July 1st, 2009
Cafe Annie: A Houston Landmark’s Final Night
In 8 Words: Warm, Institution, Finale, Exquisite, Class, Silver, Southwestern, Naissance
I can think of no better introductory experience than the final night of a Houston institution. “The beginning is the end is the beginning.” A song title that has always stuck in my head and seems most fitting here. You might think that reviewing the last night of existence of Houston’s beloved Cafe Annie would be outside our wheelhouse as the “new kid on the block,” but there is no harm in trying our hand. Much like the restaurant world, we’ll call this our “soft opening.”
Unfortunately, Tuesday night marks only the second occasion that I have had the pleasure of dining at Robert Del Grande’s crown jewel. The first, earlier this year, was one of the restaurant experiences that I will always remember and recount. There is something about getting glammed up for a night on the town (especially when those events are few and far between) that lends a special significance to the evening. Cafe Annie did not disappoint then, and it continued to live up to the lofty expectations on Tuesday night.
The reservation was made for 9pm in an attempt to put us in position to witness the closing ceremonies of the proud Cafe Annie and its staff. We arrived a bit early to soak up the ambiance and a cocktail or two at Bar Annie, the conjoined, slightly more casual brethren to the restaurant. The entire restaurant was packed from wall to wall and even finding a seat at the bar was no easy task. A Ciroc and soda (no fruit) and a Balvenie (neat) from Bar Annie took the edge off as we crowded in amongst the throng of people taking in the final night.
In addition to the masses cramming themselves into every corner of the building, it was apparent that this would be the last night of service for Cafe Annie. Our waiter greeted us with menus, wine list and an advisory “let me first tell you what we don’t have.” It was a fine dining fire sale, to say the least. “No scallops. No filet. No crab meat tostada,” the list went on and on.
We settled on a bottle of moderately priced sparkling wine and appetizers of foie gras and the enchilada with red chili beef, a perfect way to experience the meld of French and Southwestern cuisine for which Del Grande is famous. As for entrees, my date had the pheasant and I opted for the Ahi Tuna with Spanish Chorizo and pureed potatoes. I knew her’s must have been good as she only allowed me one tasty morsel. Of course, that was more than I was willing to give up of my dish.
The one thing you have to say about Cafe Annie and it’s staff is that they do things the right way. At any given moment, all of your needs are being attended to, whether someone is asking what else you might need or the wine director is coming by the table to have a quick chat. I learned more about wine and it’s retail market in two hours than I have in the last five years. You can tell that everything around you: linens, plates and utensils, are the best of the best. Surely, this aspect of savoir-faire will survive the future transition, long after the name Cafe Annie only exists in Houston’s history books.
After a complimentary glass of champagne and an espresso, the night was over. We ran into old friends and met new ones. We made the most of our last chance to absorb the experience, lingering for nearly three hours. All around us, you could tell that the sentiment was the same. People were coming back to one of their favorite venues, reliving old memories in a familiar atmosphere. Watching the octogenarian (is this a reference to RDG?) making his way toward the door, clad in a tuxedo, was the most apt summary of the night. It touching and heart-warming at the same time. Robert Del Grande is moving forward, making over his concept of Houston fine dining.
Cafe Annie is ditching it’s old digs for a chance to reinvent it’s image after 30 years in the location at 1728 Post Oak Boulevard. The new venue will attempt to be a triple-threat; the amalgamation of lounge, bar and restaurant, a two-level powerhouse on Post Oak.
“New” seems to be theme. New location. New menu. New name. Restaurant RDG is scheduled to open in two weeks just down the street, along with Del Grande visions Boulevard Lounge and a larger, more contemporary-styled Bar Annie. RDG will also have it’s doors open seven days a week instead of Cafe Annie’s Sunday closure.
What will be the biggest surprise in the re-tooling of this Houston mainstay? The new Boulevard Lounge plush with sofas and supplied with mini-appetizers and expansive selection of wines by the glass? Turning Bar Annie into more of a main attraction? The new menu? Or, will it be Restaurant RDG’s “grill room” aesthetic, opening up the kitchen to the main dining room?
Only one thing is for certain, we are excited to see what one of Houston’s most famous chefs has in store. Even the bill said it, “Restaurant RDG. July 15th.”
Even though you missed your last shot, here are the Main Stats:
Where – Galleria Area (1728 Post Oak Boulevard, Houston, Texas 77056)
What – Fine Dining, Southwestern Influenced French Cuisine
Wear – Business/Formal Attire
Who – Houston’s Movers, Shakers and Good Impression Makers
When – Make Reservations
Web – www.cafe-annie.com