Food: 3 stars
Service: 3 stars
Ambience: 3 stars
Address: 390 S McCaslin Blvd., Louisville
Contact: 303-955-8228, bawarchilouisville.com
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Sunday
Noise level: Moderate, punctuated by the occasional sound of intriguing sizzling entrees.
For my money, the best ethnic restaurants are the ones that go above and beyond offering a predictable menu of safe favorites. Louisville's Bawarchi Biryanis is one such establishment, as not only does it offer many familiar courses, but also an array of seldom-seen Southern Indian specialties.
On a recent Sunday night, this spot, a former fast food venue that's successfully transitioned to a sit-down space, was packed with couples and families. Before we sat down, my dining companion and I were greatly tempted by aromatic plates of curry and oversized dosas being delivered to other tables.
The menu is expansive enough to be mildly intimidating. Certainly, there's a fair amount of Indian restaurant staples available, such as tandoori preparations, butter chicken and a variety of vegetarian entrees. But there's also an impressive array of dosas, the South Indian crepe, plenty of Indo-Chinese dishes, and the namesake biryanis. Our server, who possessed a pleasantly dry sense of humor, helped us nail down our main courses after asking us questions about our food preferences.
For starters, we did order items that I was reasonably familiar with, namely the $9.99 Gobi Manchurian and the $8.99 Karampodi idli. Gobi Manchurian, showcasing fried cauliflower, is an intriguing staple of Indian Chinese cookery, a hybrid cuisine that conceptually isn't all that different from Chinese-American food. In this instance, the vegetable, sprinkled with sliced scallion, is paired with what's called Manchurian sauce. This condiment likely came about in the 1970s and doesn't particularly resemble anything you'd find in China.
The cauliflower here was pleasingly tender-crisp with a delicate batter that held up just fine during the meal but would probably suffer as a late-night leftover. It was an addictive and eye-catching dish, and I could easily make a meatless meal out of this and some rice, as this preparation boasts entree-level heft.
I was more ambivalent about the idli, although this was still satisfying. Idli is a soft Indian rice cake, possessing a more spongy texture than those giant packing peanuts they pass off as rice cakes in the United States. Typically, fermented black lentils are also part of the mix, and these pulses impart a subtle sour taste. In this preparation, the cakes were cubed and accompanied by a lively mix of minced garlic, dried red chiles and a spicy sauce. Despite this vibrant blend, the overall flavor wasn't quite as well-rounded as the spicy cauliflower.
A $12.99 main course of chicken mughalai didn't suffer at all in the flavor department, as it was accented by a winning blend of such warming spices as cinnamon and coriander. The addition of boiled egg halves reminded me of my favorite Ethiopian dish, doro wat. Similar reddish coloration as well as tender and moist poultry reminded me of the African dish, but what made this chicken stand apart was the mellow cashew-based sauce. Earthy and creamy, this subtle but comforting element tied the dish together, and had I not read the menu, I'm not sure if I would have identified its nutty foundation.
It seemed wrong to not try one of the signature biryanis. For the uninitiated, a biryani is essentially a one-dish meal of rice, meat and spices. There are many regional variations, and my dining companion and I sampled one of the more famous varieties, a $13.99 Hyderabadi goat biryani. Easily enough for three or possibly four diners, this medium-spiced dish didn't lack for lively heat. My initial reaction was that the heat was the dominant element; however, adding either the accompanying creamy raita or the smooth and somewhat nutty-tasting gravy successfully balanced out the flavor. Aromatic basmati rice enhanced our enjoyment, as did the goat, which was cut into small chunks and whose only flaw was a hint of dryness. Otherwise, the biryani was a worthwhile exploration into a less-common facet of Indian cuisine.
Bawarchi Biryanis is an ideal venue for a diner seeking an expansive menu featuring more intense and unique offerings than most run-of-the-mill Indian eateries. For some, the offerings here may represent uncharted culinary territory. However, the staff, which made recommendations for our main courses, are able guides when it comes to finding selections that are off the beaten path and suited to one's taste.