At first glance, Boulevard American Bistro reflects the hallmarks of any number of upscale American restaurants. There's the dim, almost romantic lighting, dark red booths and tables dressed in crisp white linens, exposed brick accents and an expansive open kitchen exposing a constant buzz of chefs at work. Some other things may look familiar — from the sharp turn off Veterans Memorial Boulevard to the inviting horseshoe-shaped bar overlooking the submerged dining room and the place's sultry clubhouse vibe.
Boulevard American Bistro is a new restaurant, but it looks and feels an awful lot like the one that came before it.
When Houston's, the national chain restaurant that previously occupied the space, closed last year after 34 years in business, many loyalists turned to the Internet to lament the loss of the eatery. The outcry wasn't lost on Creole Cuisine Restaurant Concepts, the restaurant group that bought the space from Houston's parent company, and it tapped longtime Houston's employee Robert Hardie to oversee operations as general manager and partner at the new restaurant.
While the name has changed, diners familiar with Houston's will find a strikingly similar menu.
There's the Houston's fan favorite — fried oysters nestled in creamed spinach and topped with citrus aioli. Dubbed Boulevard oysters, they have a flavorful crust that hints at ground Parmesan, and the accompanying lemon-tinged Crystal aioli is bright enough to balance the heavier aspects.
Familiar dishes also include seared ahi salad dressed with ginger vinaigrette, pork chops served with braised red cabbage and a parade of steak dishes paired with the usual starches and sides. It's all archetypal steakhouse fare — reliable and familiar, if not terribly creative or exciting. A grilled redfish fillet is delivered just lightly blackened with seasoning, glistening with a lemon butter veneer and covered in blue crabmeat, a classic rendition of the common local dish.
Entrees don't show much restraint where size is concerned. The prime rib is more than enough for two people, and the accompanying potato is topped with a mountain of sour cream and shredded cheese. In most cases, the steakhouse sticker feels appropriate. At $34, the prime rib, which arrived a beautiful medium rare brushed with a light char and interspersed with fatty, juicy bits, was worth every penny. A lackluster grilled chicken salad felt steep at $17.
Appetizers are meant to share. Deviled eggs come six to an order, towering with a thick-bodied filling that resembles egg salad. They carry slight sweetness balanced by smoky bacon.
While most of the entrees hit their marks on flavor, some sides were seasoned with an uneven hand. At one meal, mashed potatoes were bland and a pile of wilted spinach was salty.
Service is well coiffed and beyond friendly and accommodating. A smudged wine glass was promptly exchanged for a clean one (and refilled, gratis, after several apologies), and halfway through the meal, a martini was poured into a fresh, chilled cocktail glass — an unnecessary touch, but thoughtful nonetheless.
The jury may be out on whether Houston's loyalists are satisfied with the newcomer, but a dinner at Boulevard can be an enjoyable, if predictable, one.