First Bite: Fresh Fare & a Fun Journey Awaits at The Nash in Downtown Houston
The Nash might be Alvin and Dora Murgai’s first restaurant, but they definitely did their homework. It opened in mid-January on the first floor of The Star apartment high-rise (formerly the historic Texaco Building) at 1111 Rusk in downtown Houston. Chef Omar Pereney, best known for his work (while still only in his early 20s) as executive chef at the now-closed Peska Seafood Culture, developed the menu as a consultant. The Nash is billed as “an American restaurant and bar” — the America that is a great melting pot. For this menu, Pereney was clearly inspired by Italian and French cuisine, but there’s a sense of fun that reaches beyond those borders. A few dishes nod to India and Malaysia. Others are fancy (or elevated) renditions of American classics.
While The Nash isn’t necessarily trying to be everything to everyone (which rarely works), many patrons will find themselves quite comfortable. The spacious dining room is full of natural light and the fare is approachable — but that doesn’t mean thoughtless or simplistic.
As downtown events and gatherings begin whirring back into motion, The Nash can fulfill needs for different types of diners. Those attending sporting events or concert-goers might enjoy a casual meal, and The Nash Burger with pecan-smoked bacon or the tater tots appetizer — topped with roasted corn, jalapeño, herbed crema fresca, aged smoked cheddar and freshly cut chives — would fit that bill. Someone who wants to sit at the bar for a few cocktails or a diner who wants a thoughtful culinary tour of the Mediterranean will also be content.
When Houston Food Finder was invited to visit and try some dishes and drinks, fellow writer Holly Beretto and I took the Mediterranean route — mostly. There was no way we were going to pass up the Forbidden Eggs, a gorgeous riff on Malaysian sambal telur. In Pereney’s version, the lightly fried, boiled eggs — the yolks still soft — rested in a bath of sweet chili-tamarind sauce and were elevated by the crunch of slivered, fried shallots. A scattering of frilly cilantro leaves added verdant color and freshness. If we hadn’t been there to try a range of dishes, I could have single-handedly eaten the whole plate.
We headed to Francophile territory with the classy Wild Mushroom Toast. Duxelles (a spread made with chopped mushrooms, garlic, parsley and other good things) was spread generously across a sturdy, toasty slab of country bread. On top of that went roasted mushrooms, goat cheese and fresh herbs. The delicate, finishing touch was an airy asiago foam. This goodness was just $9, and if someone ordered only the mushroom toast and a soup as a light dinner before calling it a night, I wouldn’t blame them.
Pereny excelled at seafood while at Peska, and I was glad to see that his Yellowfin Tuna Crudo landed on The Nash’s menu. Presented as cubes and dressed in black garlic vinaigrette, it could also be considered an upscale poke. Reinforcing the Asian flair was ginger, but accents of jicama, jalapeño and a creamy swath of avocado purée also turned it toward Mexico. The mountain of shaved cucumber was pretty, but also overkill. Neither my dining companion nor I touched it.
We ultimately stayed on an Italian path for the rest of the meal. The Prosciutto Pizza is remarkable. For a food nerd, the crust is fascinating, as it is neither Neapolitan crust nor New York style, but somewhere in the middle. Those beautiful, prized charred bubbles are there, but overall, it has a good chew to it. It’s not crunchy, nor is it limp.There was no skimping on the thick, tender slices of prosciutto, either, and it was blessedly uncomplicated with the addition of arugula and real Parmigiano Reggiano.
For my tastes, the Chardonnay-based sauce of the Lemon Shrimp Bucatini was a bit mild, although I admired the silky texture. (My dining companion had no such quibble.) There was no arguing about the beauty of the dish, though. Piled high atop the pasta was a veritable garden: roasted broccoli, blistered cherry tomatoes and peas.
A Memorable Dessert
In a restaurant setting, dessert should serve a few different functions. It’s a satisfying sweet bite that signals the end of a meal and, ideally, it leaves the diner with a positive, lasting impression. At best, an outstanding dessert will not just linger in a diner’s mind for days after the visit, but be downright cravable. That is the case with The Nash’s Lemon Olive Oil Cake. When it first arrived accented with mascarpone-vanilla whipped cream and surrounded by bright dollops of lemon curd, it was undeniably attractive. I thought the puck-sized cake was kind of small, but my dining companion and I shared it and were not only quite satisfied, but she loved the fragrant, lemony cake so much she ordered one to go to take home to her husband.
Non-alcoholic drinks include a house agua fresca,black tea (available hot or cold) and hibiscus iced tea, as well as the usual-suspect sodas and such.
Those interested in imbibing will discover a globe-spanning wine list of around 40 bottles, and about half of those are also available by the glass. This makes it easy for diners to pair different wines with their dishes as the meal progresses.
For this visit, we stuck with cocktails. Among the three we tried, there was a single miss. The Arod cocktail is a riff on a Cosmopolitan with blood orange vodka, cranberry juice, lemon juice and orange liqueur. I’m a fan of traditionally bitter cocktails, but the vodka carried a blaring note of citrus pith that forced the otherwise pleasant and attractive drink out of sync.
Conversely, the two other cocktails we tried were not just balanced, but interesting. Marigold liqueur lent its floral magic to the Red Book Journal, with vodka, lime and prickly pear syrup as supporting players. Tropical Veranda was the type of cocktail I’d like to see more of: one that uses Pimm’s #1 liqueur that isn’t in a Pimm’s Cup. Rye ensured the fruity drink still had a backbone, and somehow the complex companions of blueberry syrup, lemon, yuzu, coco liqueur, Licor 43 and spiced orange ginger ale all still got along.
Diners are eager to get back out and experience a world rapidly emerging from the pandemic. The Nash’s bright dining room and airy, dog-friendly patio, along with the excellent fare, is exactly the type of hopeful, invigorating succor needed as many of us re-introduce ourselves to the world.