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Kiran's Kiran Verma

Chef Kiran Verma

FEATURES

Spice of Life

By Robin Barr Sussman

Photography by Jenn Duncan

03.01.17

With a stunning new restaurant in revitalized Levy Park, third time’s a charm for Kiran Verma, Houston’s godmother of Indian fine dining.

When Kiran Verma moved to Houston from New Delhi 44 years ago, she wasn’t a chef. Her husband was studying engineering at UH and she spent a lot of time cooking at home. Eventually, friends and family convinced her to open a restaurant, so she launched Ashiana in Briar Forest. But it wasn’t like any Indian restaurant at the time. It was a white-tablecloth, fine dining Indian restaurant well before its time.

“My enterprise was a challenge because guests were always comparing us to Indian buffets,” says Verma. By the time she opened Kiran’s near Highland Village, she had won over the public with her vision, and guests were drawn to her genuine Indian cuisine with modern touches.

This year, with a move to a newly constructed 6,000-square-foot restaurant in the mixed-use development Kirby Grove, she takes her dream to an even more sophisticated level. Welcome to the new Kiran’s: Lofty ceilings dominate the modern bar, punctuated with mother-of-pearl and gold inlaid walls. Adjacent, there’s a community table and a gorgeous glass-ensconced wine cellar with private lockers. Beyond, the warmly elegant dining room is awash in earthy terra-cotta accents with rust-colored banquets, a wall of windows and, of course, white tablecloths.

The new menu melds classic northern Indian cuisine with Kiran’s signature upscale fusion. A starter of burrata gets heirloom tomatoes, curry leaf mustard vinaigrette and cumin tomato sorbet, while crabcakes are topped with ginger, avocado and orange rind from Panzarella Citrus in Lake Jackson. “From the citrus to the Gulf seafood, we’re obsessive about sourcing the freshest locally,” says executive sous-chef Dominick Lee, a John Besh alum.
 

Kiran's Kiran Verma

A table plated with scallops with figs, corn succotash and spiced beurre blanc, goat cheese and beet salad.

You could make a meal from the menu’s Street Foods of India section, including four samosas (go for the crab and corn), chili tikka, and the new awadhi biryani, a flaky spiced pastry filled with saffron basmati, cashews and cranberries. But then you would miss tandoori specialties like sea bass with mushroom biryani, Texas quail or rack of lamb.

Many of her longtime regulars—whom Verma welcomes personally by joining their table for a quick chat—flock for classics like spicy lamb vindaloo, rich seafood curry and chicken tikka masala. “Most of these traditional dishes are from my childhood, including the naan breads we serve,” says Verma. “My grandmother made these breads, and whenever I prepare them, it takes me back to spending time with her.” The warm, plushy naan stuffed with fresh garlic, spicy green onion or mushroom-cheese served with cilantro chutney is addictive.

Aside from lunch and dinner, Verma also offers up afternoon high tea with a charming menu of mango chicken salad sandwiches, smoked tandoori salmon, vindaloo deviled eggs and Kiran’s own chai blend. “It’s not clear whether the British colonists introduced afternoon tea to India or vice versa, but it is still very popular in India,” she says. Recently, she even added gluten-free and children’s choices to the tea menu. Also worth noting are the new, fresh-pressed juices. The red juice—a beet, orange and cranberry concoction—is a must-try.

For stronger sips, consultant Shepard Ross and bar director Andy Maurer collaborated on a multifaceted program featuring single-malt scotches, Japanese whiskeys, ciders and sherries. The new Kiran’s 2.0 menu introduces Indian-inspired cocktails, and Dr. Sharma’s wine list sports both crisp and intense selections ideal for the bold cuisine. “I’m proud that our wine list has been a repeat recipient of the Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence,” says Verma.

For the finale, the lovely saffron panna cotta served with pistachio macaroons is a fresh breath of spring, or opt for exotic sorbets and ice creams. Sweet, just like Verma, who remembers everyone’s name and cooks with heart.  

Kiran's Kiran Verma

The main dining room at Kiran’s new location in Upper Kirby features wall art from Laura Hath Gallery

KIRAN’S
2925 Richmond Ave., 713.960.8472

Scallops, Corn Succotash and Palm Sugar Figs

Start to finish: 4 hours
(30 minutes active)
Servings: 6

1 cup fresh or dehydrated figs, cut in quarters
2 cups water
1 cup palm sugar
2 pounds dry scallops
6 ounces plain yogurt
juice of half a lemon
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon mustard oil
1 tablespoon ginger paste
1 tablespoon garlic paste
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon ajwain seeds
½ ounce dried
fenugreek leaves
½ teaspoon orange zest
Corn Succotash
(recipe follows)

To make the figs, combine water and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook until the sugar is completely dissolved. Add figs and soak for about 15 minutes.

Set aside.

For the marinade, in a large bowl, whisk together yogurt, lemon juice, olive oil, mustard oil, ginger and garlic pastes, white pepper, ajwain seeds, fenugreek leaves and orange zest. Place scallops in the bowl of marinade and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

Spray a large grill pan with cooking oil and heat on medium-high.

Grill scallops 2 minutes on each side. Serve scallops on top of corn succotash and garnish
with fig quarters.

Corn Succotash

2 tablespoons butter
½ teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon ginger paste
½ teaspoon garlic paste
¼ cup red onion, diced
¼ cup red bell
pepper, diced
½ cup green bell
pepper, diced
2 cups fresh corn
off the cob
½ cup baby carrots, diced and blanched
½ cup haricots verts, diced and blanched
salt and freshly ground
black pepper
½ cup heavy cream
½ cup Parmesan cheese

In a large heavy pan over medium heat, combine butter, cumin, and ginger and garlic pastes. Add red onion and saute until onions are translucent. Add red and green bell peppers and saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Add corn, carrots and haricots verts. Add salt and ground black pepper to taste.

Saute about 5 minutes until veggies look like thick salsa. Swirl in heavy cream and finish with Parmesan. 

Originally published in the March issue of Houston