What's the significance of the name of the new Houston restaurant Eleven XI? Superstition says that a wish made at lucky 11:11, also known as the wishing hour, will come true.
Optimistic about the wish for a successful restaurant is a trio of operators: Joe Welborn, an alumni of Soma Sushi, Uptown Sushi and The Rockwood Room; Joe Hausner formerly of Eddie V’s CityCentre; and Tony’s trained chef Kevin Bryant, most recently of L’Olivier.
Eleven XI Restaurant & Bar — set to open May 7 — is located at 607 W. Gray just across from Cecil’s Tavern and adjacent to booming Midtown businesses and nightlife. The 1940s era, two-story, free standing building formerly housed Bibas Diner.
After an extensive sprucing-up, the exterior has been washed clean of its former white and blue color scheme to allow for a neutral palette of earth tones. As a result, the original brickwork stands out more than it did before.
"We put the same passion and effort into our cocktail program as we do our kitchen."
On the West Gray side of the venue is a spacious, raised outdoor patio with plenty of lounge and picnic table furniture. Walk through a barrel-vaulted brick vestibule as you enter the intimate dining room with gold and wine hues, and seating for 42.
Straight ahead is a 12-person chef’s table made from two butcher blocks, thus they're divisible, and a semi-open kitchen. There's a quaint waiting area with a fireplace is to the left and to the right, a separate room with a cocktail and raw bar embellished by brick framed windows, a chalk menu wall and a sloped, timbered ceiling.
Wrapped by an additional patio, the second floor area — complete with a slate-topped bar, climate-controlled wine room and humidor — is as a space for events, meetings and private dining.
Eleven XI will serve Southern coastal cuisine. Chef Bryant’s evolving menu will feature 20 to 25 daily items, including 11 entrees and several house made desserts.
Perhaps it's no coincidence that the menu is split into seven categories (another lucky number): "Entrees", "Over Ice”, “Bites", "Little Bit of Everything", "The Lighter Side", "Don’t Be Shy to Order First" and "Sides."
The Cherry Limeade Cocktail conjures up memories of a Sonic Cherry Limeade, only with a kick.
Entrees provide a range of fare from seafood to pork and from beef to bird. While the menu will see up to five seasonal revisions per year, signature dishes apt to stay in the rotation include Texas Quail seared and served with leafy greens and comforting, smoked Gouda grits; Citrus Tea Brined Wild Game Hen, oven roasted or whole fried, with fries; and Apricot Flounder, a whole crispy, apricot-glazed fish.
"Over Ice" is an assortment of cold seafood items like oysters and King Crab legs. The West Coast Crab Cake and Hudson Valley Duck with seasonal fruit compote are two of the savory dishes on the "Bites" menu.
Can’t decide what to order? "Little Bit of Everything" presents diners with menu tastings of five, seven or nine courses (beverage pairings available). "The Lighter Side" has salad offerings, and broccoli coleslaw, risotto and creamy whipped potatoes are a few of the “Side” selections.
"Don’t be Shy to Order First" equates to the dessert menu. Want a summer treat? There are more than 28 flavors of homemade ice cream and sorbet. There's also a variety of desserts prepared by Bryant, who got his start in pastries.
The drink menu boasts 30 wines by the glass, 50 plus beers, a build-your-own Manhattan option that incorporates 10 vermouths and an array of more than 30 types of bitters, and a vast cocktail list made up of both classics and new takes.
"We put the same passion and effort into our cocktail program as we do our kitchen," Welbon says.
Indeed, it's a pleasure to try Welborn's well-thought-out cocktail recipes as he's careful to balance flavors — no cocktail is saccharinely.
The Cherry Limeade Cocktail conjures up memories of a Sonic Cherry Limeade, only with a kick. This molecular drink (the practice of mixing drinks using popular techniques of molecular mixology: foams, liquid nitrogen, gels, mists, heat, solidifying liquids, etc . . .) owes its deep cherry flavor to its main ingredient, Grey Goose Cherry Noir Flavored Vodka cultivated from black cherries.
And then there’s the Fig Cream Cookie Cocktail. Welborn’s love of Fig Newtons inspired the recipe for this liquid creation, two years in the making. An instant favorite upon first sip, the taste of sweet vanilla is offset by the slightly bitter taste of coffee and the cream soda helps keep this buttery concoction from being overly rich.
The recipe for the Fig Cream Cookie Cocktail is below. Although time consuming, it yields enough to fill 18 martini glasses with the luscious libation.
FIG CREAM COOKIE COCKTAIL RECIPE
4 oz dried or dehydrated black mission figs (available at Central Market)
2 tbsp unsalted butter
10 Guatemalan Katz coffee beans (or any other fresh medium roast coffee beans)
1 pod Tahitian vanilla (any variety of vanilla at your local grocery will suffice)
2 tbsp caramel sauce
1 bottle (750 ML) Hayman's Old Tom Gin (available at Spec's or Houston Wine Merchant)
1 cup short bread cookie crumbs
1 tspn Himalayan Sea Salt
1.5 oz Dublin Soda Works Pure Cane Vanilla Cream Soda (A&W Root Beer will work as well, or your favorite cream soda)
In a saute pan, brown butter. Using a knife, split vanilla pod in half, scrape out vanilla and add to pan and saute on low for 10 minutes. Add figs, stemmed and cut in half, to pan and saute for an additional 10 minutes. Remove vanilla and coffee beans from saute pan leaving the liquid and figs. Place butter poached vanilla pod and coffee beans in a one liter zip top bag. Add 4 more oz of dehydrated figs to this bag and a bottle of Hayman's Old Tom Gin.
Lower the bag into a large vat of warm water (leaving a small opening at the top) until all or most of the air has been removed, then close the bag. For the next step you will need an immersion circulator or a stock pot and thermometer. Gently cook the bag at 125 degrees for two hours. After cooking refrigerate overnight. The result is your finished gin product.
Next, the butter poached figs and caramel go into a blender with 2 tbsp of the finished gin. Puree into a sauce.
To assemble the cocktail, pour 1.5 oz of the infused gin into a shaker with one bar spoon of the puree and the cream soda. Shake vigorously and serve up.
For the rim, combine crushed shortbread cookies and Himalayan Sea Salt. Dip the glass in simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water) and then in the salty cookie goodness, and you're ready for a party.