“Here’s your Chicken 65,” announced our server. We stared at the bowl, steam rising from the heap of golden brown nibbles of fried meat. You’d expect to find the southern Indian snack in a casual setting (of the many theories regarding the name, one posits that it was created at a hotel in Chennai in 1965). But what was it doing at a smart-looking restaurant in a fancy new Houston development? I popped a toasty bite in my mouth. Oh. “Chicken nuggets of the gods” might be going too far, but these tender morsels had a lot going on: expert frying, complex spice (curry leaf, ginger, mustard seed), a glaze of glossy chile-butter sauce. My friends and I devoured piece after piece. 

Our server confirmed that we had ordered one of the most popular items on the eclectic menu at Auden, located in Autry Park, a sleek retail and residential complex on the western edge of Buffalo Bayou Park. Done up in white and gray with crisp black accents, Auden is the first sit-down restaurant of husband-and-wife team Kirthan and Kripa Shenoy (the couple also own EaDough bakery). Judging by the full tables I saw on both of my visits, it has already become a must-go destination in the six months it’s been open (wanting the restaurant to be a come-as-you-are kind of place, Kirthan chose the name Auden because it derives from the Old English surname Ealdwine, roughly meaning “old friend”). 

The dining room.
The dining room.Photograph by Arturo Olmos

Its meet-cute origin story began seven years ago, when Houston-born Kirthan was working at a restaurant in Manhattan. A cousin in southwestern India—where Kirthan’s parents are from—decided there was someone he needed to meet: a pastry chef named Kripa Kamath, who lived in Goa. “At first we just texted a lot,” says Kirthan. But as they got to know each other, the texting turned into phone calls and the phone calls into romance. One day in 2016, he texted: “Hey, I’m going to be in Goa in September. Can we get together?” They met and “just hit it off.” One day later, he proposed. They married that December, and she joined him in Manhattan. Two and a half years after that, they moved to Houston to be near his family and jump-start plans to open their own place. 

Back at the restaurant, my friends and I were playing menu roulette with the dozen or so smaller options. Crisp-tender cauliflower florets, dressed with a golden-raisin-and-piquillo-pepper concoction, arrived lightly charred in a pool of russet-hued romesco sauce. Plump agnolotti came filled with maitake mushrooms, cream cheese, and charred red onion; the tomato-rich sauce echoed tikka masala. Best of all was a quartet of novel scallion hotcakes prettily capped with a reddish caramel sauce spiked with Aleppo chile. 

Among the entrées, the medium-rare ribeye was a generous twelve ounces and perfectly seasoned. Plump Gulf shrimp were sided by stupendously creamy polenta. A seductively coiled octopus tentacle came with an herby chimichurri and a light vinaigrette-and-aioli combo rich with Espelette peppers. But the dish I’ll order every time is the stunning whole branzino, its snowy white flesh subtly seasoned with so many spices—clove, coriander, star anise—that it hardly needs the mint chutney that comes with it. 

Kripa and Kirthan Shenoy. Photograph by Arturo Olmos
The tres leches. Photograph by Arturo Olmos

One might argue that dessert is the reward for diners who have exercised self-control, but we ordered three anyway. The chai-tinged mascarpone-ricotta cheesecake was the lightest; the chocolate mousse was the prettiest, its shiny chocolate-glazed dome aflutter with gold leaf. But the table favorite was the tres leches, showcasing a properly squishy cake under a pillow of cinnamon-infused chantilly cream. 

“When I was in school and a line cook in New York,” Kirthan later told me, “I learned about this culinary movement called the New American cuisine.” He was referring to the early eighties shift in American cooking when chefs began to incorporate techniques and ingredients from other cuisines. What really struck him, though, he continued, “was how accurately it describes Houston today, the way we have African, Vietnamese, Cajun, and so many other influences. I felt that if I ever opened a restaurant, I’d want to look at its food through that lens.”  

3737 Cogdell, Houston
D Tue–Sat. B Sat & Sun. $$$
Opened October 27, 2023

This article originally appeared in the May 2024 issue of Texas Monthly with the title “What ‘Global’ Should Taste Like.”  Subscribe today.