Now that it’s the only restaurant with a dedicated tasting menu inside the Houston limits — Cureight in The Woodlands and Eculent in Kemah are still holding it down beyond the Sam Houston Tollway— The Pass is making some changes. While the restaurant, which shares a building with its more casual sibling Provisions, will always remain an upscale fine dining experience, it now comes at a lower price and is less demanding of its customers’ time.
Chef-owners Seth Siegel-Gardner and Terrence Gallivan have implemented a new menu that cuts the number of courses from nine to five and lowers the price to $65 ($105 with wine or beverage pairing), which compares favorably to the $74 Oxheart changed for six courses before it closed in March. The changes came in response to request from diners, who wanted a shorter, less expensive experience.
“(The format) needed to evolve,” Siegel-Gardner tells CultureMap. “With the way people are eating out and the way our cooking styles have change, for us, it was a natural change. It wasn’t a knee jerk reaction to anything.”
By sticking to the basic script, dinner should only take about an hour-and-a-half, which cuts an hour or so from the meal. Some diners may want a little more control over their meals than a tasting menu provides, but Gallivan still sees value in the format for those looking for a refined experience.
“I think the tasting menu is a bastion of cooking. It gives a chef or a restaurant a way to steer the boat for the guests,” Gallivan says. Later, he adds, “I think for us the tasting menu is a way you can tell a little bit of a story. You can showcase different ingredients, different techniques. For us, it’s also a way to show a little sense of humor.”
Although the menu has become shorter, The Pass maintains its culinary perspective of elevating ingredients and surprising diners. A dish labeled “fish taco” may be eaten by hand, but the contents of snapper and uni and the presentation won’t be confused for a conventional taco (see photo above).
Diners who want a longer experience may add on up to three supplements. Currently, all three dishes utilize ingredients from Yonder Way Farm in Fayetteville. Priced between $12 and $18, these dishes offer both additional luxury (one consists of a farm egg with caviar) and can also make the meal more filling (via a pork loin that can be split between as many as four people).
Gallivan acknowledges that supplements at other restaurants can dramatically raise the price of the meal or leave diners feeling left out that they’re missing out on the best dishes if they don’t pay for the upgrades. Thankfully, that’s not the approach at The Pass.
“We wanted to make it so you can add on a course where it wouldn’t be a dramatic decision (financially),” Gallivan says. “It just gives people a little more control over how their night progresses.”
“It’s also based on timing,” Siegel-Gardner adds. “If you love gnocchi, get that supplement. It’s kind of choose your own adventure.”
Whether all these changes are enough to vault Siegel-Gardner and Gallivan from the list of James Beard Award semifinalists onto the roster of finalists remains to be seen. Still, as the restaurant prepares to celebrate its fifth anniversary this fall, it’s good to see the chefs continue to give passionate diners plenty of reasons to book their next reservation.