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Nabi-Hood Hangout

This Montrose spot is serving up beautifully constructed modern Asian cuisine, at small prices.

People like James and Megan Silk, the proprietors of neighboring Montrose restaurant Feast, who quickly became regulars. They introduced Kang to their own meat purveyors, which include Texas ranches like Harrison Hog Farms and Black Hill Ranch. Kang also has been braving the Eastside farmers' market on Saturday mornings, picking up produce for the week and meeting new chefs along the way. He talked about getting to know like-minded peers like Seth Siegel-Gardner, a recent Houston Press MasterMind award winner and part of the Pilot Light restaurant group, and Lyle Bento of The Modular food truck, and how Houston — and his fellow Montrose restaurateurs, in particular — has been more welcoming than he ever imagined possible.

Even old Tomo regulars have made Nabi their new home. When they first started coming in, Kang said, they were all asking for sushi — Tomo's specialty, although using "specialty" here is being kind — and he briefly panicked. Although he is the son of a sushi chef, Kang had not planned on serving sushi at his own restaurant.

"I wanted to concentrate on these things: Green, Bowl, Seafood, Meat," he said, pointing to the four simple categories on Nabi's menu that feature small plates of dishes like veal tongue with pickled celery and spiced yogurt or a warm mushroom salad with hazelnuts and fresh herbs.

The ramen isn't traditional, but it's remarkable.
Troy Fields
The ramen isn't traditional, but it's remarkable.

Location Info

Map

Nabi

1517 Westheimer Road
Houston, TX 77006

Category: Restaurant > Asian

Region: Montrose

Details

Hours: 11:30 a.m. to midnight Mondays through Saturdays, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays.
Chili edamame: $5
Grilled romaine hearts: $7
Brisket potstickers: $8
Calamari: $9
Veal tongue: $9
Ramen: $11
Warm mushroom salad: $11
Breakfast roll: $12
Shrimp and short rib fried rice: $12


READ MORE
SLIDESHOW: Welcome To The Nabi-Hood
BLOG POST: Montrose Welcomes Nabi to the Neighborhood


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He caved and added sushi anyway, although it's still sushi the Ji Kang way: The "breakfast roll" is stuffed with pork belly and a fried egg under pickled radishes, the "turf" is filled with grilled rib eye, asparagus and crispy shallots. There's also regular nigirizushi and sashimi available by request. And they're good, to be sure. But it's in those small plates where Kang's talents truly shine.
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That crispy veal tongue is another of Kang's minor masterpieces. It's made all the more impressive by its price: $9 for a plate large enough to split between two or three people. Kang always wanted to serve a tongue dish, and found that the tender veal tongue from his butcher was only $1 more. It was a dollar well spent.

The tongue, because it is all wonderfully fatty muscle and no bones or tendons, is tender enough to slice with a fork. Unlike other organ meats, it has no coppery taste to it, just the pure, dense flavor of beef. Kang lightly batters and pan-sears the veal tongue and carves it into pieces that are perfectly sized for picking up with a pair of chopsticks like a sashimi slice of dark red bluefin tuna.

Drag the hot veal tongue through the cool, tart yogurt and thrill to the sensation of the flavors as they bounce and then bond together on your own tongue. Finish it with a bite of pickled celery that erases the fatty richness of the veal from your mouth, so you can experience the bounding sensations of the next bite all over again.

That's not to say the veal tongue is perfect. Many of Kang's dishes still need adjustment here and there, and he knows it. The tongue needs salt, just as his otherwise terrific bowl of ginger duck with noodles does. The combination of scallions, shiitake mushrooms, shishito peppers and hazelnuts in the ginger duck broth is almost enough — it's maddeningly close to perfect — but wants for the balance of a pinch or two of salt.

But the great thing about the menu at Nabi is how even if one dish falls just a little bit short, two others are there to pick up the slack. That warm mushroom salad is a revelation to anyone who only eats button mushrooms in salads, with a changing lineup of mushrooms from giant porcini cut into meaty slices to delicate tangles of oyster mushrooms scattered amidst roasted hazelnuts and crispy shallots. There's a decidedly modern swoop of creamy herbal dressing down one side of the white plate, but the roasted mushrooms are good enough to eat on their own.

And then there are the standbys: dishes that I find myself coming back to again and again in spite of myself. Crunchy strips of calamari that are elevated with a sticky lemon marmalade. Addictive edamame pods coated in a dark spice rub of toasted chile flakes. Crispy little potstickers filled with a savory "24-hour" brisket that bears juice like a piece of ripe fruit. Grilled romaine hearts — yes, warm lettuce — treated ever so lightly with a sprinkle of sea salt, citrus and a light herb dressing. A head-on shrimp and short rib fried rice with a bright undercurrent of citrus that drove me so crazy on the first taste, I had to hunt down Kang specifically to ask him what he'd done to the dish.

"Preserved lemon," he told me with a grin. The rind and juice cut the fattiness in what could be an overly greasy dish but is instead transformed with this one small touch. It's these small touches (and small prices) that are so important, though: Nabi could easily be overshadowed by the wealth of other hot new restaurants that have opened in Montrose in these last few, hectic months — places like Uchi, Underbelly, Roost and Roots Bistro — yet here, the parking lot is always full.

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12 comments
ChrisMarker
ChrisMarker

I love the food here, but anyone who's been to or lived in New York City as I did, should recognize the Nabi Ramen and steamed buns as direct copies of David Chang's work at Momofuku Noodle Bar. Everything else seems very inspired by Chang's type of fusion, which is great, and I'm happy to be able to experience this in Houston.  More people should check it out.  It's too bad the place is for sale and may close soon.

A Good Cup
A Good Cup

i have been to nabi several times and am very glad to see a good write up on them. their seasonal dishes have at times blow me away like the oxtail dumplings. while overshadowed by many new restaurants in the area i think in many ways nabi outshines some of the new much more pricey places charging double for the same less complete dish.

ALG
ALG

I was so excited about this place but was so disappointed. Went on Saturday for late lunch. Service was slow because only 1 server was working the place. They were out of a few items and the ice cream machine was broken... mochi sundae was half the reason we were there. Probably won't be back.

Jodie E
Jodie E

Yep ... it's easy to love, isn't it? Great write-up. Y'all go check it out!

Sam Brown
Sam Brown

Brisket potstickers ftw. So good.

mike
mike

Nabi is great. Service may be sparse, but I've never found it lacking and has always been super friendly. It's also incredibly useful and is just as good for sharing some snacks with friends as it is a full meal.

Corey
Corey

Nabi see you soon! Had I known I'd have already been there.. <3 Togarashi.

Don
Don

Well... if it hasn't already blown up... it will be now. Good for Nabi.

CMN
CMN

It hasn't. Last Friday night there were about 6 tables occupied at 7:00p. Support this place people!

My bowl of ginger duck noodles was perfect - I hope thats the norm and your under-salted version the exception. Will find out soon enough!

Marc
Marc

It is rodeo season. I went about a week prior to the rodeo and they were so packed I was stunned.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

Rodeo season plays havoc with Houston restaurants. Go to some of the fancier places and you'll see incredibly thinned crowds. On the bright side: It's a great time to eat out without having to battle for parking or reservations!

 
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