UPDATE: Chef Jonathan Jones Departs Xuco Xicana, Soon to Be El Patio Once Again
A mock Texas Monthly cover made by Jones's fans several years ago.
UPDATE: Owner Jon Deal says that Xuco Xicana isn't going anywhere right away. "It's not closing, for sure right now," Deal said over the phone. "If it weren't for the staff I have on hand, I probably would close. For their sake, I've gotta give the location and them the opportunity to make the adjustments they think is necessary."
Deal continued: "We probably are going to bring some of the El Patio classics back. They certainly do not want to discard the menu. They want to make some changes and bring some familiar foods back to the Midtown."
As for the restaurant's famous ceviche, Deal said that's not going anywhere either: "[Sous chef] Brandon Wilhelm is passionate about ceviche."
Jones, who was the executive chef at Beaver's before moving to sister restaurant Xuco Xicana -- both owned by local restaurateur Jon Deal -- will not be returning to the line at Beaver's, either, although he will still be involved with the icehouse in some capacity.
Deal, who is also an owner/investor in El Patio and 13 Celsius, among other ventures, made the decision after Xuco Xicana's brand of modern interior Mexican cuisine with a Gulf Coast flair failed to catch on with the Midtown neighborhood.
For all its accolades, Xuco was never as busy as its former incarnation, the Midtown location of El Patio. Although the famous blue El Patio margaritas and queso remained on Jones's revamped menu when he took over the kitchen and reimagined the space as Xuco Xicana, it wasn't enough to retain its earlier audience.
In a parallel to what happened with Yelapa Playa Mexicana, which closed last year, it appears that Houston -- a city firmly in love with old-school Tex-Mex food -- isn't yet prepared to accept modern, often edgy interpretations of its central cuisine.
Houston Chronicle food critic Alison Cook joined a chorus of disappointed fans over the weekend when news of Jones's departure became public. "He'd made it one of the best Mexican restaurants in [Houston]," she wrote on Twitter. Cook further stated: "I would also argue that under Jonathan Jones, Xuco Xicana was one of the best restaurants in town, period."
The Houston Press gave Jones's spicy Jalisco-style wings a Best of Houston® award in 2011 for their complex vinegar-based hot sauce (a combination of chile de arbol, allspice, cloves, cumin, pepitas, garlic and toasted sesame seeds) and crumbled queso fresco topping -- all refreshing takes on an often-tired standard. We also named Jones's Peruvian-style ceviches made with fresh Gulf bycatch the No. 2 dish in Houston on our list of 100 Favorite Dishes.
For his part, Jones is supportive of Deal's decision, even if it means parting with a concept that Jones had been working toward for years. "This was a necessary move," wrote Jones on Saturday. "Tough year for restaurants all around," he added further.
When we last spoke on Friday, Jones told me that Xuco Xicana would be closing and returning to its former roots as El Patio. No word yet on when this transformation will take place, but expect it to occur swiftly.
On the bright side, Jones has already teamed up with another of Houston's brightest talents, sommelier Jonathan Honefenger. The two plan to host impromptu "pop-up" dinners of their own while Jones transitions to his next venture.
"Look for my pop-up brunches and dinner series late February - March with @JonSomm and many more!" Jones wrote on Saturday. "MY TURN!"
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