On Saturday evening, Steven Salazar and Brandon Silva, who make up the Southpaw division of the hospitality company The Kirby Group, unveiled to a small gathering of food media their separate concepts that are sharing the same property on Long Point Road in Spring Branch. Salazar's Diversión, a 30-seat bar focusing on immersive cocktails, is aiming to be a unique destination for drinks, while Silva's Degust, a 20-seat restaurant with special chef's tasting menus, looks to be the next great Houston dining experience.
Both Diversión and Degust, opening Thursday at 7202 Long Point Rd, are highly personal businesses for their founders.
Salazar says the idea for Diversión has been in the works for about eight years and is heavily influenced by his global travels.
"It's been a passion to really figure out and gradually build ideas. I had a notebook that I've been writing on while working and traveling," says Salazar. "Ultimately I was trying to decide how I was going to express myself."
The setting reminds of a Japanese cocktail bar with its dim lighting and cedar shelves holding homemade jars of tinctures, vinegars, and preserved fruit. Plus, Diversión puts an emphasis on quiet precision, where bartending and service doesn't intrude—for example, a purple light bulb at each chair can be screwed tight to call over a server, and customers are encouraged to order strictly from the cocktail menu. Or, in other words, don't come here looking for a beer and a shot.
Instead, Diversión has three immersive cocktails that may incorporate some of the vinegars, herbs, and fruit Salazar and his team have been creating and growing. For example, for the drink Day at the Beach, dark rum and gin are mixed with Texas-grown calamansi and creme de tarragon originating from urban farmland beside Heights Bier Garten. The drink is poured into a dark-chocolate mold, topped with locally sourced Meyer lemon foam to resemble ocean foam, and served alongside crumbled and salted shortbread, or edible sand.
The immersive cocktails cost as much as $35 but are labor intensive, thoughtful, and the product of years of planning.
"They're meant to be extraordinary and over-the-top in different ways, and it's something that isn't happening in Houston, for the most part," says Salazar. "This is a place that gives us insight as to what's going on in the rest of the world. I wanted to focus on making sure this is truly, truly unique."
Along with them, find four ever-changing cocktails that aim to represent expressions of their base spirits (bourbon, gin, mezcal, tequila). There's also a curated list of cider, beer, sake, and wine, plus coffee, kombucha, and tea. Barcelona-inspired snacks called pintxo (crafted by Silva) include a refreshing Gulf of Alabama scallop conserva in escabeche and served with small toasts, plus sliders (duck confit, mackerel) and luxuries like caviar service.
Diversión seats 30 and will primarily be first-come, first-serve with maximum parties of six. Eight bar counter seats will be available by reservation through email ([email protected]). At both Diversión and Degust, counter seats have partitions, while at Diversión additional tables are well spaced out. The whole building is outfitted with two HEPA filters and has a sophisticated ventilation system. Face masks must be worn at all times unless you are seated for dinner and/or drinks.
Sharing the same building with Diversión, but completely separate from that concept, is Silva's Degust. Like with Diversión, Degust's mission is to peel you from Houston and sit you in a unique setting. Here, Silva, a Houstonian who identifies with both the Spanish and Mexican cultures; has worked in Copenhagen, Denmark, and in town at places like Uchi; and spent time in early 2020 in Peru, has put all of his knowledge and inspiration together into an eight-course tasting restaurant with drink pairings (from Salazar).
"This has been in my mind ... it's been my goal to reach this place since I started cooking," says Silva. "But this has been in the works for the last four to five years, almost five."
The dinner, pulling mostly from Spanish, Mexican, and Japanese cuisine, unspools as Silva's love letter to food. Locally grown cauliflower is pureed and served with caviar on the omnivore menu; and vegetarian dashi, seaweed, and mushrooms on the herbivore menu. Gulf kampachi is sliced thin and served in leche de tigre for a refreshing starter paired with an unlikely hero, sriracha eggnog. Another starter, an inverted tostada of sorts starring an in-house blue-corn tortilla, either comes with venison for meat-eaters or carrots for non-meat-eaters. Whatever protein you have, it's served with a 40-hour recado negro, cilantro puree, and salsa taken from a family recipe.
The star entrée is a salsa flight served with outstanding red-corn tortillas, and for omnivores, delicious cuts of beef, duck, and pork. Herbivores get squash and some seriously rich peas. This is Silva's Texas in one course.
The room itself has a Texan vibe, cream with a natural wood ceiling and a 20-seat counter surrounding a small but efficient prep and heat area. The walls are decorated with longhorns, jars of preserved produce, cacti, and vinyl records. Silva says music plays an important part in Degust; to wit, you'll hear a playlist that veers from '60s pop to Tame Impala to Joy Division.
Like at Diversión, produce at Degust is sourced from a number of local spaces. Silva grows some of his ingredients right outside the building in Spring Branch, and he also picks from the Heights Bier Garten urban farm and sources from local growers and ranchers.
"It's really dictating what I'm going to put on the menu," says Silva of the produce he grows and buys.
Degust will host three seatings (5:30 p.m., 8:15 p.m., and 11 p.m.) on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. Silva says the latest seating is meant to better accommodate people in the food and beverage industry who might otherwise be unable to visit for dinner. Only 20 seats are available; reservations are open now via email ([email protected]). Seats are $75 for dinner and $45 additional for beverage pairing).
What Comes Next
"This is the greatest expression of our career at the height of our skill sets, trying to really push ourselves to the limits," says Salazar.
He adds that this is only phase one in Spring Branch. The entire property is 90,000 square feet; for now it includes the Diversión and Degust building (a former warehouse) and the urban garden, plus plenty of parking. But Salazar sees this area as a destination. Not only should Diversión and Degust bring people from beyond Houston, but he sees a lot of possibilities going forward. Maybe more concepts?
"Honestly, we're too far from talking about it," says Salazar. Nevertheless, Diversión and Degust marks a major step for some of the city's most revered industry professionals.