See more of Nosh Bistro's elegantly quirky interior and its colorful kitchen in our slideshow.
"It looks like Prince exploded in that place," grumbled one of my friends — French and very fussy — about the new Nosh Bistro, recently opened in the same plot at Kirby and Highway 59 that houses Haven, Twin Peaks, Cafe Japon and the equally new Elevation Burger. Between this not-so-glowing assessment and the traffic and parking nightmares one normally encounters when heading to that corner for dinner, I must confess that I didn't expect much from the quiet restaurant.
Perhaps going in with such low expectations is the reason I came away with such a huge crush on the chic, sexy place after only one visit. Two follow-ups confirmed my admiration for what owner Neera Patidar and her French-trained chef, Carlos Gonzales, have done with the narrow space that — contrary to my initial fears — actually has plenty of parking. But that's not all Nosh has going for it.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 5 to 11 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Fresh pasta with pancetta: $9
Eggs in curry: $10
Beef burger: $10
Lamb burger: $11
Yellowfin tartare: $14
Angry shrimp: $19
Chocolate spiced doughnuts: $7
SLIDESHOW: Nosh Bistro Heats Up Upper Kirby
BLOG POST: Opulent or Overdone? Nosh Bistro's Ornate Decor Proves Divisive
During that first visit, I was stunned to see two of my favorite things beckoning from Nosh's short and sweet menu: a Gaia Agiorgitiko rosé from the surprisingly mature wine list and a pungent morsel of Époisses de Bourgogne cheese that oozed slowly across the wooden slats of a cheese board laden with other old and new favorites: caramel-sweet gjetost (a soft, fawn-colored Norwegian cheese that's seen on cheeseboards as rarely as that intoxicatingly smelly Époisses) and housemade rabbit sausage that tasted fresh and sweet. The Greek rosé couldn't have been a better companion to the entire board, its dry, acidic cherry notes bouncing off and slicing through the fatty cheeses and rich sausage.
I'd thought Nosh Bistro was merely an Indian fusion restaurant in the same vein as The Queen Vic or Pondicheri, both of which are just down the street — and would offer fierce competition even if they weren't. But where The Queen Vic offers a somewhat traditional blend of Indian curries and British pub grub (albeit with a Gulf Coast flare) and Pondicheri a hard Indian bent to its fusion food, Nosh Bistro takes a much lighter approach with the dishes that Patidar and Gonzales have created.
This is modern American bistro fare, for the most part, given clever South Asian twists: braised short ribs with a faint bite of curry powder, topped with barely fried quail eggs and served on cushions of pureed cauliflower. Or fat, "angry" shrimp tossed in a spicy blend of cayenne, ginger and jalapeños, the burn mitigated by the sweet bites of forbidden rice in such a dark shade of purple that the rice is nearly black. And even where there aren't any licks of saffron or cardamom livening up a dish, there are unique surprises to be found, like that glass of rosé and that slip of Époisses.
I don't think it's entirely fair to say that Nosh looks as though Prince exploded inside of it. Sure, there's a lot of purple velvet to be found here — mostly in the form of padded, upholstered bar stools that perch on thick, finely turned, stark white legs. Almost everything inside is purple, white, mother-of-pearl or silver — from glittering trim along the bar to the tiles along the oven that turns out pizzas on fluffy naan, from the giant, Alice in Wonderland-sized silver booths that seat six people to the purple napkins at every place setting.
I can see how the decor might be over the top for some, but I love it unabashedly. It has sex appeal and personality to spare at an time when many restaurateurs seem determined to strip dining rooms down to their most basic, bare, boring elements. This works for some restaurants but not all, and I'm glad to see the "modern industrial" aesthetic has not invaded every space in town. The boisterous design at Nosh Bistro mimics the fun, playful food, and although it's decidedly quirky by day, the dining room is downright sultry at night.
Gentlemen, this is exactly the type of spot you take your lady friends to impress them: Nosh is in a hip part of town but tucked away. It's sexy but not cheesy. Its food is adventurous but not too outlandish. Its wine and cocktail list are thoughtfully curated. Its patio has a cozy fire pit — lined in glittering mother-of-pearl tile — and intimate seating. As long as you're not a total creep, Nosh is guaranteed to get you at least a follow-up date.
It functions equally well as a ladies'-night destination, I found out on my first visit, when my girlfriend and I tested out the "shareability" of Nosh's plates, which are designed — as so many restaurant dishes are these days — for splitting or for keeping to yourself. Often, however, "shareable" dishes are too small to split. Not so at Nosh, where there was more than enough of each to go around.
Good thing, too, as I would have fought her for the last leaves of arugula in a roasted beet salad tossed with fried lentils for crunch and dressed in a vinaigrette redolent with garam masala spices and the slightest touch of truffle oil. I thought the truffle oil would be overpowering but instead was bemused by how well it mingled with the cloves and cinnamon in the curry blend. I was equally wary of a dish called simply "fresh pasta with pancetta" but ended up loving the chewy squares of diced pork amid plump strands of linguine, poppyseeds and subtle whiffs of saffron.
The best dish we ended up splitting that night, however, was dessert — and that's saying a lot for someone with a savory, not a sweet, tooth.
Thank the bittersweet chocolate hidden inside Nosh's spiced doughnuts, which keep the pastry from being overpoweringly saccharine. The hot dough is run through a coating of sugar, cloves, cinnamon and cardamom, which clings ably until you crunch through it to the soft chocolate center. The real test of the dish came toward the end of our meal, however: A few dribbles of chocolate escaped onto my fashionista girlfriend's expensive silk blouse, but she was too busy admiring the dessert to notice or care. When I pointed the chocolate out later, she only said: "It was worth it."
Not everything is pitch-perfect at Nosh, of course. But even where the restaurant can stand a few course corrections, the overall effect is still dazzling. During a recent lunch outing, a male friend who ordered the burger — juicy, well-seasoned beef in a soft, eggy bun that will probably achieve some measure of fame as one of the most overlooked and underappreciated burgers in town — was surprised to see the "fries" that came with it were actually sticks of compressed vegetables.
"Can I get some ketchup?" he asked our waiter, who raised an eyebrow before simply saying: "We don't have ketchup."
"Well...could I get something else?" asked my friend.
"I'll see what the kitchen can do," the waiter finally relented. But his face read as if my friend had ordered A-1 sauce at Peter Luger's steakhouse in New York City, a transgression of the highest order. "He didn't have to make me feel like such a jerk just because I want something with these dry fries," muttered my friend, dejected.
When the waiter finally returned, though, it was with a brilliant tamarind sauce that normally accompanies the pakora-like vegetable fritters on the appetizer menu. "See?" said my friend as he wolfed down his veggie fries. "This is perfect!"
Across the table, our other friend was enjoying the dregs of his lamb burger, which was equally well-seasoned with a fierce amount of sunny garam masala. My naan pizza was less intriguing than the burgers had been, but I blamed myself for ordering the spinach and potato. The spinach had grown watery in the oven (as usually happens when the leaves aren't cooked and drained before being put onto pizzas), and the potatoes were sliced too thick to cut through — with a knife or my teeth — before they slid off. I gave up and ate the pizza as individual components and admired the housemade mozzarella and sturdy crust on their own merits.
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Our appetizers that day had been a little off, too: a muted coconut-corn "salsa" served with four meager toast points and mussels topped with an odd tomato-avocado hash that didn't come together. The mussels were chipped, cracked and broken, and at least one had been long dead. It wasn't the quality I'd come to expect over three visits to Nosh, but I chalked it up to a misfire and instead thought fondly of the yellowfin tartare — a twist on the typical ahi tuna dishes seen on every menu that's been designed or redesigned in the last two years — that featured the same avocado-tomato hash in a much more appropriate setting. Accompanying the tartare is one of my favorite items at Nosh Bistro, even though it was just garnish: fried kale chips, earthy and salty and totally addictive.
Those kale chips are indicative of the normal amount of attention that goes into a dish at Nosh, where even the tiniest touches are thoughtfully executed; coriander mashed potatoes underneath Indian-spiced barbecue ribs were another favorite. The vegetal sweetness of the coriander had the same effect turnips do in the Scottish dish tatties and neeps, hoisting dull potatoes with a bright blast.
Even boring hard-boiled eggs are transformed at Nosh, the eggs cooked in a thick, rich, tomato-based curry sauce that is perhaps the most traditional item on the menu and is served in a perky row that encourages you to pluck them up with your fingers. That's the fun way to do it, and despite its sex appeal — or maybe in keeping with it — fun is encouraged at Nosh Bistro.