First Bite: Ambitious Cocktail Bar & Restaurant Debut in Spring Branch
Long Point Road, which is already of one of Houston’s best food destinations, is now home to Degust, a restaurant featuring tasting menus by chef Brandon Silva, and high-end cocktail lounge, Diversión, by “bar chef” Steven Salazar. Both are opening on Thursday, January 14, at 7202 Long Point in Spring Branch. Both Salazar and Silva are with The Kirby Group, known for popular patio bars such as Heights Bier Garten and Wooster’s Garden. The new ventures give the duo an opportunity to showcase their expertise in fine dining and fine drinking. Locally, Silva’s prior experience includes working at Brenner’s, Uchi and Brasserie 19, and he also staged in Copenhagen for two months at Noma, Relae, Amass and Bror. Salazar was previously the beverage director at Kata Robata and a bartender at Anvil Bar & Refuge.
Though both businesses will operate independently, Degust and Diversión share a building, staff and a philosophy of making everything possible in-house with ingredients grown on one of the company’s two farms. (One is onsite; the other is located next to Heights Bier Garden).
To help protect guests and staff from COVID-19, both locations seat below occupancy, with plenty of space for social distancing. Temperature checks are required before entering either business. Guests must wear masks when not seated. In addition, according to a statement from the Kirby Group, “Both concepts have been outfitted with ultraviolet filtration system in all the air ducts and electrostatic HEPA filtration units. These systems have been installed at double the capacity recommended by the manufacturer.”
Salazar describes Diversión as a passion project that is the culmination of nearly two decades of work and travel. His says his goal was to create a bar like none found in Houston. Indeed, Salazar’s diligence makes every inch of this cocktail destination feel deliberate. The walls of the entryway and back bar are lined with tinctures, preserves, bitters and infusions — all housemade primarily from ingredients sourced either locally or from The Kirby Group’s farms plots. We were invited to sample selections from both Diversión and Degust.
With only 32 seats, the bar is spacious and comfortable. The room’s lighting is soft, allowing the bar to utilize other lights as enhancements. Overhead spotlights shine on drinks, creating the ultimate photo-op, and purple tableside lights can be used by guests to indicate when they need service.
While the decor is upscale and elegant, the drinks are fun, inventive and approachable. The options range from fancy to playful, with a cocktail for almost everyone to enjoy. The seasonal drink list is primarily based on what produce is available that month and will include a “farm-to-cocktail” section with variations on traditional drinks. The luxurious accents and accompaniments, as well as seasonal ingredients, mean that these cocktails are neither cheap nor cheaply made. The prices range from $16 to $35.
On the high end of the list is the Espumante and Caviar, which might be one of Houston’s most elegant cocktails. One of three featured in the “Immersive Cocktails” section, it’s made with Portuguese rosé enhanced with cognac, housemade strawberry vinegar and blackberry cordial. The drink comes with a spoonful of preserved strawberries topped with caviar.
A personal favorite was the tiki-inspired Day at the Beach. This rum- and gin-based cocktail was enjoyable on its own, but it also showcased how inventive Diversión can be. The drink was served in an edible dark chocolate mug, topped with Meyer lemon foam and served with a side of edible “sand” made of a shortbread crumble. The cost is $30.
The final drink from the “Immersive Cocktails” section is Morning Cereal, a milk punch made with bourbon and cognac, elevated with housemade cinnamon popping boba and served in a glass “milk carton”. It’s as delicious as it is aesthetically pleasing — and makes for a great Instagram photo.
While the cocktail menu didn’t feature traditional classics, the talented and well-trained staff are more than capable of crafting drinks to suit other preferences and tastes. In addition, there is a selection of beer, cider, wines and non-alcoholic drinks. There is also an extensive selection of bar snacks, with dishes ranging from classic chips and dips and house charcuterie and cheese to two types of caviar service and scallop conserva.
Diversión is open Thursday through Saturday from 5 p.m. until 1:30 a.m. Seating is on a first-come, first-serve basis. Bar seating is available by reservation. Check out Resy for more information.
Specializing in tasting menus, Degust showcases chef Brandon Silva’s diverse skills and inspirations. The food combines the flavors of the chef’s Mexican and Spanish background with Japanese influences from his time working at Uchi, as well as techniques acquired while staging at highly regarded, ambitious restaurants such as Relae in Copenhagen. For the initial launch, Degust is offering diners a choice between Purple Pill (omnivore) or Green Pill (vegetarian) menus. Each option features 8 to 10 courses and costs $75 per person — a reasonable price for this type of experience.
The service is a full night’s experience, starting with greetings by one of Houston’s friendliest front-of-house specialists: maître d’ and sommelier Dale Ellington (who, like Salazar, also previously worked at Kata Robata).
A few favorites from the tasting include Cauliflower Purée topped with caviar and garlic (the vegetarian option uses tapioca in place of caviar), a Smoked Tomato Soup with king trumpet mushrooms and herb bread baked in a flower pot and topped with cultured butter infused with garlic and herbs.
While much of the menu consists of smaller bites, there are a few larger courses to ensure guests leave satisfied. One dish featured a flight of salsas, duck carnitas, short rib and pork loin with a stack of housemade corn tortillas.
Through the procession of courses, Silva masterfully presented a gamut of flavors: herbal, fruity and aromatic, to name a few. As the menu continues to evolve, a spicy course, or perhaps a little more heat where suitable, such as in the salsa flight, would round out the experience.
If guests wish, they can also purchase drink pairings for $45. There are a variety of cocktails crafted by Salazar that don’t overlap with Diversión’s drink list, such as Sriracha Eggnog, and wines selected by Ellington.
For those wishing to dine at Degust, keep in mind that 10 courses plus intermezzo — in this case, a palate-cleansing break featuring Silva’s “Chupa Chup”, a satsuma-flavored ice lollipop with housemade tajin — can take a couple of hours. With that said, because of the constant interactions with the chef and his team, time passes before you know it.
While most of the cooking is done in the kitchen behind the scenes, the presentation of food is practically a performance, accentuated by the fact that the dining room is set up like an arena. The effect is thanks to two long, semi-circular tables surrounding an island where the courses are staged before serving. Silva does a great job introducing his dishes as his team serves the guests. His explanations are descriptive and informative, yet concise.
While Diversión feels like walking into Salazar’s dream lounge, Degust is akin to stepping into Silva’s personal kitchen. The dining room is well-lit and the walls are decorated with many of Silva’s personal items, such as books and ornaments. The flooring in the restroom even features the chef’s vinyl collection encased in resin.
Degust is open Thursday to Saturday, with seatings at 5:30 p.m., 8:15 p.m. and 11 p.m. Reservations are now available on Resy.