Biryani Pot seduces with sublime goat rib chops
Reviewed by Mick Vann, Fri., May 2, 2014
Tue.-Thu., 11am-2:30pm, 5:30-10pm;
Fri., 11am-2:30pm, 5:30-10:30pm;
Sat., 11:30am-3pm, 5:30-10:30pm;
Sun., 11:30am-3pm, 5:30-10pm (closed Monday)
This branch of the popular Houston Biryani Pot has been open about six months; it features the foods of Hyderabad, in South India. The complex cuisine draws in elements of Moghul, Turkish, Arabic, Telugu, and Marathwada dishes, accenting the addition of coconut, tamarind, peanut, and sesame. The region produces the most chile peppers in all of India, so these guys know Desi-hot when you ask for it. Biryani refers to their most famous dish, a rice-based dish cooked dum-style, where the seasoned meat is topped with rice, sealed (traditionally with a coil of bread dough), and slowly steamed, increasing the absorption of aromatic spices; Hyderabad biryanis are considered the best of the subcontinent.
Situated on the southeast corner of MoPac and Parmer, in the H-E-B-anchored strip center, the restaurant is comfortably refined inside, with umber walls, dark wood wainscoting, and contrasting tablecloths covered with glass, but you'll feel comfortable in shorts or a suit. Service is attentive and very helpful, unobtrusive and relaxed. For weekday lunch, they do a version of the thali platter, served on a compartmentalized tray straight from Orange Is the New Black. The choice is vegetarian ($7.99) or non-vegetarian ($8.99), both including nine items each that change daily. The platter is a real gut-buster, with genuine flavors: tadka dal with mustard, garbanzos, and potatoes in tomato curry; cauliflower fritter and raita; roti and papadum; a wonderful vegetarian biryani; spicy lentil soup; crisp salad; and ripe papaya in mango pudding. All excellent, including the impeccably fresh, moist, and piquant Chilly Fish appetizer ($10.99) we got to go with it.
For appetizers, we started with the famous Chicken 65 ($8.99), a dish of deliciously moist, crunchy, spicy cubes that are the ultimate aperitif; bad, because you cannot stop gorging on the generous pile of morsels. We also had an order of the cheese kulcha ($2.49), a quesadillalike cheese- and herb-stuffed naan bread from the tandoor, and then the ethereal Goat Chops of Heaven ($11.99). A plate comes out with six tender, meaty, succulent goat rib chops that literally melt in your mouth. The chops are coated in a sauce of curry leaves, onion, mint, and a piquant masala. We gnawed the bones raw.
For entrées, we had the Hariyali chicken masala ($9.99), tandoor-grilled cubes of marinated and spice-coated chicken, on a sizzling platter with a bed of thin, caramelizing onion slices. The chicken was well-spiced but a little overcooked (the sizzling platter contributed here), but I seldom get tandoor-cooked chicken at any Indian restaurant that isn't overcooked (a perfect dish to use boneless thighs, folks). The House Special Chicken Curry ($8.99) is tender chunks bathed in a rich, tangy tomato spice sauce of onion and curry leaf, with fennel, cardamom, and coriander. From the vegetarian side of the menu, we went with the Malai Kofta ($8.99), three large, airy dumplings of potato, cheese, and cashew nuts, swimming in a complex, spicy, tomato-tinted korma sauce of cream and cashews, onion, cumin, and turmeric; it's a classic Mughlai special occasion dish. We also had the Bagara Baingan ($7.99), a classic Hyderabad dish with chunks of eggplant braised in a lighter-colored, rich and creamy korma sauce with ground sesame seeds, peanuts, and coconut, with tamarind. Comparing the two korma sauces, the tastes were completely different although they looked vaguely similar to the untrained eye, with the potato korma being more assertive. We topped that meal off with an order of the garlic-basil naan ($2.49), wonderfully charred flat bread coated with caramelized garlic paste and basil. The kitchen here does a magical job with all of the breads.
Longtime pals Ajay Reddy and Ajay Kumar are the two Austin owners, who convinced the Houston group that the ATX was in need of some serious Hyderabad cuisine. The Ajays share duties helping manage the restaurant, not that Austin manager Venkat can't handle the task, and the cooks get two months of initial training in Houston to ensure consistency. Biryani Pot has excellent food served in comparably large portions; you get great value for your Indian food dollar. The service is impeccable, the space comfortable, and the flavors authentic; what more could you ask for?