A visit to Night Market Curry & Grill, the newest joint in Bellaire's Chinatown, proved to be a feast for all the senses. The garlicky aroma of the freshly baked naan arrived before the server placed it on the table; chunks of roasted garlic could be seen scattered and baked into the flaky, fluffy piece of dough, and right away we knew this was going to be the real deal.
Night Market opened the first week of December after months of posting food pics, teasing Houston eaters and spice lovers with shots of fries smothered in ground brisket and Thai peppers, red and green curries and stews. Mike Tran, the mastermind behind Tiger Den, the über-popular Japanese ramen house, teamed up with the former chef/owner of Ambrosia, Rikesh Patel, to create an Indian eatery that pulls its inspiration from traditional Indian cuisine, as well as Thai and Persian flavors.
The space is minimally decorated; a black and white mural spans one wall, while a few potted plants and a dozen booths and tables fill the dining area. With the glow of the red neon signage, the exposed beams and light fixtures hanging throughout and the chill music in the background (low enough not to hinder conversation), diners may feel as if they've stumbled into a cool late-night hang-out dive that only the locals are privy to. The small L-shaped bar offers beer and wine only, with four taps, including a seasonal Saint Arnold and Karbach beer and a few bottled Asian beers. We even spied pints of Boddingtons in the cooler.
Patel told us that he feels Night Market is really still in a soft-opening phase because he makes changes based on daily feedback. "Customers want to have spicy food, but there needs to be a good balance." Many of the dishes use fresh and dried Thai chile peppers not only as a garnish but also as a component to deepen and intensify the spice level in curries and stews. Other, more Southeast Asian ingredients, like ginger, fresh mints and herbs, and coconut milk, are also used widely throughout the menu.
Everything we tried on our first visit was incredibly flavorful. The braised goat stewed with house sambal and potatoes is lifted out of traditional Indian cuisine and mingled with fresh ginger and herbs to create a completely re-imagined dish. Patel told us the key is building on a foundation of true massaman curry, which may include cardamom, cinnamon, star anise, fish sauce and tamarind. The goat meat and potatoes were cooked to tender perfection, and the sauce hit all the right spice notes.
When asked about his favorite item to cook, Patel said he loves the grilling aspect of Persian food and likes to incorporate that technique into his dishes. A can't-miss on the menu is the chicken boti, yogurt-marinated chicken breast chunks, grilled and served with a garlic cream and green chutney. The Thai-inspired papaya salad was refreshing and light. It was a bit timid on the fish sauce and spice front for our taste, but the flavors came through regardless. The crispy fried poppadoms, similar to potato chips in texture and crunch, were a great shareable snack served with a side of the fiery house sambal.
Night Market Curry & Grill is located at 9630 Clarewood, Suite A12, right next door to Tran's other restaurant, Mein. Hours are 5 to 10 p.m., Tuesdays through Sundays. Patel hopes to extend those hours in the near future. Prices are very affordable; the lamb chops appear to be the most expensive item on the menu at $16. Once the restaurant's hours are extended, this place may be the next late-night go-to spot for those craving something spicy and unique.
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