Believe the Hype: Cullum's Attaboy continues to excel thanks to an unrivaled attention to detail

The restaurant drew breathless praise when it opened in 2022.

click to enlarge Cullum's Attaboy has lost none of its luster. - Nina Rangel
Nina Rangel
Cullum's Attaboy has lost none of its luster.

Every so often, it's worth revisiting a restaurant that drew raves when it opened. Plenty of places grab the attention of diners and critics when they launch, only to falter due to inconsistency, staffing changes or a willingness to rest on those early laurels.

That's been especially true as restaurants have grappled with recent challenges such as staffing shortages, inflation and rising rents.

Cullum's Attaboy was certainly one of those places that drew breathless praise when it opened in 2022. Foodies flocked to the small, butter-hued bungalow at the top of the St. Mary's Strip, drawn by its precisely executed French-inspired fare.

Count me among them. I have stopped by for solo brunches, often in celebration — a promotion, a birthday or the completion of a huge project. Whether it was a fluffy, hollandaise-embellished omelette or an off-menu Croque Monsieur with a perfect béchamel, it was clear chef Chris Cullum and his crew cared about delivering the best from their open kitchen. Kindred culinary spirit and Chef De Cuisine Alysha Brooke has proven a capable right hand.

Here's the good news gleaned from a recent visit: Cullum's Attaboy has lost none of its luster.

The omelettes are prepared in the classic French style, creamy and custard-like, topped with a generous application of lemony hollandaise. They're served alongside a simple bed of frisee greens tossed in a bright champagne vinaigrette. While the menu includes options to add shavings of earthy, musky truffle or a dollop of caviar, the adornments aren't necessary. The eggs are the star. In any dish where the fluffy scrambled eggs figure, you can't help but savor the buttery, perfectly seasoned pillows of protein.

click to enlarge Chef Chris Cullum and his crew care about delivering the best from their open kitchen. - Nina Rangel
Nina Rangel
Chef Chris Cullum and his crew care about delivering the best from their open kitchen.

Attaboy's seafood also continues to excel. The crew bakes its escargot in their shells, packed with herbed scotch-compound butter that enhances the succulent, yet subtle, clam-like flavor of the French delicacy. Drop them onto the crispy toast points and dive in without fear.

Diners also shouldn't be intimidated by the extensive caviar and roe offerings. Yes, we're talking fish eggs. And, no, we're not joking.

The menu's Swell Life arrangement — which features smoked trout roe and black river caviar — is served with tangy crema, chive and blini, or savory miniature pancakes. It's a fantastic way to experience a key Cullum ethos: that premium ingredients, often considered unapproachable, should be accessible to all. Of course, you could also try the menu's "Shot & a Bump" option, which pairs a small serving of caviar with a shot of crisp vodka.

Serving up such a fancy ingredient from such an unassuming spot on the Strip may sound unorthodox — but that's sort of the point. Cullum told the Current in November 2022 that diners should be able to explore fancy AF culinary territory without worrying about breaking the bank. Attaboy's counter-service model and minimal staffing allows the chef to do just that. The eatery offers Oscietra-royale caviar — extracted from Russian Sturgeon — for as low as $6 per gram, for example. That's a price point more on par with a retail grocer than a fine-dining restaurant.

Cullum's dedication to quality seafood doesn't stop at fish eggs, however.

The menu typically features a simply but beautifully prepared pescatarian entree. Currently, it's a champagne butter-poached scallop with the spot's hollandaise sauce, smoked trout roe and dill.

On a recent visit before the scallop took the slot, Cullum's poached white fish, with court-bouillon — a white wine and lemon-spiked poaching liquid — and served with asparagus and roe was easily one of the best composed dishes I have tasted. The court-bouillon, made with the iconic throuple of celery, carrot and onion, brought plenty of salt, white wine, herbs and zesty peppercorn to the party. The slightest, surprise waft of truffle oil teased olfactory nerves without overpowering the dish.

Those familiar with truffle oil know what a feat that is. The smallest overuse can easily overpower a protein, or any other ingredient, for that matter. In this dish, Cullum used both black bass and tilefish, depending on what was on offer from his seafood vendor, but it was the balance of everything else that knocked my socks off.

Fortunately, that continues to be the case for nearly everything I have tried at Attaboy, from its food to its cocktails to its coffee, the latter charmingly offered in a serve-yourself way, replete with old-timey mint-green milk glass sugar shakers.

click to enlarge Attaboy's omelettes are prepared in the classic French style. - Nina Rangel
Nina Rangel
Attaboy's omelettes are prepared in the classic French style.

The details in everything at Attaboy make it a must-try, and that much hasn't changed — not even as economic woes continue to roil the restaurant industry.

Sure, the spot's food and drink are consistently stellar, but it's the attention to each cocktail, each delicately prepared sauce or salad that makes every experience memorable.

Cullum's late father, the renowned jazz musician Jim Cullum Jr., held a longstanding residency at downtown's The Landing Jazz Club. That afforded the young chef-to-be exposure to high-end foods and techniques early in life. The eatery's name was dreamt up by the elder Cullum, whose photo looks over Attaboy's marble countertop.

Though the chef doesn't fancy himself a musician like his father, it's clear the proclivity to produce effortless, transformative harmony runs deep. And so far, there's no sign that song is approaching its coda.

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Nina Rangel

Nina Rangel uses nearly 20 years of experience in the foodservice industry to tell the stories of movers and shakers in the food scene in San Antonio. As the Food + Nightlife Editor for the San Antonio Current, she showcases her passion for the Alamo City’s culinary community by promoting local flavors, uncovering...

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