No Need for Wishes at the Enchanting Eleven XI

Eleven XI's auspicious approach is attracting an eclectic crowd to Montrose.

In spite of the deference paid to seafood at Eleven XI, I still can't decide whether it's a meat or a seafood restaurant, or if we should just stop thinking about it and call it both. Seared scallops are smoky and hearty over a bed of mascarpone risotto colored green with basil. A large redfish fillet resembles an envelope with a whisper of a pink hue and is cut in half lengthwise and stuffed with juicy shrimp and scallops.

But then there's the Texas quail, slightly flattened and seared in a miniature cast-iron skillet, served on a violet mound of Gouda-laced blue corn grits. The skin of the quail crisps in the hot skillet, which ensures that the bird's meat remains moist and juicy. Coupled with the soft, cheesy grits, the dish was both familiarly soothing and excitingly unexpected. Like the quail, the short rib is also a riff on a Texas classic. The whipped potatoes and grilled asparagus are nothing out of the ordinary, but the meat itself, a boneless mound of short rib that falls apart into tender shreds with the touch of a fork, is sweetened with mushrooms sautéed in a cherry-cola syrup.

This sneaky whimsy (You didn't think you'd like purple grits or Coke in your short rib, did you?) is most apparent on the brunch menu, where Bryant shows off his love of Southern food with an upscale twist. Instead of a corn dog, you get a meaty smoked sausage dipped in barely sweet pancake batter. Instead of chicken and waffles, you get Cornish game hen on herb-infused waffles, and instead of a typical ham, cheese and egg croque-madame, you get what the menu calls "7 Layers of Heaven," an utterly appropriate description.

Be careful when removing the knife from the XI Madame.
Troy Fields
Be careful when removing the knife from the XI Madame.

Location Info


Eleven:Eleven Restaurant & Bar

607 W. Gray St.
Houston, TX 77019

Category: Restaurant > New American

Region: River Oaks


Hours: Tuesday and Wednesday, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. (bar closes at 11 p.m.); Thursday through Saturday, 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. (bar closes at midnight); Sunday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Grilled oysters: $14
Caesar salad: $10
Half-dozen raw oysters: $15
Texas quail: $22
Short rib: $36
Tea-brined game hen: $16
Stuffed redfish fillet: $29
Five-course tasting: $55
XI Madame: $22
XI Burger: $11 + add-ons
Desserts: $8

Want a behind the scenes look at Eleven XI? Check out our slideshow.

Like the food, the drink menu is rich with classic cocktails prepared with a bit of a wink. A mimosa makes use of not only orange juice, but also passion fruit, peach and guava juices, while a Negroni becomes a "Pyrat Negroni," with rum in the place of gin and sweet vermouth. And then there's the absinthe service, featuring a tall fountain made of glass and silver that slowly drips the wormwood liquor over sugar cubes perched on special slotted spoons; it's a spectacle to enjoy before the sweetened drink falls into your glass.

Is Eleven XI now a speakeasy or an old New Orleans bar? The women in sport coats and flashy jewelry examine the absinthe fountain with bewilderment. Sure it is. And it's also a seafood haven and a bar and grill and purveyor of one of the best brunches in town. Why would Eleven XI seek to be forced into a single category when it's able to embrace them all?

There's little going on around Eleven XI after dark. Though it's technically in Montrose, it's more on the cusp of Midtown, and headed east on West Gray, there's a nice view of downtown, uninterrupted as yet by the inevitable new housing developments. With the exception of Barnaby's down the street and a few other small bars or cafes, Eleven XI is the main attraction on its block — everything else is residential.

As Midtown gentrifies, edging out some long-term residents in favor of new hip clubs and eateries, and Montrose continues to evolve into an overcrowded dining destination, perhaps Eleven XI is poised to anchor a new restaurant neighborhood. It seamlessly incorporates elements from each surrounding neighborhood — hipster brunch à la Montrose; new, upscale Midtown dinners; a relaxed, Heights-style patio — in one spot, indicative of the evolving attitudes and differing tastes of Houstonians.

On the restaurant's website, 11:11 is described as "the wishing hour." Numerologists have endless theories about the importance of seeing the number on a clock, the only two times during a day (if you use a 12-hour clock) when every digit is the same. Welborn says that the number has been lucky and oddly prevalent in the lives of many of the restaurant's staff.

"It's really significant to a lot of our people," he says. "It's always brought us nothing but great luck and magic."

There does indeed seem to be something magic about serving wealthy diners fried pies and corn dogs and Montrose hipsters foie gras and béchamel sauce and managing to please all of them at the same time. Call it magic or coincidence or just plain hard work; whatever the formula behind Eleven XI, it's definitely enchanting.

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Cool, these guys finally opened. Gotta give 'em a try. I remember Bryant as an apprentice chef/journeyman at L'Olivier a while back.