Indian Explosion

Austin gains a bounty of healthy menu choices

Pakwan Indian Restaurant & Bar
Pakwan Indian Restaurant & Bar
Photo by John Anderson

Pakwan Indian Restaurant & Bar

3601 W. William Cannon #450, 366-5204
Mon.-Thu., 11am-2:30pm, 5-10pm; Fri.-Sat., 11am-2:30pm, 5-10:30pm;
Sun., 11:30am-3pm, 5-10pm
www.pakwanaustin.com

Pakwan sits in the second row of the strip center on the south side of William Cannon, halfway between Brodie and Mopac; it can be hard to spot from the road unless your eyes are peeled. (A few doors down is a great little Indian grocery, Man Pasand.) You enter Pakwan to find a pleasing decor, with warm spice tones, earthy textiles, and muted gold walls; flat screens are visible, and a full bar sits along the back wall. The menu focuses on the food of Northern India, particularly Kashmir. The menu sports some unpedestrian dishes like Hara Bhara Chicken Boti ($13.99, boneless chicken with yogurt, fenugreek, and fresh herbs), shami kebab ($2.99, a minced beef and lentil patty), and a skewered goat chop ($13.99). The restaurant is managed by Chef Laila Prasla, with Mumtaz Prasla and Naseem Meknojia; Laila is said to be a catering wizard. 

My introduction was through the daily lunch buffet (Mon.-Fri., $9.99; Sat.-Sun., $10.99), which was fine: a salad, five vegetables, rice, three chicken dishes, dessert, two chutneys, and a raita; the excellent naan – with a charred exterior and flaky layers – is brought to the table in a basket. The vegetable pakoras were crispy, but marred by a too-thick batter. I loved the spinach paneer (buttery and complex, with a nice heat on the finish), the cauliflower-potato combo had nicely layered seasonings, and the vegetable korma was good but a little bland (salt shakers would help). There was a vegetable-mix "kumar" that was okay, and the dal tadkewali was fine, no complaints in vegetable-land. The tandoori chicken was really good, avoiding the dry-tough complex and red dye with aplomb. There was a chicken dish I was told was "kumar": onion and tomato, with curry leaf and mustard seeds (best dish on the line). White chicken was fine but lacked soul and spice, seemingly only there for the timid; all chicken is bone-in and cut into pieces. Gulab jamin was a good finish, golden fried milk batter balls in rose-honey syrup. 

On one stop I dropped in to grab a Naan Roll ($6.50-$8). One of their excellent naan is filled with a little rice and topped with mouth-watering minced lamb seekh kebab, with grated paneer, lettuce, tomatoes, sauteed onions and peppers, and raita; it's a fantastic sandwich. Another stop brought a delicious, complexly spiced and tender beef bihari kebab ($10.99) and a side of wonderful jalapeno naan; breads here are first-rate. The Pakwan menu definitely warrants further exploration.

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