I’ve been on a long journey to discover the official dish of Houston. We are such a delicious melting pot of cultures that picking out a single dish that represents the city as a whole seems impossible. While this debate is endless, I personally think that Viet-Cajun Crawfish is leading the pack. Along the lines of Viet-Cajun, I came across Kau Ba Kitchen. Chef Nikki Tran who has been featured on travel shows like Ugly Delicious and Somebody Feed Phil, has brought her culinary expertise to Houston. Kau Ba is Chef Nikki’s take on Vietnamese food with a Cajun fusion in what she calls VIEJUN.
Hidden just a block off the Westheimer and Dunlavy intersection, Kau Ba is serving up some delicious dishes. The space is small and inviting with a great patio for when the weather is nice. Inside, there is a beautiful bar mixing up some highly respected cocktails that pair perfectly with their tapas style dishes. On this particular visit, we decided to get something from each section of the menu (Raw, Small and Biggie). The Scallops ($10) came with four grilled scallops on a shell with green onion oil and nouc nam (fish sauce). I wish the scallops were a little larger but the flavor was still big. They were perfectly grilled and the mix of the green onion oil and nouc nam left me wanting more. Next up, the F.O.B ($10), Homemade Dumplings ($7) and Street Egg Rolls ($7). The F.O.B. was a boatload of fried soft-shell crabs. It was served with their house VIEJUN sauce that is difficulty to describe. It had a slight sweetness that seemed to cool the spice from their Cajun salt that dusted the fried bodies. For some a boat of small fried crabs can be intimidating but I found the presentation distinctive and the experience unique to the palette. The soft shell crabs are lightly battered and just the perfect size to devour whole. This is a dish I would highly recommend as a precursor with a few beers before heading into the main courses. The Homemade Dumplings are stuffed with a mixture of pork and shrimp and is topped with sesame seeds and rest in a puddle of delectable soy vinegar. The Street Egg Rolls are another recommendation. The perfectly fried rolls are stuffed with pork and taro and come with the standard accouterments of pickled carrots and daikon, lettuce and nouc nam. I could of used more vegetables in the egg roll mixture but that is just a personal preference It is worth mentioning that these small plates went great with their Koji Old Fashioned ($11) that is made with butter infused Makers 46, banana, walnut, shoyu (soy sauce) and aromatic bitters. I love a classic Old Fashioned but this might one of my favorite variations. When it came time for ordering a main dish we were starting to feel full but there was something about the Chef Fried Rice ($13) that was standing out. The plate came piled high and topped with a heaping helping of delicately briny fish roe. The fried rice made this night complete. The aromatics of heavy garlic filled the table from the garlic butter that the rice is fried in and mixed with shrimp, corn, egg, green onion and crispy rice that took this dish to the next level. After all was said and done, I was stuffed but I still wanted to try more.
The flavors I experienced at Kau Ba were gratifying and I can’t wait to go back to try more. Chef Nikki is doing big things at Kau Ba with a fusion of flavors coming from the kitchen and the mixologists behind the bar help complete the experience. Dinner for two with drinks will average around $75 depending on your appetite and is a great suggestion for happy hours, friendly gatherings or even a date night spot. That’s my take for Kau Ba, check them out for yourself and let me know your experience. For more information and hours, be sure to check them out at: https://www.kaubakitchen.com/