Chef Nirman Shah, a native of Jaipur, has an interesting connection to Houston despite only arriving very recently: Shah opened the first U.S. location of Indian bakery chain Hot Breads in Edison, New Jersey. There are only two other American locations of the wildly popular Indian bakery; one of them is here in Houston, run by franchisee Laila Vastani out of a busy strip center in Hillcroft's Little India district.
And a few months ago, Shah relocated from his adopted home of New Jersey to Houston to open a brand-new restaurant: Kurry Walah, one of a slew of Indian restaurants along the densely ethnic South Mason corridor in Katy. In Kurry Walah's tidy strip center, the restaurant shares space with an Indian grocer, a Lebanese bakery and a moderately upscale wine bar. It's the new face of Katy -- at least this section, where the far-flung suburb is becoming more diverse by the day.
At Kurry Walah, Shah grinds his own spices for in-house spice blends, which shows in the flavorful chicken tikka masala and the fragrant tandoori chicken, colored nearly crimson with paprika, cayenne and red chili powder. The spicy saag paneer isn't for wimps, but you can always soothe the burn with Kurry Walah's crispy, fluffy naan bread -- both it and the saag paneer are currently some of the best in town -- that's been dragged through some refreshing mint chutney.
On Saturdays and Sundays, Kurry Walah suspends menu service in place of a well-attended buffet that's usually packed with Shah's fellow Indians. When I visited on a Sunday afternoon a little after 2 p.m., the restaurant was still half-full despite the late hour. And the buffet was surprisingly still quite fresh.
My mother was skeptical of the buffet at first -- I'd already dragged her miles away into Katy for a very late lunch, and she's not a fan of buffets in general -- but it turned out to be the perfect solution to our growling stomachs. The buffet spread meant that we could dig right in instead of having to wait. I scooped greedy spoonfuls of saag paneer and chana masala onto my plate, while she inspected things more delicately.
Despite this, my mother ended up enjoying the buffet possibly even more than I did. She got up for a second serving while I remained behind bloated by baskets of naan bread and creamy chicken tikka masala, filled with lovely chunks of white-meat chicken that was neither tough nor dry. The tandoori chicken, too, was surprisingly moist given its stint under the heat lamps of the buffet.
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But my favorite dish of the afternoon was a sort of chaat casserole called aloo papdi, which combines all of my favorite crunchy textures and bright, tangy, creamy flavors of other chaat dishes like dahi puri and chole bhature. It's no surprise that aloo papdi is considered serious Indian comfort food. Just like we dig into nachos and seven-layer dips, you can dig into the multiple layers of aloo papdi's crispy puri wafers, crunchy bits of sev, soft cubes of boiled potatoes, nose-clearing onions, sweet tamarind chutney, spicy chili powder and cool, refreshing yogurt.
We stuffed ourselves silly, leaving no room at all for the kheer rice pudding that beckoned from one last bowl on the cool side of the buffet. And although it's a drive to get out there, I'll be back for that -- and some more aloo papdi -- at Kurry Walah sooner rather than later. And at any rate, that interesting South Mason corridor certainly merits further exploration.