Along with the city’s recent uptick in regional Indian restaurants comes another welcome trend: South Asian restaurants with a contemporary spin, adding to an inventory that already includes such venues as Pondicheri and the Queen Vic Pub. The final months of 2012 saw the opening of two such ventures, Ambrosia on Lexington, in the former Saffron space, and Nosh Bistro on Kirby at the Southwest Freeway.
Both operations specialize in small plates with an Indian lean and nods to other Asian cuisines as well. I ducked into Nosh Bistro for a look a few weeks before Christmas, and I loved the dark glamour of the room proprietor Neera Patidar has wrought, with its multitude of gleaming finishes and deep jewel tones. Everything seems to glimmer, from the pearlescent tiles of the wood-burning oven and bar, to the metallic sheen of the amethyst wall coverings, to the bronze metal place mats with their intricate tracery.
At one end of the long room, past the bar stools covered in plush grape velvet and spotlit flowers, a window wall looks out on a handsome outdoor lounge area with a fire pit and an oak tree wrapped in tiny white lights.
It’s a lovely setting in which to sip champagne or sparkling wine from a by-the-glass list that’s unusually long on them and to sample through a menu that reads more like smart lounge food (suitable for noshing, rather than dining) than conventional restaurant fare.
A variety of “boards” offer more substantial items for sharing (whole fish, short ribs, mussels and scallops and the like), but the dishes that reach out to a first-time visitor are the wood-fired pizzas and Indian-themed snacks.
I was taken with a crisp, flat-bread-style pizza with a light gilding of house-made mozzarella and a ground-lamb topping in which I thought I picked out coriander and cardamom. And a simple linguine dish with cubes of crisped guanciale, the unsmoked Italian bacon, was tossed in a butter sauce tinted ochre with turmeric and tasting subtly of fenugreek, that most characteristic of curry spices. The clincher? The tiny pop and crunch of poppy seeds, as festive as champagne bubbles swirling toward the lip of one of Patidar’s special flutes, which are designed to make the most of a mousse.
The only item that gave me pause was a spidery-legged vegetable pakora, one of those fried Indian combo fritters that can be so much fun to eat. This one wasn’t: leaden and dull and over-fried, it couldn’t be helped by a dash of tamarind sauce. Even some of the off-menu three-chile hot sauce, a finely minced salsa jumping with sunny habanero chile, was to no avail.
Still, two out of three ain’t bad, and I’m curious to see what Patidar and her chef, French-trained and hotel-schooled Carlos Gonzalez, will do with the eclectic food as things settle out. I’ve got my eye on those turmeric shrimp my colleague Greg Morago raved about when he previewed the menu (garlic, green chiles, coriander and caper berries? Yes, please.); and the promise of chana masala (spicy chickpea) crostini and tandoori-spiced foie gras will bring me back.
Well, that and the very apt setting for drinking champagne. I resolve to do more of that in the new year. There’s one resolution I can actually keep.
(Nosh Bistro, 3963 Kirby, 713-522-6674. 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Tuesday-Fridays; 5-11 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays)