Last April, Kiran Verma served the final meal at her beloved River Oaks restaurant, Kiran's. But tomorrow, it will reopen at 2925 Richmond Ave., not far from Kirby Drive. As of press time, Verma was still deciding whether she'll offer lunch right from the beginning, but will likely wait a week or so. However, diners are already making reservations for dinner, which will be served from 5 p.m. beginning tomorrow.
When lunch follows, so will afternoon tea, she says. Those offerings include finger sandwiches with Darjeeling tea, including fusion fillings such as English cucumber with mint chutney, mango chicken salad with pomegranate and tandoor-smoked salmon and dill. The Brit version comes with Earl Gray and warm cranberry-orange scones, as well as petits fours and other desserts. There's also masala chai made from Kiran's own blend, which is sold at the front of the new restaurant and may soon be on shelves at Central Market.
When the restaurant's previous iteration closed, tea was served on Saturday only. There was no lunch service. This will be amended from Monday through Friday with a varied menu of lighter dishes that use local ingredients to create Indian flavors. Awadhi biryani are tureens of the rice dish presented in pot pie style beneath a layer of flaky spiced pastry. Roti wraps and burgers (including a bison patty with lamb bacon, fennel-mint chutney and onion jam with masala fries) are fun finger food. Weekday brunch seekers can choose from egg white omelets filled with mushrooms, Gruyère and either lamb sikh kebab or foie gras. For those seeking a heartier meal, there are curries and a Punjabi thali that includes chicken tikka masala, rogan josh and palak paneer, as well as Verma's take on fish and chips, using a Indian Kingfisher beer batter and tamarind tartar sauce.
Dinner continues Verma's legacy of upscale fusion. A starter of foie gras, for example, may sound wholly French until the diner realizes that the fig chutney and toast, baked by Weights + Measures, are both heavily spiced. Tomat0-and-burrata salad utilizes oozing mozzarella imported from Italy by Houston Select Foods, but gets its dominant flavors from a curry leaf-mustard vinaigrette and cumin-scented tomato consommé sorbet.
It's possible to assemble a dinner entirely from the menu of chaat, including four varieties of samosas alone, but then diners would miss the rack of venison with apple-mint chutney and Mediterranean farro, the confited Moulard leg of the Duck Two Ways, and the black sea bass with charred Poblano, coconut broth, green pea purée and mushroom biryani.
The seafood, of course, is from the Gulf. As executive sous-chef Dominick Lee puts it, "We are sourcing the best ingredients. We really take pride in that." The mushrooms in the biryani come from Indian Creek Farm in Spring Branch. Citrus comes to Kiran's courtesy of Panzarella Citrus in Lake Jackson.
The bright new space, which includes a bold art installation of bowls that reminded Verma of the format of her childhood meals, has something beautiful to see at every turn, from mother-of-pearl-and-gold inlaid walls to framed traditional Indian garments. The drink menu, a collaboration between restaurant consultant Shepherd Ross, bar director Andy Maurer and wine expert Dr. Jagdish Sharma, is similarly mult-faceted. Ross says that when he first arrived in Houston, Verma's Scotch dinners had enough of a following that he became a regular. He's added single malt Scotches and Japanese whiskeys to the mix, as well as unlikely pairings including sherries, ciders and even a Calvados.
Maurer's cocktails utilize freshly squeezed juices made from the aforementioned local produce. Some, such as the Basil Martini and Guava Margarita are holdovers from the previous menu. But an entire section, entitled "Kiran's 2.0," is all new. "Aakhiree Shahb," for example, translates to "Last Word," and the Kiran's version uses green cardamom syrup with its Aviation gin, green chartreuse and Luxardo maraschino cherry. The Pisco Masala has Pisco grapefruit alongside St. Germain and garam masala syrup.
And all of the above are ready for their close-up tomorrow.