Restaurant News

Musaafer Opens May 18

Alice in Wonderland meets India.
Alice in Wonderland meets India. Photo by Julie Soefer

The Indian cuisine restaurant Musaafer has finally made its way to Houston, two years to the date after we first announced its upcoming arrival in the Houston Press. It originally was slated to open in the fall of 2018 but the restaurant and hospitality industry are unpredictable at best.

This project from The Spice Route Co., a restaurant group out of Dubai, was not one to be rushed. After two years of construction, sourcing of custom artwork, antiques and artisanal handcrafted pieces from India and developing a menu with the culinary team that traveled through India for 100 days, owners Mithu and Shammi Malik are ready to open the doors to the 10,000 square foot space and give Houstonians a journey through the 29 states of India. It opens May 18 for dinner. Lunch and brunch service will be offered in the future.

click to enlarge Owners Mithu and Shammi Malik are ready to take Houston on a tour of India. - PHOTO BY MICHAEL ANTHONY
Owners Mithu and Shammi Malik are ready to take Houston on a tour of India.
Photo by Michael Anthony

This is not, as we are all well aware, the best time to open a new restaurant. Houston's booming restaurant scene was brought to a cruel halt by the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions on restaurant service. While Texas is slowly reopening for business, its inhabitants are re-emerging cautiously. A high-end venture of this magnitude takes some courage, but the Maliks are prepared for the battle.

In a press release, Mithu Malik said," There are so many interpretations of Indian cuisine. At Musaafer, our first U.S. restaurant, the intention is to showcase our homeland in a manner that authentically honors the country's culinary diversity."

Musaafer is the Hindi translation of the word traveler and the owners have collaborated with Chromed Design Studio to transform the interior and terrace space of the building, originally designed by architect Philip Johnson for retailer Marshall Field and Co. This is the first U.S. project for the design company based in New Delhi.

click to enlarge The Diwan Lounge is intimate and inviting. - PHOTO BY JULIE SOEFER
The Diwan Lounge is intimate and inviting.
Photo by Julie Soefer
The interior features seven different spaces, each with its own inspiration and designation. The second level entrance is lined with limited-edition wallpaper and accent walls feature whimsical portraits and brass plates. The Traveler's Room has a sixteen-foot high wooden arched colonnade and a commissioned twelve-foot high gilded statue, The Musaafer, or traveler. It also showcases a traditional Dhokra Wall, an important design element in Indian culture, with brass carvings and panels of rich brocade. It offers seating for 35 guests.

The Shadow Room is tucked behind the Traveler's Room and is a private dining space with dedicated seating for the restaurant's twelve-course tasting menu. The Diwan Lounge takes its cue from spaces commonly found in affluent Indian homes with vignette seating, marble tables and tufted sofas. The ornate wine display room is a focal point off to the side.

click to enlarge The Tuna Chaat is lit. - PHOTO BY JULIE SOEFER
The Tuna Chaat is lit.
Photo by Julie Soefer
The Aagnan is the main dining room, with more lighting and open space. It also houses the main bar along with a carved, white-washed wooden balcony area that has a private DJ space. The Sheesh Mahal (Palace of Mirrors) is a split-level event space overlooking the main dining room. It is inspired by royal Indian palaces with a high domed ceiling and over 200,000 pieces of hand-cut antique mirrors. Further opulence is created with emerald green velvet banquettes, white marble tables and crystal chandeliers.Giant teak doors open to the balcony patio overlooking Westheimer. Expansive daybeds dressed in airy linen recall India's colonial days.

click to enlarge The Nalli Nihari looks like a cobra ready to strike. - PHOTO BY JULIE SOEFER
The Nalli Nihari looks like a cobra ready to strike.
Photo by Julie Soefer
These layers and textures draw inspiration from the ancient spice markets to the grandiose palaces across the regions of India. All of this luxury demands a menu that transports the diner as well. The Maliks have brought in Chef Mayank Istwal to lead the culinary team. Istwal has worked with chefs such as Luke Mangan and also Taj Hotels. The seasonally changing menu offers an extensive tapas program, a la carte options and main courses that embody the 29 states of India, taking inspiration from traditional street food like Pani Puri to more elaborate dishes such as the Nalli Nihari (lamb shank). Whimsical items such as the Mishti Doi with its faux yogurt mushrooms and freeze-dried raspberry and pomegranate stones bring a little playfulness to the high-end dining.

Then, there's bread. While the naan, roti and paratha are a bit more expensive at this establishment, they come out of the tandoor, or clay oven and are made to order.

click to enlarge The Mushroom Gaulauti Eclairs are a tasty beginning. - PHOTO BY JULIE SOEFER
The Mushroom Gaulauti Eclairs are a tasty beginning.
Photo by Julie Soefer
For dessert, pastry chef Ruchit Harneja offers his contemporary interpretation of traditional Indian sweets with artful plating and molecular gastronomy. Other team members include General Manager Sebastian Leval, formerly of MAD, and lead mixologist Himanshu Desai, winner of the global Remy Martin Talent Academy competition. Rebecca Beaman will serve as sommelier and her travels to India have inspired the unique vintages she has chosen for Musaafer's wine list. Beaman previously was beverage director at Inn at Dos Brisas in Washington County, Texas.

click to enlarge The Pani Puri at Musaafer elevates Indian street food. Literally. - PHOTO BY JULIE SOEFER
The Pani Puri at Musaafer elevates Indian street food. Literally.
Photo by Julie Soefer
The new restaurant has implemented precautions and safety measures exceeding the guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization. Besides social distancing and daily temperature checks for the staff, it has installed hand sanitizing stations throughout the space and there will be an attendant to sanitize the restroom facilities after each guest, who are allowed in one at a time. Valet parking is currently prohibited during the coronavirus crisis but complimentary self-parking is offered in The Galleria VI parking lot off Westheimer and throughout the parking garage.

click to enlarge The Traveler's Room will transport diners to another world. - PHOTO BY JULIE SOEFER
The Traveler's Room will transport diners to another world.
Photo by Julie Soefer
This is a challenging time for all of Houston's restaurants. Musaafer brings something unique and luxurious to the table. In a time when we cannot travel, the Maliks have brought India to us.

5115 Westheimer
Sunday through Thursday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.
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Lorretta Ruggiero is a Houston Press freelance writer based in Cypress, Texas. She loves entertaining her family and friends with her food and sparkling wit. She is married to Classic Rock Bob and they have two exceptionally smart-aleck children.