The first time I ate lunch at Yatra Brasserie, the cool new Indian restaurant on Main Street, I was delighted to see an innovative “wrap” on the lunch menu. It sounded good, but the flour tortilla roll-up turned out to be stuffed with a sort of rectangular veggie burger that didn't do much for me or the two vegetarians I was eating with. They enthused effusively over the artichoke-heart curry, however, and I must agree it was both surprising and heavenly.
There is a section of the menu titled “High Protein, Low Carbohydrate, Grilled Tandoori Specialties.” I am not on the Atkins diet, but an entrée called “Baby Lamb Chops” caught my eye. It featured a half-dozen tiny lamb chops with long, protruding bones. I ordered them medium rare. The chops were intriguingly flavored with a marinade of ginger, garlic and turmeric. They were so petite that I dispensed with the utensils and picked them up and ate them like lollipops, much to the chagrin of my vegetarian companions.
The second time I ate lunch at Yatra Brasserie, the place was packed and there was a 15-minute wait for a table. A hungry friend and I took a look at the dinner menu and decided to order the “Royal Feast” for two. It required 20 minutes' preparation time. Since we had to wait anyway, we figured we might as well. And sure enough, the spread was ready at about the same time as our table.
We were very impressed with the perfectly cooked tandoori prawns, cooked in the shell and crackling with a spicy marinade that stuck to the juicy shrimp meat. The lamb rogan josh, with its tender meat and strong aromas of spices (anise and cardamom?), was spectacular. Dal makni, a black lentil stew flavored with garlic, roasted cumin and cream, was one of the best dals I have ever had. The naan and raita were normal enough. The chicken tandoori and chicken tikka masala were properly prepared, though they seem like dull fare at an Indian restaurant as interesting as this one.
By my third lunch at Yatra, there were four wraps to choose from. They had been renamed “Los Burritos,” and they comprised half of the midday “Express Menu.” There were two vegetarian burritos “Tandoori Vegetable Kebab” stuffed with mashed-up grilled vegetables, and the “Panir Bhurjee,” made of scrambled Indian cheese. I didn't try either one. Instead, my carnivorous lunchmate and I sampled a delightful lamb and sensational spicy chicken burrito.
The “Chicken Kadai” burrito was stuffed with hunks of red-tinted tandoori chicken in a spicy orange tomato sauce. It tasted like a chicken tikka masala taco. “Keema Matar,” a ground lamb, green pea and tomato sauce stew, was rolled up in a wrap; it tasted like shepherd's pie filling on a taco. Both were served with a small pile of rice and a few scraps of salad. They were very tasty, though not much of a bargain at nine and ten bucks respectively. We were glad we ordered some saag paneer on the side, as one burrito wasn't much of a lunch.
Yatra's Desi-Tex burritos may sound like the outer limits of fusion food, but in fact they are very similar to the Indo-Trinidadian wrap called a roti. In India, roti describes a thin, tortilla-like round of bread. But in Trinidad, it means a folded sandwich of that same Indian flatbread stuffed with your choice of fillings.
Years ago, while I was in Port of Spain researching a cookbook that never got published, I took a taxi to a restaurant called Patraj Roti that everyone assured me was the best on the island. I recall peeking through the windows to see the baker move the rounds of thin dough around on a massive griddle.
Then I went inside, walked up to the counter and ordered a goat curry-and-mango chutney roti. The lady who made the wraps folded the bread while I watched. It was an ingenious process. She incorporated a blob of mango chutney and huge ladle of curry into a folding pattern that resembled an origami project. When she was done, the whole thing was a perfect square of curry-stuffed bread with a delicious bubble of chutney in the top.
If Yatra made their own tortillas, “Los Burritos” would be almost as good as Trinidad's rotis.
On a recent weeknight, four of us had dinner at Yatra, and we had the restaurant pretty much to ourselves. Two of my dining companions, a Welsh couple named Elton and Emma, had lived in London for a while. Which makes them extremely discerning about Indian food.
Hearing their accent, Yatra's owner, a silver-haired gentleman with a goatee, encouraged them to depart from the menu, and the kitchen would whip up anything they wanted. “Anything?” they asked, giddily.
Well, anything we have the ingredients for, he demurred. Emma responded by asking for chicken bhuna, which proved to be no problem. It turned out to be a delightful curry made with a thick tomato sauce.
Elton wondered if he could get some dhansak. The owner apologized that it wasn't possible. Dhansak, a spice-studded pumpkin-and-lentil stew, is the traditional Sunday dish in the Bombay Parsi community, and it requires a full day of cooking time. The pumpkin and spices are slow-roasted in the oven before the stew is assembled.
“Call me a day in advance, and we will make dhansak for you,” the owner promised.
Everyone at the table agreed that the “Goan Shrimp Curry” was the standout of the evening. A specialty of Goa, this curry is made with coconut milk and seasoned with mustard seed. But it was the huge, succulent Gulf shrimp that really made the dish shine. “I don't usually like coconut milk curries, but I love this one,” Elton proclaimed.
I also couldn't resist another order of the anise seed-scented lamb rogan josh, the fantastic black lentil stew and the curried artichoke hearts. We washed the richly spiced fare down with frosty Kingfisher Indian beers and talked about the Indian food in London and the “lad's night out” tradition of eating a late night-plate of Indian food after the pubs close.
We had such a pleasant evening, we decided to keep it going. After dinner, we went into a nearby bar and had another round.
Yatra means journey or pilgrimage in Hindi, and brasserie means brewery in French. So does Yatra Brasserie translate to “pub crawl?” I am not sure. But I guess it would be appropriate, given the restaurant's location on this bar-studded strip of Main Street and because the owners are building a bar and lounge in the adjoining storefront.
While the restaurant may be best known for its Indian-burrito lunch specials, I think Yatra Brasserie is also poised to become Houston's premier outpost of the British ale-and-Indian food tradition only with colder beer.
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