserts. My hands-down favorite was the Fresh donut holes. These were a bit larger than standard, rolled in cinnamon and powdered sugar, and served with a side of vanilla ice cream – think of it as churro and a beignet had a beautiful baby. (I wanted this again the next day.)
An excellent dense Chocolate/Chocolate ganache cake and a Baked Apple Cobbler rounded the other orders, each with a scoop of ice-cream.
We all drifted comfortably back to our hotels stuffed and happily full of Champagne.
Each of us had heard of a’Bouzy form different sources and had been eager to try this unique restaurant. For the Champagne alone, the experience will warrant additional trips from Austin, the great food being a nice bonus.
OTL Features Editor