“LET’S JUST SAY, I HAVEN’T BEEN SICK IN SEVEN YEARS,” Daniel Quezada said with an assured smile. “Every Sunday and Wednesday, we offer a free ‘flu shot’ with any purchase. I’ve had a ‘flu shot’ twice a week for seven years. They’re drinks made with a special blend of very concentrated ginger, garlic, apple and lime.”
Although interested, I was distracted by the textbook on the table. This 9th edition “self-diagnosis manual," created by the owner in collaboration with a team of botanists and herbalists, contains pages of drink creations intended to cure many ailments. It is a mixologist’s answer to natural medicine and a guide offered to each customer.
Along with popcorn every table receives gratis—tossed in soybean oil, in place of butter, and seasoned with just the right amount of herbs, we picked up our blue corn chips to try the ginger-spiced avocado spread. NOKturne, in the Clear Lake area of Houston, is a rare gem in this fast food age. The late-night eatery and juice bar, trail-blazed four years ago by Quezada, provides a low-lit, modern, Asian-influenced atmosphere daubed with calming green, browns and metallic flourishes.
Open until 3 a.m. on weekdays (and 5 a.m. on weekends), Houston’s late crowd has a healthy option to combat their post-party cravings. However, there are a couple of offerings amusingly labeled as "nasty" items on the menu (one with higher calories, or cooked with meat that releases lots of animal fat), if desired. The bar also offers a concoction called “Morning After.” Blended as a high alkalinity drink, party warriors who visit the following day swear it cures their hangovers.
The fare is 75 percent vegetarian and any dish can be made vegan by requesting the removal of dairy. Guests are also encouraged to share their dishes with their dining mates for a harmonious experience. The kitchen protocol, referred to as “archaic cooking,” ensures the maximum amount of nutrients are snuck onto each plate. The pricing is reasonable for folks on any budget. Quezada spent his youth traveling to more than 18countries to study the processes involved in creating delicious eats from around the world. His greatest influences come from Latin and Central America, Mexico, India and Africa. This comes across lovingly in each creation. Most meals—tacos, sandwiches, salads—are recognizable to guests, who will walk away satisfied and in better health. There are also more exotic dishes to try, if one is so inclined.
Sipping our “Mellow Rise” juice—cucumber, melon, pear, and a sprig of mint, ingredients to calm anxiety and provide colon relief—I was already relaxing. The subtly minty, sweet, green drink, coupled with ambient lounge music, could de-stress even the most tightly-wound food writer. We also had a “Heart Beet”—beet, blackberries, apple and ginger; offering heart disease reversal and aiding digestion, while tasting a veggie kolache with plum sauce. The kolache is a present of steamed celery, leeks, and bean curd—wrapped in a soft rice-and-wheat flour bun. I was surprised by the puffy, strong interior texture of the wrap. The spinach and ricotta ravioli, smothered in vegan béchamel sauce—garnished with edible flowers—was a work of art. Showcasing the chef's affinity for Latin American cuisine, are the potato flautas—topped with thick cream and tomatillo sauce and garnished with beefy sautéed mushrooms. We ended with the veggie burrito—grilled in coconut oil, topped with hummus, accented with house hot sauce, and served with lychees on the side.
I already have my eye on the palak paneer and “Genesis” smoothie for my return visit to this bistro.