The Restaurants We Can't Live Without
By Tom Fitzmorris
Uptown: 4308 Magazine, 504-894-9797. Map.
Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday.
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WHY IT'S ESSENTIAL
Mainstream New Orleans has not embraced Indian food, and Indian food has returned the indifference. Nirvana is the best Indian restaurant we have. By ordering carefully an eminently delicious meal will land before you. Its flavors, along with the built-in addictive qualities of Indian spices, will be good enough to bring you back again. The strong vegetarian component of Indian menus will please those of that dietary persuasion, as well as those who aren't.
WHY IT'S GOOD
The kitchen works with a tremendous menu, covering all the major styles of Norther Indian cookery, and some from the south, too. Those who are new to Indian dining will find the tandoori dishes a good starting point. The tandoor, a clay-pot oven with temperatures of 800 degrees or so, roast skewers of chicken, lamb, and seafood. Also here are dozens of isotopes of curry (enough to demonstrate that curry is not a single flavor). The sauces range from mild and buttery to flamethrowing. The ingredients are of good quality and the cooking usually skillful enough.
Nirvana is the fifth in a series of Indian restaurants from the Keswani family, who introduced Indian food to New Orleans in 1982. This one is the more ambitious and atmospheric of their two current venues, managed by Anjay Keswani, the son of the founder. The unusual space dates back to the late 1800s, and was once part of a large Woolworth's store.
The spacious, antique dining room offers a lot of rooms room for the aromas to spread. The 100-year-old pressed-tin ceiling that seems to have been made to support an otherwise very Indian decor. Like every other Indian restaurant in the world, lunch and two dinners a week (Thursday and Sunday) are offered from a buffet. (The a la carte menu is always available.)
Soups, particularly those made with beans.
Saag paneer (creamed spinach with homemade cheese).
Malai kebab (chicken marinated in yogurt and cream cheese).
Macchi tikka (marinated, roasted fish).
Lamb Goa (spicy coconut-milk curry).
Chicken, lamb, or vegetarian biryani.
FOR BEST RESULTS
The price and all-you-can-eat aspects of the buffet are attractive, but resist. The cooked-to-order food is much better. It's always best to come with four or more people, so you can order many dishes and pass them around.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
It must be noted--for the benefit of readers who come here from places with strong communities of Indian restaurants--that the food here stops well short of brilliance. The problem is one of consistency.
FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD
Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.
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© 2008 Tom Fitzmorris. All rights reserved. firstname.lastname@example.org