Boulevard American Bistro

Anecdotes & Analysis

Houston's knows what makes restaurant customers tick. And it uses that information very effectively. Here's the formula: take a menu of ordinary food, cook it in an ordinary way, and serve it in a restaurant of ordinary comfort. And then watch ordinary customers fan out into the world telling how great the place is. Houston's is consistent. There's never a surprise. Nor is there anything challenging. All risk has been removed. You could enjoy the place if you never dined in a restaurant before in your life. Perhaps that's why it's always full, usually with a wait for a table. The more interesting of the two local Houston's is the one on St. Charles Avenue at Felicity Street. The space is striking, with heavy-looking arches underlined by bare light bulbs. It looks like a designed subway station. Houston's has nudged itself upstream, at exactly the speed its customers were heading. The current menu is much more sophisticated than the one the chain opened with in 1977. Burgers and spinach dip--the hallmarks of a chain restaurant--are still there. But new dishes have arrived. Standards of freshness and quality have gone up, and foodstuffs that were not previously available there are now mainstays. For example, Houston's has returned to its original, but abandoned, practice of serving fresh-cut French fries. Doing fresh potatoes is a lot of work--they need to be cooked three times, for one thing. So this shows a commitment. Not much in the way of appetizers. I've had enough spinach dip to last me till the day I die (haven't you?), and the soups are of minimal interest (although they do make one with red beans and rice on Monday). Salad is a course in which Houston's has always excelled. They're carefully made, the dressings are fresh and original, and the ingredients are good. I don't know what percentage of the entrees they serve are salads, but I suspect it's very large. Houston's claims to have pioneered the idea of topping a salad with a grilled chicken breast; if so, they really started something. In any case, that's a good one. Better, though, is the seared rare tuna with avocados and mangoes and greens. There's the typical sleight of hand here--what appears to be a ring of tuna going all the way around the plate actually is only on the side facing you--but never mind. The tuna could have a little more going on in the way of flavor, but it's still a satisfying meal. The most impressive entree is the grilled fish. It's fresh, cut in the right size and shape, and grilled skillfully. It's the perfect thing when you want a light, uncomplicated dinner. The species vary, but you are often given many choices. A newer dish that's getting lots of attention is the double-cut pork chop. They marinate it to give it more tenderness than it probably started with. I wouldn't put it in a league with the best in town, but it's way above average. And the oven-roasted chicken is tender and surprisingly spicy. After all that, average is the word. The regulars favor the ribs because you don't have to mess with the bones. That's the definition of boring ribs to me. The filet mignon and the Hawaiian-marinated ribeye are standard steak. Prime rib--yawn. And do they move the burgers. It is a very good burger, though--hand-made, very fresh, grilled to order over a hot fire. Unlike the really bad chains like Chili's and Applebee's, they allow you to order it medium rare if you like. A breakthrough with desserts here: they're not all shocking in their sweetness. The walnut-apple cobbler is well balanced (although more apples would be welcome). A final key to the success of Houston's is its service staff. When I allowed my last fork to get away just before the entree arrived, I didn't have a chance to look for a waiter--one was there, with a tray full of new utensils. They're really on top of that sort of thing. Why? Because it gets customers right between the eyes. All short wine lists should be this good. On the other hand, the policy of opening wine at the bar instead of at the table benefits only the restaurant's need to turn tables faster. It is an illusion that this is an inexpensive place to dine. Unless you're eating a burger, you're spending what you'd spend for lunch at Commander's here, or more. (No lunch I've had here in recent times came in at less than $40, with tax and tip.)

Why It's Essential

N

Backstory

Houston's knows what makes restaurant customers tick. And it uses that information very effectively. Here's the formula: take a menu of ordinary food, cook it in an ordinary way, and serve it in a restaurant of ordinary comfort. And then watch ordinary customers fan out into the world telling how great the place is. Houston's is consistent. There's never a surprise. Nor is there anything challenging. All risk has been removed. You could enjoy the place if you never dined in a restaurant before in your life. Perhaps that's why it's always full, usually with a wait for a table. The more interesting of the two local Houston's is the one on St. Charles Avenue at Felicity Street. The space is striking, with heavy-looking arches underlined by bare light bulbs. It looks like a designed subway station. Houston's has nudged itself upstream, at exactly the speed its customers were heading. The current menu is much more sophisticated than the one the chain opened with in 1977. Burgers and spinach dip--the hallmarks of a chain restaurant--are still there. But new dishes have arrived. Standards of freshness and quality have gone up, and foodstuffs that were not previously available there are now mainstays. For example, Houston's has returned to its original, but abandoned, practice of serving fresh-cut French fries. Doing fresh potatoes is a lot of work--they need to be cooked three times, for one thing. So this shows a commitment. Not much in the way of appetizers. I've had enough spinach dip to last me till the day I die (haven't you?), and the soups are of minimal interest (although they do make one with red beans and rice on Monday). Salad is a course in which Houston's has always excelled. They're carefully made, the dressings are fresh and original, and the ingredients are good. I don't know what percentage of the entrees they serve are salads, but I suspect it's very large. Houston's claims to have pioneered the idea of topping a salad with a grilled chicken breast; if so, they really started something. In any case, that's a good one. Better, though, is the seared rare tuna with avocados and mangoes and greens. There's the typical sleight of hand here--what appears to be a ring of tuna going all the way around the plate actually is only on the side facing you--but never mind. The tuna could have a little more going on in the way of flavor, but it's still a satisfying meal. The most impressive entree is the grilled fish. It's fresh, cut in the right size and shape, and grilled skillfully. It's the perfect thing when you want a light, uncomplicated dinner. The species vary, but you are often given many choices. A newer dish that's getting lots of attention is the double-cut pork chop. They marinate it to give it more tenderness than it probably started with. I wouldn't put it in a league with the best in town, but it's way above average. And the oven-roasted chicken is tender and surprisingly spicy. After all that, average is the word. The regulars favor the ribs because you don't have to mess with the bones. That's the definition of boring ribs to me. The filet mignon and the Hawaiian-marinated ribeye are standard steak. Prime rib--yawn. And do they move the burgers. It is a very good burger, though--hand-made, very fresh, grilled to order over a hot fire. Unlike the really bad chains like Chili's and Applebee's, they allow you to order it medium rare if you like. A breakthrough with desserts here: they're not all shocking in their sweetness. The walnut-apple cobbler is well balanced (although more apples would be welcome). A final key to the success of Houston's is its service staff. When I allowed my last fork to get away just before the entree arrived, I didn't have a chance to look for a waiter--one was there, with a tray full of new utensils. They're really on top of that sort of thing. Why? Because it gets customers right between the eyes. All short wine lists should be this good. On the other hand, the policy of opening wine at the bar instead of at the table benefits only the restaurant's need to turn tables faster. It is an illusion that this is an inexpensive place to dine. Unless you're eating a burger, you're spending what you'd spend for lunch at Commander's here, or more. (No lunch I've had here in recent times came in at less than $40, with tax and tip.)

Dining Room

76

Boulevard American Bistro
4241 Veterans Memorial Blvd, Metairie, LA 70006, USA
70006
(504) 889-2301
Website
Accepted
Very Casual
Breakfast
MOTUWETHFRSASU
Lunch
MOTUWETHFRSASU
Dinner
MOTUWETHFRSASU
Attitude 2
Environment 0
Hipness 0
Local Color 0
Service 1
Value 15
Wine 0