Chic Eatery Muse Opens in Montrose
The space at 3210 West Dallas that was once home to Emmaline sprung back to life in late March with a new dining experience. If sexy were a restaurant, she would be Muse. The dimly lit restaurant pulsates with music, and your eyes are drawn first to the cherry blossom trees that sprout up from the middle of the bar and the dining room floor, and then to the provocative pictures that dot the walls.
The vibe and mood are not unexpected for Sundown Group, the team behind the nightlife hotspots Sugar Room, Todos Santos and The Sporting Club, but what does come as a surprise is just how good the food is. Then again, owners Brandon Duliakas and Dan Wierck have tapped some heavy hitters to helm the kitchen. The globally inspired, from-scratch menu is overseen by executive chef E.J. Miller, formerly of Riel and International Smoke. Miller’s team includes sous chef Dung Nguyen (The Dunlavy), sous chef Andrew Aguilera (The Classic) and pastry chef Maggie Lin (La Table). To round out the experienced team is general manager Patty Burbach, who brings fine dining experience from her time at Mastro’s and MAD.
In a press release, Miller explained the inspiration behind the menu, “Growing up in Houston, I’ve always enjoyed exploring global flavors and experimenting with a variety of traditional techniques.” Regarding the name of the restaurant, he says, ”While the name ‘Muse’ comes from the idea of a person or personified force that provides a source of inspiration, our menu is inspired by Houston’s unique multicultural dining scene.” This also means many ingredients are locally sourced.
Every dish is meant to be shared, which makes Muse ideal for dining with a large group where everyone is able to try a little of everything. Most of the food leans heavily on Asian influences, incorporating flavors such as tamarind, ginger, and miso.
The Wagyu Potstickers appetizer with soy-brown butter, caviar and chive is a decadent way to start. The Wagyu melts in your mouth, but the already-rich meat feels a little too heavy and oily combined with the butter sauce. The octopus salad was a great juxtaposition to the potstickers thanks to its crispy octopus, shaved vegetables, local lettuces and soft boiled quail eggs all drizzled with herbed vinaigrette and decorated with a potato nest. The slightly sweet, acidic vinaigrette balanced the delicate flavors of each component of the salad. The only complaint was the octopus was slightly overcooked.
The cold starters includes caviar service and sushi rolls, but the standout dishes are Yellowtail Aguachile with cucumber, fermented pineapple, shiso, serrano and herb oil, and beef tartare with Thai chili crisp, green papaya, mint, culantro, puffed rice and green cabbage. Both dishes are served with shrimp crackers, which adds texture and another flavor dimension. The aguachile is light and refreshing, with the serranos adding a hint of heat while the fermented pineapple lends surprising earthiness. The tartare in comparison was bolder, seemingly inspired by som tam, the classic Thai papaya salad. For me, it also brought memories of Vietnamese bo tai chanh, a salad of rare beef cooked with lime juice, a dish that is traditionally also served with a side of shrimp crackers.
The description of the lobster filled pasta — served in shellfish nage (a white wine, vegetable and herb broth reduced and thickened with cream or butter), sweet chili sauce and fresh herbs — sounded heavy, but was instead delicate, with natural sweetness from the lobster brightening the dish. The glazed black cod takes a familiar dish and adds black bean relish for a burst of pungency, and is served atop a bed of yu choy (a leafy Chinese green), which complemented the fish perfectly.
The redfish cha ca was an unexpected item on the menu, since it isn’t just inspired by the Vietnamese dish, but is a traditional execution of the classic. The turmeric-marinated redfish on the half shell is topped with dill relish and served with vermicelli, lettuce and nuoc cham (Vietnamese dipping sauce made from a blend of fish sauce, water, sugar and citrus juice.) The fish itself was perfectly cooked, but the defining aromatics of dill and turmeric were so subtle that it was essentially just a really good grilled fish. A better example of redfish cha ca is executive chef-owner Christine Ha’s version at The Blind Goat, which bursts with flavor.
A version of a bone-in ribeye can be ordered at almost every restaurant, but the one at Muse stands out thanks to the addition of garlic confit, crispy herbs and a side of sweet and spicy chili eggplant that almost stole the show from the seasoned Texas Wagyu.
The duck fat fried rice is listed as a side but could easily be a main dish. All the comforting, hominess of a bowl of fried rice is there but with the added elements of duck confit and wild mushrooms. The rich duck yolk and fattiness of the Chinese sausage rendered it a little heavy, but the sweetness of the sausage kept me coming back to it. The grilled shiitakes in broth is a must-order, the wood-grilled fungi are fortified in their own mushroom broth. The meaty shiitakes were soft but still had a bite and were robust with a woodsy flavor.
The dessert menu by Lin embraces Asian ingredients, such as lemongrass, jujube (a Chinese date), Thai tea and yuzu (a citrus fruit). The Yuzu Tart, made of sesame shortbread, yuzu curd and toasted meringue, and topped with oolong tea “caviar”, was a favorite. It was visually beautiful and had just enough tartness and sweetness.
The hand-crafted signature cocktails are creative in design and execution. The Japanese Breakfast, a blend of Condesa orange blossom gin, Italicus Rosario di Bergamot (an Italian liquor), Road to Osaka sake and white peach tea, is served from a teapot and set over dry ice to create a stunning effect of which you’ll want to shoot video. Muse also offers 75 selections of wine by the bottle and 20 by the glass, as well as a rotating sake program.
Since its opening, I’ve dined at Muse twice and have tried several dishes and cocktails. While there were a few things that worked better than others, the food overall is excellent and the atmosphere of the space sets the tone for a fun celebration or a date night — provided that you want to get close to your dining companions, If there is one word of warning before dining at Muse, it is that the music is loud and the buzz is lively. It is not a place for a quiet, intimate evening, but it is a worthy destination for the food and the mood.
Muse is currently open for dinner service from 5 to 10 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday and 5 to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, with future plans to debut a rooftop patio and weekend brunch.
Minh Truong is an avid lover of the Houston food scene and has written about it since 2011, starting as a freelance contributor for the Houston Press. She never stops exploring all that Houston has to offer.