CultureMap has found out that Mala Sichuan, the three-and-a-half year old Houston restaurant widely considered to be the best restaurant in Asiatown, will take over the space formerly occupied by Dua.
Owner Cori Xiong tells CultureMap that she and her husband Heng Chen began to look for a second location in either Katy, Sugar Land or inside the Loop. "Inside the Loop was always something we considered," she says. "This opportunity popped up first. We're going to grab it."
While Xiong says they considered Sugar Land and Katy because of their growing Chinese populations and relative dearth of authentic, Asiatown-style Chinese restaurants, their track record appealing to non-Chinese diners convinced them going to Montrose was the correct decision. "Since the beginning, we've always had to introduce ourselves to the general public. We just have to do that again," she says.
"If they’re going to be able to come over here and kick ass, it really is a statement for the city. I think it’s the perfect neighborhood to come into. "
Xiong hopes to be open by the end of February. The new location's chef is already in Houston, and his cooks will be joining him by Feb. 15. The only delay Xiong anticipates could stem from the time it takes specialized equipment to arrive from New York and California.
In terms of the food, the menu will not match perfectly with the Bellaire original, but Xiong promises to serve all of Mala's most popular items using identical recipes. As with the Bellaire location, sommelier Justin Vann will be creating the beer and wine list. "Whether it's the same is up to him," she says with a laugh. The restaurant is still deciding whether or not to add liquor to the mix.
One perk of the Dua space is the proximity to both Blacksmith and Underbelly, whose owners, barista David Buehrer and chef Chris Shepherd, have both been passionate advocates for Mala. The James Beard Award winner Shepherd invited Mala to join him at last year's Southern Foodways Alliance conference, where the restaurant served dishes as part of a dim sum lunch curated by Shepherd. "We'll become neighbors, so that's good, too," Xiong notes.
"I think it's fantastic," Shepherd tells CultureMap. "If they’re going to be able to come over here and kick ass, it really is a statement for the city. I think it’s the perfect neighborhood to come into. "
Shepherd says he was floored when Xiang told him the news. "I can go across the street and get red oil dumplings, are you kidding me?"
Buehrer expresses similar enthusiasm. "I'm really excited to welcome Mala to the Montrose neighborhood. I can't wait to eat water boiled fish and play mahjong across the street from Blacksmith," he texts.
Xiong admits she has some concerns about the possibility of the new location hurting business at the original. "This is my first restaurant that I started after college . . . I've never had two restaurants before," she says.
Given the success she and Chen have had with the first, it's reasonable to assume they'll be just fine.