Creative music calls for creative food
Last night I was looking for somewhere to eat downtown before a concert at the Christ Church Cathedral. To set the stage, the concert was not the sort of thing you expect in a church. It was part of the Nameless Sound fall concert series -- a performance by the European creative improvisation trio of Achim Kaufmann, Frank Gratkowski, and Wilbert de Joode. The music lies somewhere between (and beyond) contemporary avant-garde classical and American free jazz.
The music is radical and restlessly creative.
I wanted some food like that.
I had heard good things about Yatra Brasserie, an Indian restaurant at 706 Main Street, the former location of laidback manor. The space retains the hip, urban feel of its predecessor.
As I wandered in, I saw an old friend eating alone. I joined him. He gave me the history of the different chefs who have headed the kitchen in the short life of this restaurant. Apparently, Yatra's various chefs have had extensive former connections with other Houston Indian restaurants.
I told the waiter I wanted something spicy. He suggested, "vindaloo curry." Although I am a vindaloo fan, I eat it frequently. My favorite vindaloo may be the extremely spicy version at Khyber. But I wanted to see how creative the restaurant could get, so I asked if he could recommend something unusual. He said, "lamb vindaloo." After getting the same answer to two different questions, I had no choice.
To start, I tried a bite of samosa chaat. It was excellent. The exterior of the pastry was cruncy and pastry. The stuffing of peas, potatoes, and chickpeas had an interesting texture. But it was the dueling sour and sweet flavors in the tamarind and mint sauce that really impressed. The dish was not particularly different from somosas elsewhere, it was just very nicely executed.
Sadly, the lamb vindaloo was good, but not great. The curry was surprisingly thin and liquid; I prefer more density. The heat level was moderate. And the spices were nothing unusual. It was a perfectly good, competent vindaloo, nothing more.
Like most good, fresh naan, Yatra's is deeply satisfying. These tortilla-like rounds of bread are alternately crispy and soft after cooking in the tandoori oven. Yatra's rice is flavorful, delicate, and fragrant.
Although one visit and two dishes is not enough to evaluate a restaurant, my initial impression is that Yatra is a much-needed Indian restaurant downtown. I like the space. I find the waitstaff to be remarkably friendly. And the food is competent, perhaps even very good. But it does not approach the creativity of some of Houston's top Indian restaurants, such as Indika.
Yatra's food satisfied my appetite, but not my intellect. For sheer creativity, I had to wait for the Kaufmann, Gratkowski, and de Joode. For two hours they explored all kinds of sounds I had never imagined musicians bringing out of a piano, bass, and bass clarinet. It was the sort of performance that I wish more chefs did with food.