New Restaurant by Two Top Chefs Meld Ancient Thai & Indigenous American Cuisines
The new collaborative restaurant from James Beard Award-nominated chef Benchawan Jabthong Painter of Street To Kitchen and David Skinner of eculent is now open in Kemah. Located at 709 Harris, th_prsrv is in the same compound as Skinner’s eculent, Meticulous Spirits and Clear Creek Vineyards. Houston Food Finder was invited to check out dinner at the new spot.
th_prsrv’s concept of is one-of-a-kind. Painter and Skinner draw upon their heritages — Thai and Choctaw, respectively — to present historical dishes, or variations of, that have not been available in Houston. Starting in 2400 BCE with “ancient recipes using indigenous ingredients,” and ending in modern times, the dinner follows a timeline, telling a story of ingredients and methods as they are introduced to each culture.
Being from two distinct backgrounds, the chefs have created separate but thematically harmonious dishes. Beyond the theme, the th_prsrv brings out a style that is different from each chef’s standalone restaurants. For example, th_prsrv’s plating style is more elegant than Street to Kitchen’s daily “unapologetically Thai” dishes and the food is heartier and more filling than eculent’s exacting, artistic fare.
Learning about the history of the ingredients, from the chefs greatly adds to the dinner experience. For those who enjoy surprises, so does not knowing the exact menu. So, to avoid spoilers, we will only discuss a few favorites.
Memories of my Grandmother’s Root Cellar, was the first dish of the night; an eclectic array of pickled, fermented and confit vegetables to be enjoyed throughout the meal. In addition to showcasing the specialized preparation techniques, the selection of vegetables includes rarities such as fiddleheads, ferns and ramps, all of which are either foraged or sourced from indigenous farmers. The sheer diversity makes for a vibrant color palette and an aesthetically pleasing plate.
Painter served one of the most memorable dishes of the night: a light, bright curry. Listed on the menu in Thai as Gaeng, guests are served a bowl of steamed, seasonal fish in a soup-like sauce, with a uniquely citric flavor. It was the bite of the night that makes you stop and truly appreciate life and the rich flavors it has to offer.
Flock Together was another personal favorite. This dish, on the indigenous side of the menu, features an immaculately cooked, crispy-skinned, dry-aged duck breast served with wojapi sauce and Manoomin. The wojapi sauce is created from berries that are cooked down into a loose reduction. The Manoomin, a soft, wild rice, is served lukewarm with and topped with wild greens and flowers. At first, the aromas of the dish stand out more than anything else, as the ingredients are all mild in flavor. However, once the sauce is combined with either the duck or rice, it transformed into a dish that had multiple people asking for seconds.
Of the more than a dozen courses, all were presented in some way that is completely out of the ordinary and/or features ingredients that are a rarity in the Greater Houston area. Proteins play a major part in most of the dishes, and, impressively, there are very few repeat ingredients.
Despite being located in the same building as eculent, th_prsrv is a separate restaurant with a different entrance. Painter and Skinner diligently expanded upon the dining room’s existing fairytale forest setting. Originally used for private events, the space now is a nearly complete transportation deep into the woods, with decorations that include a full-sized tree, foliage and music that progresses alongside the courses. The communal arrangement of about half the tables, combined with Skinner and the Painter’s informative presentations, encourages conversation among the guests.
th_prsrv’s 12- to 15-course tasting menus cost $149 plus tax and gratuity. Considering the impressive dishes and presentations, that price feels inexpensive compared to other tasting menus. Wine and cocktail pairing options start at $89. With the hearty portions of most of the dishes, this is not a tasting that will leave you hungry.
For the time being, th_prsrv is only open on Thursdays, with plans to expand to three days a week over the summer and eventually five days in the fall. Reservations are currently available on the th_prsrv’s website.