Best known for his work as chef de cuisine at DISH in Dallas, Chef Ji Kang is no newbie to the show-me-state of Texas. Chef Ji, as they call him, has a culinary background that spans across Texas (including Dallas and Austin) and up to New York. NABI neighborhood restaurant is Chef Ji’s first venture and after visiting NABI during their grand opening weekend and getting a sample of the menu, we were glad he chose Houston!

Chef Ji has taken his concept of Asian fusion and mixed it with those “southern” comfort foods we all know and love. Take his fried chicken, for example. Instead of the traditional, Chef Ji takes chicken breasts, crisp them lightly to capture just the right amount of crunch, and drizzles them with a phenomenal sweet chili sauce to seal the deal! Being coached and mentored under Top Chef Tiffany Derry at the Culinary Institute, Chef Ji was destined to be a rising star in the culinary arena. As a matter of fact, Chef Ji won second place earlier this year in the Rising Star Chefs’ contest in Dallas. Also, Chef Ji’s father was a sushi chef, so his skills in the kitchen came naturally!

Not soon after adding DISH to his resume, Chef Ji set his sights on his self-owned restaurant, NABI neighborhood restaurant. Chef Ji serves comfort food using the freshest ingredients available which goes right in line with Houston’s latest trend of “farm to table”. Highlighting seasonal ingredients, Chef Ji prepared an ever so tasty mushroom salad for us. However, based on what’s available at the local market, the mushrooms used in this dish may vary. Clearly a guy after our hearts, the braised eggplant was an “oh my” moment we will never forget. Don’t even get us started on the pan roasted mussels!

Originally from Austin, Chef Ji was inspired by the “swanky” and “hip” feel of 6th street that Austin is known for. The ambiance and vibe of 6th street is one of the reason’s Chef Ji settled in his location in the Montrose area. Nestled in a section filled with other restaurant greats, NABI will be a great addition to this happening block of Westheimer.

Another component that makes NABI an attractive option is the price point. The sushi rolls average around $10 and your main entree will cost you around $15. Chef Ji wanted to make sure his food was affordable. It doesn’t have to be expensive to be good and we agree 100%. The menu is quite expansive with only slight variations between lunch and dinner. There is something on the menu for everyone. One of their goals is to have a menu with variety that can fit anyone’s palate (and budget) from vegetarian to those who crave the beef.

Chef Ji Kang

Why “NABI”? Well, the name NABI comes from the Korean word meaning butterfly. Rachel Kim, one of the owners of NABI states, “we chose this name because we wanted to keep our Korean heritage but be open to American and other Asian cuisines”. You can really see this come to life in their menu. “We want everyone to be full and satisfied…that’s our number one goal!”, says Rachel. When asked “why Houston”, Rachel speaks of Houston’s culture of supporting local businesses and its willingness to try new things. Yep, that’s us!

NABI neighborhood restaurant is all about the experience and we love that. We spoke with Chef Ji about his policy for going “off the menu” and his ability to prepare foods for those that may require special diets. As Chef Ji puts it, “We have no policy”! Be certain that if his kitchen can make it, they will be more than happy to whip it up for you. No more concerns about dinner with a large group of friends or special functions. In addition to lunch (they have specials too) and dinner, you can also stop by NABI for happy hour. You can check out the specials here. We immediately fell in love with the “Kiss Kiss” and “The Punch”. The “Yuzu Drops” are a great rendition of a sake gone lemon drop (a Swanky Girl fave) that are a must try to get any party started.

NABI is all about the things we stand for: great food, great people, and great experiences. So, if you are in the Montrose area and you want to try something new, check out your local neighborhood restaurant, NABI.

Urban Swank received a complimentary media tasting; opinions expressed are our own.

The Urban Swank Girls

November 22, 2011


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