Updated — August 2014
We dined at The Pass twice this past Spring, and we’ve been remiss in reporting. Likely the menu has changed significantly since our visits. But that’s a good thing since the chefs continue to turn out some of the most innovative and flavor challenging food in Houston. Every dish doesn’t make us swoon, but there’s nothing we’ve tried that we haven’t really liked (and more often than not dubbed drool-worthy) and admired for its creativity. We found the Spring menu as good or better than our first dining experience (notwithstanding that the to-die-for caviar dish wasn’t there). And the lovely setting and warm, friendly service hasn’t changed. Who doesn’t love being welcomed at your table by a champagne cart (with a few long necks thrown in). And the customized menu (“Happy Anniversary”) if you’re celebrating a special occasion.
There continue to be two multi-course tasting options (5 or 8 courses), including a 5 or 8 course tasting menu of vegetarian (not vegan) options. We dined one evening with a friend who chose mainly from the vegetarian menu, with a pescatarian item here or there, and she loved her dishes. Wine or beer/cocktail pairings are available, with every wine on the pairing list also offered in half or full pours.
Standouts from the 8-course Spring menu included Asparagus (a velvety, intensely flavored soup); Langoustine (steamed with hearts of palm and avocado); Yakitori (described as chicken mortadella); and Foie Gras (a decadent terrine served with steamed Asian-style buns). There was an intermezzo style granita and a white chocolate carrot-cake inspired dessert course. If one of us had any criticism it’s that the cheese course (ricotta and candy cap mushrooms) was too sweet, particularly when followed up by a beautiful tray of Petit Fours (various pastry and candy bites) from which you could select some or all, as much as you wanted (assuming you had any room left).
First Reported — January 2013
The holidays got in the way of our reporting on The Pass, the upscale, tasting menu half of the hot, new restaurant — The Pass & Provisions. Opened around Thanksgiving, we dined at The Pass in early December. While Provisions has a contemporary casual vibe, The Pass is urban chic, with lovely table linens, banquettes, and a champagne cart. Open to the kitchen, with the “pass” (that part of the kitchen where the plates are finished before transferring from the kitchen to the dining room) on display, the chefs conjure their magic, presenting dishes very different from anything we’ve experienced in Houston. Our closest comparison is Scott Tycer’s short-lived Textile or perhaps a more upscale version of the ahead-of-his-time Randy Rucker’s laidback manor. Maybe a more sophisticated, carnivore-oriented Oxheart. (Actually, we don’t think there’s much similarity between The Pass and Oxheart, but they are mentioned by some in the same breath, given that both restaurants opened this year, with a tasting menu concept and chefs with excellent out of town pedigrees.)
Enough with the comparisons. The Pass stands on its own as the most innovative dining experience currently available in Houston. Diners can choose from either a five ($75) or eight ($95) course tasting menu ($120 and $160, respectively, with wine pairings). While you’re asked when you make the reservation whether you have any food allergies, this isn’t the place to take a fussy eater prone to requesting substitutions or changes. And, unlike some tasting menus, there aren’t choices within each course. We mention this only for the sake of our readers because we have no interest in interfering with Chefs Siegel-Gardner’s and Gallivan’s creativity. We’re happy to let them do their thing and sit back and enjoy.
Of course, we went for the eight course tasting menu and one of us did the wine pairings. We’ve been very impressed with the wine program at Provisions, having been introduced to some new and interesting wines on our visits there. The wine pairings at The Pass also impressed, working very well with each of the dishes. And the service was impeccable.
The Chefs intend to re-work the menu periodically, but we’d guess the themes of each course may remain somewhat consistent — Snacks, Truffles, Raw, Beef, Bread, Pig, Vegetables, Cheese, and Petite Fours. Every course was a visual and culinary delight, with multiple components, creating a lovely and delicious palette on the plate. Either the chefs or one of the sous chefs served each course, accompanied by a verbal description of the dish. Yes, there were truffles, caviar, and foie gras. but the chefs clearly have fun with these classic high end ingredients. For example, one of the Snacks was a tiny gelatinous cube flavored with foie gras and bourbon (appropriately named a “foie gras ‘ol Fashioned”). The truffles were grated tableside on top of a soft cooked egg. The Raw course featured nori bucatini, uni and clams. The Beef course was “tar tar with marrow brioche.” The Pig course featured headcheese and blood pudding. The Vegetable course was the most dramatic — a burning rosemary branch was presented with a squash cake and, with a visible nod to molecular cuisine, tableside created (in a huge tureen) dippin dots that (thankfully) taste nothing like those available at Space Center Houston. And the Cheese course featured beautifully executed savory macaroons with three different cheese fillings.
Open only for dinner, a weekend reservation at The Pass continues to be hard to come by without about a months’ wait. Get in line. It’s worth it. And, taking nothing away from the Mandola and Pappas families, we need to cherish and nurture chefs and restauranteurs who are willing to bring this type of dining experience to Houston.