In the last several weeks we've discussed on several occasions why some restaurants in the city win and why some others with amazing food get the boot - we're talking do not pass go, do not collect $200, just get to STEPPIN'! It was sparked by visits to several restaurants that have really good to downright delicious food, but other areas of the overall experience completely ruin it. We will not get on our soapboxes about this subject right now because there's enough for a post on its own. However, it did start us to thinking about what makes a restaurant successful in our book. We generally look at all establishments independently, and the only common thread for us is the experience.
One of the new kids on the block that seems to have found a winning formula for success and is off to a good start is Eleven XI Restaurant & Bar. Let's start with the name they've selected, Eleven XI, or as they say, "The Wishing Hour". These numbers have attributes of new beginnings, starting afresh, independence and individuality. Which makes perfect sense - it resides in the former home of Bibas One's A Meal. The restaurant has gone through a complete transformation, since it's Bibas days. Change is a good thing and sometimes breathes new energy into a situation; feel free to also apply this statement to life.
Next, they built a team with Chef Kevin Bryant as Executive Chef and the three Joe's (there they go with those numbers again) - Joe Hausner created the bar menu and is the Bar Manager, Joe Welborn is the Operations Manager and runs the front of the house, and Joe Isaac is the Director. They are all about "absolutely making it happen"; so you ask and they will do it! Did we mention that they have one of the best patios in the city?!? It's perfect for sipping on a little wine or even enjoying a starlit dinner. All that and we have not even gotten to their Southern Coastal cuisine or their amazing cocktail program.
From the cocktail arena, Eleven XI focuses on making the cocktails really pop. The bar program is very detailed and comprehensive, so we will provide the highlights of Joe's approach: 1. Combining old school and new school, 2. Getting drinks to the guests in a reasonable amount of time and 3. Using science and chemistry, like liquid nitrogen, to add that additional element of creativity. Even the coffee ups the ante...Eleven XI only offers a French pressed coffee and espresso - you won't find any brewed coffee here.
During our media preview, we were served eleven courses paired with cocktails, beer, and wine. Everything we sampled was above average and everything, and we mean everything, was prepared in a manner that highlights the importance of both the preparation and the ingredients. All courses served were prepared with a twist, something that made it better - something that you wouldn't expect. The element of surprise definitely plays into the culinary experience and if that was the strategy and intention, then Chef Bryant, well played friend, well played.
Let's start with the Grilled Oysters. They were smothered with cheese, insanely huge and more than delicious. The Beef Tartare was some of the best we've had in the city, and not because it was cut to order. Well…maybe a little! That is part of the reason it was so pleasing to the palate; fresh is always better as opposed to being made at the beginning of the night and waiting to be served. The Braised Pork Shank was something special and was upgraded by being served with Eleven XI's BBQ sauce, the Texas Quail is seared in a cast iron skillet and placed on top a dollop of creamy and smoked Gouda blue grits.
The Citrus Tea Brined Wild Game Hen came whole and fried! Roasted is also available, but who would choose that option. It was tender and as soon as the outer layer of the medium brown crispy shell was broken, the juices ran for freedom. To continue on with the greatness that fried food brings...try the Whole Fish of the Day (the fish changes daily). They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but anyone would fall in love with the Apricot Flounder. Sweet to the taste and tender to the touch! The madness didn't end there as we closed out the night sampling desserts like the Chocolate Bomb (layered chocolate cake and ganache combined with Zirnebz alpine liquor) and the Peanut Butter Tower (a peanut butter and Valrhona chocolate concoction).
From our perspective, Eleven XI Restaurant & Bar seems to have a deep rooted desire to succeed, and are on the right path. And if you start seeing the number eleven pop up everywhere, don't worry, you will just be joining a ton of other people who share in this same global phenomenon. Some say the number carries significance and if you research it enough, you may find some validity in all the hype. Whether the number eleven is a mystery or a coincidence, what you will find at Eleven XI Restaurant & Bar is the real deal, and there are no if, and's or but's about it!
They also offer a 5, 7, or 9 course tasting with an optional beverage pairing. In addition, Eleven XI has a chefs table that seats 16 or two parties of six; you want to book this option in advance.
Eleven XI Restaurant & Bar
607 W Gray St., Houston, TX 77019
Urban Swank did receive a complimentary tasting, but the opinions expressed are our own.