Each Meal Is a Production at The Pass

The nightly show is worthy of 'The French Chef.'

In October, the dinner opened with a duck egg chawanmushi served inside the egg shell with a foie gras mousse and granola, which added an odd texture to an otherwise smooth, creamy bite. I had also hoped the "nest" on which it was served would be edible, but upon inspection I discovered it was wood shavings. The Pass is tricky like that.

The worst dish of that evening was coffee-rubbed venison served with a whole rutabaga that had been baked in a salt pack. The venison was tough and too bitter thanks to the coffee, and the salt had so inundated the rutabaga that it was odious to the palate. The two dessert courses at the end of the meal (not to be confused with the final petits fours course) were also disappointing. Truffle risotto had an odd sweet flavor, while the cheese plate with a Camembert-esque wedge from a dairy farm in Georgia came with bread so crusty it was difficult to chew, let alone taste the cheese I'd spread on top.

Still, I counted the meal a success, thanks largely to the pumpkin course (which was sweet enough that it really should have followed the risotto course). I was given a plate with an apple cake, apple butter and toasted pumpkin seeds, and while I was admiring the shiny glaze on the cake, a server appeared with a jack-o-lantern that was emitting steam. From the large pumpkin, he scooped out freshly frozen pumpkin ice cream that had been solidified with the help of liquid nitrogen. It was more than a course in a tasting menu. It was a show, and the food served as part of it was the best of the meal.

Each component of the Pass's vegetarian tasting menu is vibrant and unique, including the variations on squash, top, and the enoki mushroom plate.
Troy Fields
Each component of the Pass's vegetarian tasting menu is vibrant and unique, including the variations on squash, top, and the enoki mushroom plate.

Location Info


The Pass

807 Taft St.
Houston, TX 77019

Category: Restaurant > Contemporary

Region: River Oaks


Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 6 to 11 p.m.

Five-course tasting menu: $75
Five-course tasting menu with pairings: $120
Eight-course tasting menu: $95
Eight-course tasting menu with pairings: $160

Go behind the scenes at The Pass with our slideshow, "A Closer Look at The Pass."

I'm harder-pressed to choose a favorite dish from the current menu at The Pass, since I was both intrigued and enormously satisfied in each of the categories I use to judge a place like The Pass: whimsy, presentation and, of course, taste. I genuinely loved every course on the vege­tarian menu, which I ordered not because I wanted it, but so my companion could get the meatier menu. As it turned out, I think I had the better meal.

Where he had lamb, solid but not overly exciting, I had squash, several different kinds prepared in at least half a dozen ways. There was a ring of butternut squash lightly ­caramelized and topped with slices of dried zucchini and surrounded by bits of spaghetti squash, squash mousse and some sort of squash cream. Never before had I been so enamored of a gourd.

The vegetarian mushroom course was revelatory, featuring delicate enoki mushrooms bunched together and wrapped in a thin layer of potato, then flash-fried and served over some grayish smears of truffle sauce, powdered basil and tiny pickled mushroom caps. Like the squash, the mushroom dish is a sort of variation on a theme (this theme being fungi), and the different flavors the chefs are able to extract from similar vegetables are almost mind-blowing.

The best dish on the regular menu is the foie gras wrapped in red velvet cake — a combination of flavors that shouldn't work but really, really does, thanks to the faintly sweet foie and the not-so-sweet cake. Of course, while my dining companion oohed and ahhed over the foie gras course, I was doing the same with my squash, and then again with crisp layers of smoked potato and apples, and once more with that spectacularly spicy strawberry sorbet that I expected to find interesting but not as incredible as it turned out to be.

So, too, did I find myself falling unexpectedly in love with a sliced fennel bulb, something I had previously thought I didn't really like. It's cut into a sort of figure 8, with overlapping lines that create spaces into which various sauces are poured. Think you don't like olives? Try the little pocket of Kalamata olive sauce with a bite of roasted fennel and get back to me. And then, if you're still not sold on odd flavor combinations, revel in the palate cleanser that is the strawberry sorbet dotted with Thai peppercorns and served on a smear of fuchsia hibiscus syrup and a bit of popped buckwheat for a little crunch. I ended up wiping my fingertips across the plate to get every last bit of pink syrup and melted sorbet, then licking them clean, manners be damned.

But really, I don't think anyone — especially not the chefs — would mind such a breach in decorum. In spite of the upscale atmosphere and lofty prices, The Pass is fun. It's really fun. When dishes arrive at tables, diners' faces light up with joy, and they're amazed by the form that a simple bread course has taken. Guests delight upon discovering unexpected textures on plates almost too pretty to eat, and they laugh heartily as the vapor from liquid nitrogen momentarily obscures their vision. If you want a classy meal, go to Brennan's or Tony's or Da Marco. If you want food with a wink and a nod served by two tattooed guys who may or may not be punking us all, go to The Pass.

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Sorry, these guys are a little too precious for me. Reminds me of an 80s nouvelle renaissance.