Chef David Skinner’s Replacement for eculent has Arrived in Kemah

Edible Smudge Salad at Ishtia.

Chef and restaurateur David Skinner is making a habit of introducing the Greater Houston area to one-of-a-kind restaurants in Kemah, first with eculent, and later th_prsrv, his collaboration with Street to Kitchen’s Benchawan and Graham Painter. After a decade-long run, Skinner closed his original tasting menu restaurant, eculent, making room for Ishtia, an upscale eatery emphasizing Indigenous cuisine.  Located at 709 Harris,  Ishtia officially opened for service on June 27. 

Each night the restaurant will hold one 3-hour service for up to 18 diners. The evening will start in Skinner’s Clear Creek winery, located upstairs, and will be escorted through the kitchen to the dining room. Prior visitors to eculent’s will be familiar with the large communal tables, which run parallel, though these do appear to have had some slight redesigning.

david skinner
Chef and owner David Skinner presides over a meal at eculent. Photo by Phaedra Cook.

Due to his creations at eculent, some of which relied heavily on molecular gastronomy techniques, Skinner is often referred to as a culinary Willy Wonka, but in reality, he is as much of a storyteller as a mad scientist. Dinners at eculent tended to fly through motifs, such as whimsical fairy tales in the woods or exploring outer space, and meals at th_prsrv are meant to show you the histories of two indigenous cultures and the spread of ingredients. Skinner’s presentations are as much about the dining experience as the food. For Ishtia, Skinner is giving diners an intimate deep-dive into his own experiences and Chocktaw heritage.

Ishtia’s tasting menu showcases 20 courses utilizing culturally authentic ingredients, flavors and cooking methods, but with a modern presentation and touch. The initial summer menu focuses on live-fire cooking. 

Interior at Ishtia restaurant in Kemah
Interior at Ishtia. Photo by mccartneymultimedia.

Unlike th_prsrv, some of the plates at Ishtia incorporate eculent’s flair for reinventing foods, such as a smudge stick (a bundle of herbs that are burned to ward off negative energy in a space) that is meant to be eaten or venison cheek that looks like a caterpillar. 

Ishtia is a fine-dining establishment and comes with a price tag of $239 per person, as well as a 20% service charge (gratuity). Additionally, the restaurant offers wine pairings starting at $69 per guest, and selections by the bottle and glass.

I have been fortunate to experience both Skinner’s utter creativity at eculent and his more traditional culinary chops at th_prsrv. As Ishtia looks like a combination of the two, it likely will be a tasty, unforgettable adventure that justifies the bill. 

Seatings are available Thursday through Saturday, with reservations available at the restaurant’s website.

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