A Kemah restaurant is basking in the national spotlight. The Washington Post features Eculent, the tiny restaurant devoted to experimental tasting menus, in both its "Secret Table" video series and in a review by award-winning critic Tom Sietsema.
The video, embedded below, provides an eight-minute overview of the Eculent experience, which typically involves between 30 and 40 small courses and costs $225. Host Mary Beth Albright dines at the restaurant and interviews chef-owner David Skinner, who explains how he opened the restaurant as a passion project after a successful career in the oil and gas business.
"Do you make any money off of this," Albright asks. "Luckily, I don't have to . . . It's like having a benefactor, but it's me," Skinner replies.
Sietsema writes that an article in Houstonia that touted Eculent as "one of the best restaurants in the world" inspired him to return to Houston. While he disputes the claim relative to other modernist establishments — he ranks it as "tastier overall than the experimental Alinea in Chicago, but less polished than Minibar [in Washington, D.C.]" — he leaves impressed enough by the experience to contemplate a return visit.
In particular, Sietsema praises both the corn and mushroom soups he sampled as well as the "duck liver pâté shimmering with smoked trout roe." On the other hand, the crostini served as part of a dish called The Tree of Life "taste like they were procured from a gas station." Ouch.
Reached by text message during a trip to Italy, Skinner tells CultureMap that he's pleased with the review but wishes the critic had come on a different night. "We had just finished the Washington Post video the night before about midnight," he writes. "And I accidentally overbooked the restaurant."
Still, he's pleased that the review captured the way his restaurant has evolved. Initially, he served multiple menus of eight to 12 courses to as many as 20 diners in an evening. Now, only six to 12 people per night sit for the 30-plus courses on offer.
"We have a much better understanding of how to modify the senses. And we sort of know our limitations, but I keep pushing boundaries," he writes. "[A] smaller headcount and smaller staff make for more accountability and personal interaction."
Reservations for July and August are sold out, but diners looking to indulge have a couple of opportunities to splurge on Skinner's cuisine. On August 17, he'll host an event at the Museum of Natural Science called "Around the World in 10,000 Bites" with a 101-course menu inspired by dishes from 10 countries.
Even at $750, only a very few tickets remain; however, Skinner says he still has some available for a caviar-fueled reception on August 16 that will also feature some of the courses being served at the larger dinner. Those tickets are a relatively affordable $250.