Hits and Misses at Nabi

Categories: On the Menu

Nabi 2.JPG
Photo by Joanna O'Leary.
Hit: The O'Captain's Roll.
A reunion with some old friends prompted a dinner at Nabi. Having recently tried some smashing Korean Fried Chicken at Bon Chon in Virginia, I was eager to try Nabi's version as well as some of their small plates and sushi.

Never has a restaurant inspired such ambivalence. The morning after, I couldn't decide between not returning within the year and marking my calendar for a repeat visit in May.

Katharine Shilcutt's review , while highly commendatory, prepared me for the fact that Nabi was still working out issues with regards to food and service, so I had no expectations for perfection.

But some snafus and awkward moments made me conclude that Nabi still has a long way to go in terms of securing Houston patronage.

Nabi 1.JPG
Photo by Joanna O'Leary.
Miss: Punch 5.
We started off with cocktails; I ordered the Punch 5 (chardonnay, white cranberry juice, ginger beer). Upon inquiry, I learned it was served on the rocks, but my server informed me it I could have straight up if I desired, so I asked him politely to skip the ice as my functional alcoholism requires non-watered-down booze. A few minutes later he returned with our round, including a Punch 5 stacked with ice in a skinny glass. I give the server props for catching the mistake before I even had to say anything. The remedied concoction, however, wasn't much better: a short glass with one large ice cube bobbing annoyingly at the surface. And the taste was bland; I hardly detected the ginger beer, and the white wine was flat and diluted. Miss.

I fared much better with the O'Captain Roll. The softshell crab was crisp but not greasy, enveloping togorashi, lemon, and pickled shallots, and draped with escolar. Pepper and lemon added piquant notes to the oily fish, and plump sticky rice provided a warm, grainy base. Hit.

Awkward moment No. 1 occurred as the five of us were enjoying our appetizers; two entrees were brought to the table, giving rise to that inevitable dialogue of "I'll wait for you guys"..."No, go ahead, ours will come soon, it will get cold"..."Are you sure?"...blah blah.

Except the other entrees didn't come soon, rather a good 15 minutes later, meaning half the party was nearly done with their meal while the rest of us hadn't yet tackled a main course.

Given that some have argued Bon Chon does some of the country's best Korean Fried Chicken, I wasn't looking for a replica at Nabi. Nor did I find one. Their version, however, is pretty damn good, and the portion is more than generous. Heavy on the white meat, the KFC is thickly battered and dressed in a chili sauce that's more sweet than spicy. Fine for this spice wimp; heat lovers might find something lacking. I initially used my chopsticks to nibble on the heavy strips and switched to my paws, which facilitated larger bites as well as copious sauce on my face and hands. Hit.

And now for another awkward moment. My husband and I had ordered a side of braised eggplant to share with our chicken, and this is what arrived:

Nabi 3.JPG
Photo by Joanna O'Leary.
Hit? Miss? More like a foul.
"I'm sorry," I said to the server. "I thought we ordered the braised eggplant." (The braised eggplant is a side dish , $4, not to be confused with the fried eggplant appetizer, $7.5).

"Oh, this is the braised eggplant," replied the server. "Enjoy."

Um, no. I am now 97 percent sure it's the fried eggplant with cilantro mint sauce. Readers, what do you think? Although it tasted great (hit?), we looking for something lighter (i.e., not fried) to complement our entrees (miss?). I know many of you might ask why I didn't have the waiter send it back to the kitchen, insisting it was correct, but in the moment I second-guessed myself and wondered if I was losing my shit in terms of food terminology.

Timing continued to be an issue at the end of the dinner; the server dropped off the bill and then virtually disappeared, protracting the entire charge-and-sign process. Oddly enough, we still were in and out in under an hour. Expediency in service is generally a good thing, but overlapping courses made for a truncated dining experience uncomfortably reminiscent of a fast food restaurant.

I dunno. I sure do like that fried chicken, though it seems an insufficient saving grace in light of more uneven food and drink. I won't promise not to shun Nabi forever. I just don't know if not loving certain things about it is enough to outweigh really not hating other aspects. Confused? Yeah, me, too.



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Location Info

Nabi - CLOSED

1517 Westheimer Road, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

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16 comments
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Gary R Wise
Gary R Wise

I must concur; I really enjoy the food and the delightful chef Ji, but the service is just awful. Well-meaning, but awful.

Corey
Corey

Same deal Sunday, waiter obviously high or on medications forgot one quarter of our very simple order, but still wound up on our bill. Slower than molasses in January on the service too, if they refill your water even once consider yourself lucky.

KING
KING

Is anyone from Tomo still working there? They were always great when I went. 

Cornbreadhill
Cornbreadhill

bad servers with little knowledge is do to poor training from managment...i went to nabi 2 months ago and had half a good to great meal with many mis steps..... mainly in food and execaution. the concept and restaurant design is great but that only goes so far... i also thought the chicken lacked heat, the chicken lacked bones and the sauce wasnt totally covering the chicken...

Sherie
Sherie

I had the braised eggplant here and it was fantastic.  It was one of my favorite dishes at Nabi.  It did not, however, look even slightly like that obviously FRIED eggplant. 

mike
mike

"I won't promise not to shun Nabi forever. I just don't know if not loving certain things about it is enough to outweigh really not hating other aspects."  This is written in a manner almost as confused as your dining experience.

Joanna
Joanna

Dude, I know. Its placement before my sentence about being confused was on purpose. What I like to call "an ironic joke."

Feldman
Feldman

From what I can gather from the restaurants tweets and having dined in the building just a couple of weekends ago, they are experiencing some server turnover. They recently sent out a tweet for servers and based on my dining experience with a friend a few weeks ago, they haven't found any good ones.

I dined with a friend one late evening and our server who was obviously new kept telling us, "oh that's on the late night menu" -- after getting tired of asking how much and what else was on the late night menu, I just asked him to bring me the late night menu. We fared much better with that menu as we were able to order many small plates instead of huge, full orders.

I love NABI dearly and it's my neighborhood restaurant but as they say, "good help is hard to find" and it must be because NABI is hurting so bad right now in that department.

I wish them the best of luck and hope they find some good servers because it would be a real shame to see this restaurant disappear from our Montrose landscape.

Joanna
Joanna

I certainly don't want that fried chicken to disappear and endorse your kind sentiments. Who knows what changes summer will bring and perhaps of a fresh crop of workers could make all the difference in the world.

Jim Ayres
Jim Ayres

I agree with you. I really like the food at Nabi, but the service isn't that great. Long waits for little things like extra plates or water refills. And the hot tea service there is dreadful. It appears they're going for a certain "look" with their wait staff, but whether that's doing them any favors is debatable.

Gary R Wise
Gary R Wise

I don't believe they use filtered water for their beverage service. The tea tastes like my dad's unfortunately.

Hugh Ramsey
Hugh Ramsey

I recommended Nabi to some friends on a recent thursday night and they had a horrible time, service wise.

I have only been for lunch and it has been fine.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

I have the same complaint here as the one I often have at the grocery store: If I ask the guy in the produce department where the Brussels sprouts are, he should know what Brussels sprouts are. If I ask my server to take back a plate of fried eggplant because I ordered the braised eggplant, he should know the difference between frying and braising -- not to mention he should take it back anyway, because the customer asked him to. You work in a food-oriented business, you should at least know the basics of food. Oy gevalt.

CMN
CMN

I had the fried eggplant a few weeks ago and looked a HELL of a lot like that...

Matthew
Matthew

i want to know the secret of braising something low and slow to a delicious, crispy, golden brown.

Gary R Wise
Gary R Wise

Chef Ji explained he fries the chunks w/cornflour batter first, then braises. It keeps its texture.

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