Aqui will shutter

Controversial chef Paul Qui will shutter his Montrose restaurant — but he's not leaving Houston

Controversial chef Paul Qui will shutter his Montrose restaurant

Aqui exterior
Aqui will close December 23. Photo by Eric Sandler

Montrose restaurant Aqui will close December 23, chef-owner Paul Qui announced. Instead, Qui, chef de cuisine Jillian Bartolome, and general manager Adam Mathews will open a new concept focused on "Filipino bites" that will open in spring 2019 at a new location that has yet to be announced. 

“Although it is bittersweet to close Aqui, our team is very excited for all the projects we have in store for Houston in 2019," Qui said in a statement. "Houston is our home and we are excited to continue to add to its rich culinary story.”

Even prior to its opening in August 2017, Aqui had been mired in controversy due to Qui's arrest in March 2016 on suspicion of two Class A misdemeanors: unlawful restraint and assault causing bodily injury to a family member. Although Caldwell County District Attorney Fred Weber ultimately dismissed the charges when the alleged victim, who was Qui's girlfriend at the time of the incident, "declined to participate as a witness," many people chose not to patronize the restaurant.   

Despite that, the restaurant received considerable acclaim for its innovative mix of Thai, Japanese, and Filipino flavors. Bartolome earned a James Beard semifinalist nomination in the category of Best Pastry Chef and won this year's CultureMap Tastemaker Award in the same category. Chronicle critic Alison Cook awarded the restaurant four stars; she also published a companion essay defending the decision to review it at all.  

Closing Aqui is only the latest setback for the chef. Qui, his Austin flagship, closed in August 2016, reopened as Kuneho in January 2017, and then closed for good in November 2017. Tacqui, a taco concept in Dallas, closed this year after less than six months in business. 

Still, Qui seems determined to make a go of it in Houston. He and Bartolome will host a series of pop-ups to preview the new, unnamed concept. They're also inviting customers to make one last trip to Aqui before the closure. The restaurant will maintain its regular hours through December 9. After that, it will be open from December 12 to 16 and 19 to 23.