The Latest Casualty in Paul Qui’s Restaurant Closings is the Houston One

AQUI, James Beard Award-winning chef Paul Qui’s restaurant at 520 Westheimer, is closing on Dec. 23. According to a press release, it’s not supposed to be the end of Qui’s presence in Houston, though.  The management team of Qui, pastry chef Jillian Bartolome and general manager Adam Mathews are going to oversee AQUI’s last few weeks of reduced-hour service, then debut a new restaurant in the spring. During the construction phase starting in January, the trio plan to host some pop-up meals. Those locations as well as the new restaurant location are all still to be determined.

“Although it is bittersweet to close AQUI, our team is very excited for all the projects we have in store for Houston in 2019,” said Qui via the press release. “Houston is our home and we are excited to continue to add to its rich culinary story.”

It’s the latest in a string of restaurant closings by the chef. TacQui, his Richardson taqueria, closed in November after being open for less than six months. His Austin flagship, Kuheho (formerly the eponymous Qui), closed just over a year ago. The East Side King food trucks in Austin, including a newer one called Thai Kun, are still operating, as is Pao at Faena hotel in Miami Beach.

Gabriel Medina
AQUI’s original executive chef, Gabriel Medina, is on the right. Left is chef Alejandro Betancort. Photo by Phaedra Cook.

AQUI’s closing is a final dramatic chapter for the restaurant, which arrived on the Houston dining scene only a little more than a year ago. Qui’s Filipino-inspired menu of meat and seafood seemed initially to be a hit with diners. However, even before AQUI opened, Qui was also making headlines for being arrested in March 2016 on domestic abuse charges. Those charges were later dropped, but the resulting furor divided the Houston dining community — and food writers across the country — between those who refused to patronize the restaurant based on Qui’s alleged conduct, including his past history as a drug dealer, and those who were more than happy to enjoy his stylish fare. (Houston Food Finder ultimately decided not to include AQUI in any coverage until the pending domestic assault case was resolved one way or the other.)

With AQUI, Qui, who’d made a name for himself on the Austin restaurant scene, extended his personal and culinary brand to the Houston area. Initially, at least, his choice for executive chef, Gabriel Medina, helped the restaurant connect with Houston diners.

AQUI vegetarian dish
Controversial chef-owner or no, AQUI’s dishes were undeniably appealing. Photo by Phaedra Cook.

One mystery surrounding the closing is that the Montrose spot was custom built and designed to suit Qui’s needs, with a grill and charcoal oven, open kitchen and raw bar. That kind of build-out is not inexpensive, so if the restaurant is making a profit, it seems like a strange financial decision to close it — unless another entity is already set to take over the lease.

We asked why the restaurant is closing and the response we received was, “This is very much NOT [sic] Paul Qui has failed in Houston,” said a representative for AQUI of the closing. “There will be several BIG [sic] announcements besides this concept in the New Year.”

In the meantime, Houston diners who want one last dinner — or even a first — should be aware of the restaurant’s truncated hours. AQUI is continuing its regular hours of Monday through Thursday from 5 to 10 p.m. and Friday through Sunday from 5 to 11 p.m. through Dec. 9. The restaurant will be closed on Monday and Tuesday, Dec. 10 and 11 and Dec. 17 and 18. Until Dec. 23, it will be open Wednesday though Sunday from 5 to 10 p.m.

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