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The extensive and fast-growing Houston metropolitan area is well known for its dining scene, home to some of the finest restaurants in the country. However, since May 2020, there is a new class of its own, where, so far only one name is qualified to be a part of : “Musaafer”, an ultra-luxury and completely unique dining experience that is likely to become an international destination.
We could use several pages attempting to describe the wonders of Musaafer, and in fact, we will make our very best effort to describe it, but in the end, you’ll still be so far from grasping the depth of this experience, to the point that we are unsure this effort will do more than to sparkle your curiosity. This is, by far, the finest Rolls-Royce of dining experiences ever produced in Houston.
It all started with the ambitious challenge of bringing to the US a world-class destination with the compilation of the best cuisine from the one country that has gained the reputation of gathering the widest selection of spices and flavors in the world: India.
The Spice Route Co., founded by Shammi and Mithu Malik, sent two of their top chefs on a 100-day journey through the twenty-nine states of India, in search of the most unique and authentic recipes from the country’s mystic lands. This is where the name Musaafer is rooted, as it translates from Hindi to “Traveler”.
Their travels concluded with the creation of an extraordinary and eclectic menu, split into seasons. While a few recipes may be available throughout the year, many others are only available through the specific season when their ingredients are fresh and readily available in India. This guarantees a brand new experience all year round.
Shammi and Mithu moved to Houston in 2017, to personally open their 17th restaurant, in the prestigious Galleria, right next door to Nobu and Saks Fifth Ave. Musaafer became, very rightfully, the crown of their international restaurant brands.
The moment you set foot inside the private elevator to access Musaafer, you know you are on a journey into a highly distinctive experience, unlike anything else you may have seen before in Texas, and probably the world. Starting in the lobby, you will find yourself surrounded by a marvelous combination of mirrors, light fixtures, woods, bronzes, tapestries, aromas, and colors. From the furniture and decor, just about everything inside this breathtaking “dining art gallery” was custom made and imported from India.
Just the visual enjoyment of the many forms of art is well worth the visit. You will be -literally- inside the most fascinating and luxurious art and design gallery from the best India can offer to a discerning “Musaafer’ (traveler).
We were greeted by the owners, who graciously gave us a tour of the restaurant’s seven marvelous rooms. Each one has a grand story and theme of its own. The whimsical, curtained daybeds out on the balcony overlooking Westheimer offer a unique outdoor experience.
Once at our table in the alluring Sheesh Mahal room, Mayank Istwal, Musaafer’s Executive Chef, was ready to give us the tour of a menu he fully understands, as he was one of the “travelers” touring India in search for its best-kept secrets. With his courtesy, passion, and sparkling sense of humor, Mayank properly represents the knowledge and charm of all the different chefs and servers.
Every new employee here undergoes four weeks of rigorous training before they come in contact with guests. They must become experts and fully understand India’s culture, cuisine, and un-surpassed hospitality, mirrored at Musaafer.
Before I get into des-cribing our gastronomic adventure, I must high-light the fact that I invited Carlos Castropare-des, our Senior Architecture and Design Editor, to join me in this visit, as he is a permanent traveler of the world, having designed over 1,200 of the most luxurious restaurants in Dubai, Paris, Cairo, Spain, Mexico, Latin America, and of course the United States. His extensive understanding of the Indian culture -as he has traveled that country from coast to coast- was crucial in gathering an expert opinion while composing this editorial, since Musaafer is much more than a highly sophisticated cuisine; it’s also the finest in design and decor.
Of course, it all started with the wines, where an expert sommelier PJ introduced us to excellent recommendations to pair with each specific course. The selection is quite wide, and it includes some of the top labels from Europe, Argentina, Australia, South Africa, and of course domestic.
We had the opportunity to indulge ourselves in a variety of the most elaborate, beautifully presented, and delightful dishes Indian cuisine can possibly offer.
Appetizers come on a wide and exciting variety of options, including vegan and gluten-free alternatives. As examples, we’d like to highlight the Onion Xuixo, made like a layered kachori with onion & potato mash, and a delicious house blend masala. This one alone is enough reason to want to come back. Paani Poori is a crispy semolina pouch with five types of waters to fill with. It can be made vegan upon request, like many other dishes on the menu.
Mithu’s Coriander Prawns is a must-have personal creation by one of the owners, made of coconut, coriander, shallots, turmeric, curry leaf, and copra pav. A masterpiece! Another favorite is Chaanp, a dish comprised of lamb chops, coriander, chili, and beetroot crisp. Flip the page for a complete description.
On the main course the opportunities are extraordinary, so we will highlight one of the several we tried, just as an example:
Nalli Nihari. The word ‘Nihari’ originates from the Arabic word “Nahar” which means “morning”. It was originally eaten by Nawabs in the Mughal Empire as a breakfast item after their morning prayers (Fajr). After a hearty breakfast of Nihari, the Nawabs would take a nap till afternoon, when they would wake up for afternoon prayers.
“Nalli Nihari” is a very popular dish comprising lamb shanks simmered for hours with the bone marrow which forms a velvety sauce when finished. The result is succulent falling off the bone meat with its sauce and is eaten with khammeri roti or a rich bread ‘ulta tawa paratha’ made of clarified butter, saffron, flour. This dish is also very popular in Old Delhi as well and there is a difference in Nihari from Delhi and Awadh, as it totally depends on how they use their spices and ingredients.
Regardless of what your dish preference is when ordering at Musaafer, you can count on being captivated by an experience loaded with thousands of years of the most exotic components, spices, flavors, and aromas you could expect from the enchanting and mystic lands of India.
Whether you live in Houston, or you are in town for a visit, this is a mandatory destination, to treat yourself to sophisticated and memorable Indian cuisine, a world-class wine program, and unparalleled hospitality.
A final word of caution:
You are highly likely to get addicted.
Musaafer is open for dinner every day, and lunch is served Friday through Sunday.
Check their website for hours and reservations
By Martin Gondra, Publisher, and Carlos Castroparedes