Traveler's Table, which opened last month inside the former Aqui on Westheimer, retained its predecessor's architecture but received an interior design refresh from Gin Braverman. There are travel souvenirs on the walls and leather menus, and the A-frame gives it the look of a lodge.
So, of course, Traveler's Table wants to take you on a world tour. That's ambitious for a slightly more upscale restaurant opening in Houston, where you already have (extremely good and inexpensive) options for Chinese, Japanese, Mediterranean, Mexican, Italian, and Indian.
So what is Traveler's Table trying to do? "If we try to be every grandmother, or do all your grandmother's recipes, we'll fail," says owner Matthew Mitchell.
Mitchell, who trained at the Art Institute of Houston and worked at Benjy's and Local Foods before opening Traveler's Table, essentially wants to bring together various cultures in one setting. His kitchen is led by Omar Pereney of A La Carte Foodservice Consulting Group, plus Fernanda Alamilla and Danielle Mokuau. You'll find Mitchell cooking, too, trying to deliver takes on dishes from all across the world.
There's Vietnamese cha ca and Thai khao soi in the Far East section of the menu. From here I tried soft-shell crab pad Thai, which combined the comforting flavors of the street food specialty with the familiar crunch of crustacean. Another section, called India and the Mediterranean (two places that are pretty far from one another), has pork vindaloo and a Moroccan chicken grain bowl.
Mediterranean takes the spotlight again in the small plate hummus with lamb ragu, which may be the clubhouse leader for me. Other starters include Argentinian provoleta, mussels three ways (Belgian, Spanish, and Thai), and the chef's colorful vegetable board, though the latter plays more like an uninspired game-day platter than lively centerpiece. For dessert, there's a refreshing panna cotta with the flavor of the Indian drink mango lassi.
For the diner who's new to some of these flavors, Traveler's Table may prove a valuable asset. Plus, some of the dishes are very good—I'm still thinking about that hummus with lamb ragu. It would make for a nice night out with friends, or even a date spot.
But back to the ambitious part. This is a restaurant attempting to offer a whole bunch of items found throughout the world in a city as diverse as Houston. That's a lot to live up to, and it's early to know whether it'll stand the test of time with such a broad focus. With that, I wouldn't go into Traveler's Table expecting UB Preserv, which celebrates everything Chris Shepherd (probably the city's most ambassadorial chef) and Nick Wong have learned in their careers.
I'd actually compare Traveler's Table more to International Smoke, which unapologetically offers a menu of foods from across the world but tied together by "smoke," however loosely. Traveler's Table is worth a try, and if you like the flavors, you'll want to return. But more importantly, I hope you'll also want to seek out those mom-and-pop places across the city that have been doing pork vindaloo, North African leg of lamb, and Chinese five-spice duck for a long time.