My visit to The Moghul's Restaurant and Bar (11681 Westheimer, 281-589-2300) last night can be summed up in one solitary word: Befuddling.
I had been eagerly looking forward to driving out to try the new Indian-Pakistani restaurant primarily because I'd heard that it also incorporated Chinese and Afghani dishes into its menu, all a nod to the vast tribe -- the Mughal Empire -- that ruled over much of Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent for roughly 300 years. What we found instead was a bizarre mess of a buffet serving mediocre Indian food and particularly awful Chinese food.
The restaurant -- housed in a former Champps -- has clearly been remodeled at great personal expense to the owners, Mobi Siddiqui and Asim Malik, and it's truly lovely inside -- all shades of amber and deep red and mahogany brown. A cheesy buffet in the middle of all this wasn't the only thing that struck us as odd, however.
From the moment that we sat down at our table, something was off about Moghul's. Our waiter glared at us, an expression of open hostility almost daring us to say something to him. He never offered us anything to drink (although the busboy was thankfully timely in refilling our water glasses) and refused to give us menus.
Refused. To give us. Menus.
"Everything we have is on buffet," he huffed before walking off. But we didn't want to eat off the sad-looking buffet. We'd come to eat off the menu. Moghul's itself says on its website and all its press materials that the buffet is served during lunch only, and the full a la carte menu is available for dinner. We could see people in kitchen, cooking, and plates filled with food being delivered to the scant other tables.
We tried to no avail to get a straight answer from someone else about ordering off the menu. Finally, our busboy told us cryptically: "You can order appetizers only."
Completely confused now, we finally flagged down a woman who looked like she was the manager. She obligingly brought us menus, but said nothing about the unusual dinner arrangement. Our waiter seemed very displeased by our getting menus and, annoyed, took our order for two appetizers: the Gobi Munchurian (cauliflower fritters) and Samosa Chat.
While we waited for our appetizers, we took a stab at the buffet. It contained a hodgepodge of chicken lo mein next to butter chicken next to coleslaw next to lamb curry next to sweet & sour chicken next to palak paneer next to a bowl of shredded cheddar cheese next to chicken salad. Baffling.
The Chinese food, gloppy-looking in its steam table confines, was predictably awful. This is the kind of totally and annoyingly inauthentic stuff I expect from a China Panda Bear Garden Gate buffet, B.F.E. location, but not from an upscale restaurant. The Indian food fared somewhat better, but simple items like the palak paneer were a disaster of over-pureed spinach and hard, tough little nuggets of paneer cheese that tasted like Styrofoam peanuts. The pakora were similarly tough and tasteless, with the fresh, fluffy naan and tangy raita as the only standouts.
"Avoid the chicken salad," one of my dining companions said as softly as possible.
"Why did you even get it?" I asked. Our entire evening was filled with whispered warnings like these, in between trying to fend off the distant glares of our waiter from across the room. If two other people hadn't been with me, I would have thought I'd dreamed up his blatant hostility.
When our appetizers finally arrived, we were sad to see that they were just as disappointing as the buffet items. "Cauliflower fritters" turned out to be fried hunks of cauliflower drenched in the same sweet & sour sauce from the buffet chicken. And the samosa chat was promising, but the samosas themselves were horribly soggy, having arrived in a boat where they were covered with watery raita and chutney.
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Throughout all of this, the men I surmised to be the owners sat chatting happily in the bar area near the buffet, seemingly without a care in the world. It was jarring, and I was filled with questions. Could they really think this food was good? Why wasn't the kitchen open at dinner? And why on earth was our waiter being so pointedly rude to us?
My dining companion pointed out as we were leaving that a Bentley -- possibly belonging to one of the owners, as the restaurant was otherwise fairly empty -- was parked in the handicapped spot directly in front of Moghul's. It was a pointed summation of the entire evening.
Part of me would like to return to Moghul's to try the actual menu -- not the buffet -- and try to scope out those Afghani items we didn't see, or perhaps find some more authentic Chinese items. But the other, less forgiving part of me doesn't want to give any return business to a restaurant that doesn't care about its customers enough to leave the handicapped parking spot open, let alone give them menus at dinner.