Bombay Bistro is the newest Indian venture in town. Is it already the best?
10710 Research Blvd. #126, 342-2290
Lunch: Monday-Friday, 11am-2pm; Saturday-Sunday, 11:30am-3pm
Dinner: Sunday-Thursday, 5:30-10pm; Friday-Saturday, 5:30-10:30pmwww.bombay-bistro.com
Bombay Bistro has ascended to the top of Austin's competitive Indo-Pakistani restaurant scene like a new raj, new royalty. For a strip-center location, it's surprisingly elegant in an understated way. When you stroll through the door, the teasing, mingled aroma of complex spice is the first thing you notice. Our visits were with a couple of close friends who have lived for years in various parts of Indonesia, a region with a huge Indian population boasting some of the world's better Indian cuisine. We knew that if Bombay Bistro could impress them, it would have to be the real deal. While getting situated with the large menu, we took a peek at the lunch buffet: clamshell warmers with fresh-looking ingredients in a large array of choices. This is not your standard Indian buffet: It's a cut above.
From the list of 15 starters on the menu, one jumped out immediately: Machi Amritsari ($6.95): fried fingers of tilapia in a delightful chickpea-cumin crust, with a Punjab chili-garlic sauce. The batter is a perfect balance of flavors, the fish moist underneath, the sauce packed with spicy zing. A crowd favorite.
We chose several breads from the 11 choices, and found them to be excellent: all delightfully charred from the tandoor, with flaky layers and a lightness rarely found. Paneer Kulcha ($2.95) is stuffed with paneer cheese and herbs; Keema Naan ($2.95) is stuffed with ground lamb, ginger, and cilantro. The standard house Naan ($1.50) is the best in town.
The menu of 30-plus entrées is the real treat: You'll see choices here that you can't find anywhere else in Austin, as well as the standards (offered with your choice of meats). We picked four that sounded tempting. Lucknowi Seekh Kabob ($12.95) is a finely spiced ground lamb mixture formed around a large skewer and grilled in the tandoor. It's served on a hot plate with charred onions, and the meat is intensely flavorful and juicy. Bharwaan Aloo ($10.95), a northwestern dish, is "barrels" of potato, stuffed with onion, nuts, tomato, and cheese, grilled in the tandoor, and topped with a creamy nut sauce, and the overall combination is sublime.
Fish Malabar ($13.95) is a Kerala specialty, and the favorite of the group: tilapia cooked in coconut milk, with fragrant curry leaves, mustard seeds, tamarind, and fennel powder. It comes with a sweet blend of curried sugar snap peas and carrots. The dish is an aromatic orgasm, and the flavor is just as satisfying. We had to try the Mutton Curry ($14.95), a classic dish redolent of tomato, onion, and ginger. The menu says it's cooked with goat meat, and not mutton a bit confusing. Though it's a little bony for the price, the taste is a knockout. This dish comes with a potato side in a creamy sauce, again the perfect match. One of the entrées came with Saug Paneer as a side dish, and here it is refreshing and lively, an intricate mix of spinach and paneer cheese.
Of the 14 vegetable dishes offered, we selected two. Baigan Bartha ($8.95), a Punjab treat of smoky eggplant, fresh peas, onion, tomato, and ginger in a cream sauce, floored the group with its addictive flavor profile. Navratan Korma ($8.95), created centuries ago for the Mogul emperor Akbar, is the classic nine-vegetable mix, flavored with cardamom, cashews, turmeric, and chile in a sensuous cream sauce.
Even the condiments are superb. The Aloo Pineapple Raita ($2.95) is made with potatoes and pineapple with yogurt, fortified with mustard seeds and chile. The house Raita ($1.95) is fairly standard, but the roasted cumin and mint come through nicely. The Achar ($1.50) is especially vibrant. The meal starts with papadum, served with a chile sauce and a sweet tamarind sauce. Even these normally pedestrian lentil chips are delicious at Bombay Bistro. There is a very complete wine and beer list, with several Indian beers offered. Service is efficient and nonobtrusive.
The owners seduced their chef to come over from the Maurya Sheraton in Delhi. Whatever they are paying him, they are definitely getting their money's worth. He has set a new standard for the Austin competition, and set it high.
Needless to say, our Indonesia-dwelling friends were suitably impressed, and offered a favorable judgment. Bombay Bistro is a restaurant that is sure to please anyone with any interest in the widely varied cuisines of the Indian subcontinent. Welcome to Austin!