Tony Chi to Fish and the Knife: You Know I Didn’t Design Your Restaurant, So Stop Saying I Did

Fish and the Knife Sushi Bar, Restaurant, and Nightclub, 7801 Westheimer Rd. at Stoney Brook, Houston

Fish and the Knife Restaurant, Sushi Bar, Nightclub, and Lounge, 7801 Westheimer Rd., HoustonAn attorney representing international hotel and restaurant designer Tony Chi has sent a cease-and-desist letter to the owners of the Fish and the Knife, complaining that the recently opened Houston sushi restaurant and nightclub has “repeatedly and intentionally” claimed that Chi was responsible for the restaurant’s design. “As you most certainly know,” the letter reads, “Tony Chi had no role whatsoever in connection with the Fish & The Knife and most certainly is not answerable for its operation, particularly its delayed opening.”

A Facebook post published by the restaurant shortly before its February 13th opening claimed that Tony Chi had designed the interior — and implied that his involvement bore some responsibility for the restaurant’s notably delayed debut: “The owner commissioned Tony Chi, famed architect and interior designer, to fit the restaurant into his relentless schedule,” reads the post (which may also have been issued as a press release) in a sentence that directly follows a reference to repeated postponements of the restaurant’s opening. It then goes on to name-drop several of Chi’s former clients: “Based in New York City, Chi owns and operates a global design powerhouse that has an unrivalled reputation in the hospitality industry. Some of Chi’s designs include restaurants for Wolfgang Puck, Alain Ducasse and Michael Mina. In addition to restaurants, he designed many Ritz-Carlton, Park Hyatt, Intercontinental and Mandarin Oriental hotels around the world.” But Chi’s designs do not appear to include Fish and the Knife.

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Following the Facebook post and other restaurant publicity efforts including a pre-opening “friends and family” event, several local publications — including Eater Houston, the Houston Press, and Culturemap — stated in their reports that Chi was Fish and the Knife’s designer. [Note: The report on Fish and the Knife in the Press's Eating Our Words blog has since been deleted] In reporting that the restaurant had finally opened after more than 3 years of construction, Swamplot quoted from and paraphrased the Facebook post claiming Chi’s involvement; that story has now been updated and corrected.

Chi’s attorney is working to have all references to his client removed from reports on Fish and the Knife. “All statements that Tony Chi participated in design of Fish and Knife are patently false and all statements that Tony Chi is responsible for the delayed opening are defamatory and actionable,” the cease-and-desist letter warns the restaurant’s owners. “The single legal conclusion to be drawn from the false statements is that the Fish & The Knife seeks to ‘palm off’ Mr. Chi’s impeccable reputation, not only to obtain undeserved publicity but also to increase the establishment’s profits.” It closes by mentioning that “Tony Chi is prepared to commence formal proceedings” against the restaurant.

The restaurant’s Facebook post also refers to Chi as an architect; Chi is not. So who were the designers of the 13,000-sq.-ft. standalone restaurant at 7801 Westheimer Rd.? That would be Ostap Rudakevych and the team at Clouds Architecture Office, a separate New York firm. Fish and the Knife is the only completed restaurant commission listed on that young firm’s website. Fortunately for all others involved in the multi-year project — who might not otherwise be attributed proper credit by their client — the description also lists the entire project team.

The letter was dated March 12th; as of this morning, Fish and the Knife’s post crediting Chi with the design is still up and uncorrected on the restaurant’s Facebook page. For reference, we’ve quoted it in its entirety below:

The long anticipated waited is now over. Fish and the Knife will finally be opening its door to the public on Thursday, February 13th. Houstonians spent these past few years speculating the cause in the delay, but there was never one. The owner commissioned Tony Chi, famed architect and interior designer, to fit the restaurant into his relentless schedule. Based in New York City, Chi owns and operates a global design powerhouse that has an unrivalled reputation in the hospitality industry. Some of Chi’s designs include restaurants for Wolfgang Puck, Alain Ducasse and Michael Mina. In addition to restaurants, he designed many Ritz-Carlton, Park Hyatt, Intercontinental and Mandarin Oriental hotels around the world.

Just over 13,000 sq ft in size, Fish and the Knife is meticulous in design and order. Gorgeous compositions of wood, metal, stone and glass are layered throughout the restaurant. The neutral tones allow the interior to glisten without being glitzy. Red doors are used to separate the lounge area from the dining restaurant and also to create a warm and inviting ambience. The vaulted and sky light ceilings brings an open, airy feeling. From the custom wooden tables to the handmade Bernaud dinnerware, no detail is to be left unnoticed.

Along with a famed architect and interior designer, the restaurant’s head chef is Iron Chef America’s very own Bob Iacovone. Iacovone won the James Beard Foundation Award in 2006 and is considered one of the best chefs in America. He served as an Executive Chef at Cuvee for 9 years and highly acclaimed for his continental Creole cooking. Cuvee was recognized as one of New Orlean’s best restaurants during Iacovone’s tenure. He also co-owned Rambla , a tapas restaurant known for their use of fresh local seasonal ingredients for 3 years. Although Iacovone took a hiatus from the culinary world to focus on being a father, he spent this past year carefully planning and preparing the menu for Fish and the Knife.

Tonight’s private tasting held exclusively for family, friends and colleagues is to celebrate the long awaited opening of Fish and the Knife and Bob Iacavone’s entrance back into the culinary world. Iacovone will be preparing some dishes for sampling and sharing. He hopes that with each bite, the memory of it will linger on long after the taste has left.

Photos: Swamplot inbox

Credit Where It Isn’t Due

18 Comment

  • This joint has actually been crowded Thursday-Saturday evenings since it opened. I’m guessing that it is the Richmond Strip spillover effect.

  • I dined there just after opening and got the Tony Chi earful, about how it was worth it to be under construction for 3 years to get him to work on it. I thought to myself, as an investor, there’s no way I’d start and stop construction for that length of time. Wish them all the best though. It is a nice buildout.

  • Yawn, who cares. If I decided I wanted to go there, it would have nothing to do with if Tony Chi (whoever that is) designed it or not. But the fact they’re ‘name dropping’ someone to sponge off his name value is just total cheese ball to the extreme.

  • There’s a new take on the fish-slapping dance.

  • The place was featured in a local TV newscast the other day; all bouquets.

  • If you read it carefully that statement doesn’t ACTUALLY say that Chi designed the restaurant. Only that he was “commissioned” to “fit the restaurant into his schedule,” and that he’d designed restaurants for other famous chefs.

    Two paragraphs later, it says “along with a famous architect and interior designer,” but doesn’t say WHICH architect or designer, although inclusion of Chi’s name elsewhere leads the reader to draw that conclusion. The statement seems very meticulously worded to avoid ever saying that Chi actually had anything to do with the restaurant.

    Given all this, I would read the menu descriptions very carefully, and not make any overly generous assumptions regarding the provenance of the seafood on offer.

  • Reviewing the comments, it appears they may have thought they were extremely careful and clever with the written word, they are learning that tongues don’t wag quite so precisely. If the Steven Stone recounting is accurate, and Tony Chi decides to really be pissed off about this, it could have a less than storybook ending for our restaurant owners.

  • Ya… Angostura, I hear you and understand what you’re saying but I don’t think so. To commission someone, introduce him as a famed architect and interior designer, and then refer to “a famed architect and interior designer” later, it doesn’t really allow too much room for imagination.

  • If they will mislead people about the designer, then I would guess that the menu is pure fiction also.

  • It’s too bad that the actual designers are only now getting any exposure because of this. The interiors ARE a bit all over the place, but it’s still a nice space and is the g**d*** Ritz-Carlton compared to other joints in that area of town.

  • The entry looks like Benji’s on Washington entry. No fault there, just looks very similar

  • Who cares who designed the place – Houston is not LA OR NY – it’s nice to have somewhere cool to go – end of story

  • Tony Chi is not an architect. He is an interior designer. For Fish & Knife to allege he his an architect is proof plain and simple that Tony Chi had nothing to do with the restaurant.

    Whoever wrote the Facebook page, and manufactured the attribution, did not do his homework.

  • For those who say “who cares” you should think twice about it. A restaurant that is willing to blatantly lie about their interior designer to try and drum up hype would probably have little problem with blatantly lying about where they sourced their “kobe beef” or “Chilean Salmon”.

    Trust is a very big deal for me when it comes to high end dining. When I went to Feast, Underbelly, or Uchi, I know that I am being fed what they tell me and I don’t think twice about it. Starting out like this, however, is a great way to show that you can not be trusted. Especially for Sushi.

  • MrE: my “who cares” was in regards to their (claimed) designer. The fact they are lying about it and name dropping someone’s name that had nothing to do with it is sad. To me that is a big deal and agree that if they fib about that, how can you trust the menu.
    .
    IMO is cheesy enough to name drop your designer over and over. But when they didn’t actually design it, that’s really sad.

  • The people saying they can’t trust the menu and quality of the food are jumping to conclusions. Just because the press assumed that Tony Chi designed the restaurant, which the restaurant never directly stated, from a Facebook post, people are starting to chastise the integrity of the restaurant. I blame the press for making up dramatic stories. Regardless of who the designer was, this restaurant is still a work of art within itself.

  • What Facebook page? Whatever once was is now gone.

  • The chron does some crackerjack reporting on this issue and concludes: “How the wrong attribution occurred probably isn’t a concern to diners…”

    The chron should just throw in the towel on everything and conclude that nothing is a concern to anyone.

    http://www.houstonchronicle.com/life/food/article/Fish-the-Knife-Feast-for-eyes-taste-buds-5347608.php#/0