Nabi Debuts New Korean Side of a Trimmed-Down Menu

Categories: On the Menu

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Photos by Katharine Shilcutt
The marinated rib eye (front) was the favorite of the night.
Nabi has quickly turned into my favorite neighborhood restaurant.

It's the answer to the question Where do I want to eat tonight? when I'm not dining out for work and instead want to relax over good food with good friends. It's inexpensive -- especially during happy hour -- and offers a range of options for everyone in the group, from sushi to ramen, from fried chicken to fresh vegetables.

And now there's a new range to explore: a Korean barbecue side that offers sizzling platters of meat such as marinated slices of rib eye and garlic-soy sauce short ribs, each served with rice and daikon radish kimchi.

The traditional Korean barbecue dishes are given a signature Nabi twist, mixing in Japanese ingredients and served up on hot comals that would normally hold fajitas.

"It's a Tex-Mex twist," I told chef and owner Ji Kang last week. "I like it."

"That was the whole idea," he beamed back.

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Spicy kimchi stew is great on a miserable day when you need perking up.
Kang himself is Korean, and I'm terrifically pleased to see more of his own background on the menu now -- a menu which has been considerably trimmed down from past incarnations. The platters run between $10 and $16 each, which may seem pricey, but remember that everything here is meant for sharing. And the immense piles of meat on each comal are no exception.

Between the four platters we tried, it was the tangy sliced rib eye that was our favorite, with the sharp notes of garlic and ginger balanced out by the sweetness of Asian pears. I wanted to like the spicy octopus more than I did, with the cheerful threat of bright red gochujang chili paste and shisito peppers lacing the dish, but the sauce ended up being too sweet -- something I have faith Kang will rectify.

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Good enough to almost make me forget my first oxtail love at This Is It.
In addition to the barbecue side of the menu, Kang has added other instant favorites that I tried one recent evening: a spicy kimchi stew with pork neck and a single quail egg and oxtail dumplings that come in a silky broth that's nearly clear but remarkably rich. Pickled plums and beech mushrooms cut the fattiness of both the broth and the meat inside the soft dumplings, which are just chewy enough to require a faint tug with the teeth but never gummy or overcooked.

"If only you could have some soju on the menu, now, you'd be all set," I said laughing to Kang.

"I want to," he said. "Believe me." But the restaurant only has a beer and wine permit (which also covers sake). Soju -- a traditional Korean spirit that's similar to vodka, but far sweeter -- requires a full alcoholic beverage permit. "Maybe someday," Kang said with a smile.

For now, though, I'm just pleased that Nabi has the capacity to keep quietly reinventing itself while still staying true to its initial roots -- all while keeping its young classics like ramen, brisket potstickers and grilled romaine hearts intact on the revamped menu.



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Nabi - CLOSED

1517 Westheimer Road, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

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6 comments
The AHHHHHhhhh master!
The AHHHHHhhhh master!

I had the short ribs last night. When the waiter asked how was everything I said "good flavor but very tough.   He asked if I wanted them to prepare me another order, I said no I didn't need anything else.  He said he would mention my complaint to the kitchen and it was best I didn't want anything aditional because they might SPIT in my food. I think he was kidding, to be safe I think I'll avoid Nabi in the future. Weird experience to say the least  

Wilmette
Wilmette

Sounds good, I always thought a Korean place would do well close in.Fwiw, Fung's Kitchen also uses a comal: sizzling cuttle fish in XO sauce, one of my favorites.

Dunstan2
Dunstan2

I think most Korean restaurants use those comals. I know Seoul Garden has always used them for kalbi and octopus and other dishes.

Corey
Corey

Need Korean fried chicken stat....

Brittanie Shey
Brittanie Shey

Ate there last night. I'm sad they took the tongue off the menu, it was really good. We had the garlic ribeye and the octopus. I LOVE octopus, but this was a huge platter with lots of baby octopi on it and there just wasn't enough flavor variety for me to finish the entire thing. It was a whole lot of the same taste over and over again. The beef was excellent though, and Nabi has literally the best kimchi I've tasted outside of Korea, even compared to the restaurants on Longpoint.

Next time I'm going to get the ribeye hotpot. YUM.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

Agreed. The platters are way too much to eat for one person, both in terms of size and repetition. And I'm so glad you liked the kimchi!

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