Restaurant Review: Restaurant Reviews
This South Austin Indian oasis does not disappoint
Reviewed by Mick Vann, Fri., July 10, 2009
India Kitchen2410 E. Riverside Ste. D-4, 448-7773
Daily: 11am-2:30pm, 5:30-10pm
India Kitchen, located in the strip center just west of the northwest corner of Pleasant Valley and Riverside, is to our knowledge the only Indian food south of the river. Go up north, toward Vietnamese-restaurant land, and the Indian restaurants grow thickly; down south, not so much. Open for three years and run by the Reddy family, India Kitchen serves Southern Indian (think Andhra Pradesh and Hyderabad, the eastern seaboard of the southern tip of the Indian subcontinent) with a healthy dose of Northern Indian thrown in for good measure.
All of the meats served are halal, and there are ice-cold jumbo bottles of India's Kingfisher beer available. The dining room is relatively small and spotlessly clean, with music that seems closer to Middle Eastern than Bollywood, and many folks go there for the buffet ($8.99 lunch, $9.99 nights and weekends). The buffet's south side is composed of hot dishes, while a smaller extension past the kitchen door has cold dishes. Our last visit we feasted on "chicken curry" (an ambiguous name, but chicken in a fairly mild and rich creamy sauce). The chicken is a bit dry, but this is because it is white meat. People, trust me, get off of your chicken breast kick and let these poor restaurant folks cook dark meat, which is moister and has much more flavor. You may think you don't like dark meat ... until you taste it.
Goat curry is succulent and spicy, and the bones are easily avoided. Goat isn't easy to find in Austin, and this version is great. Lamb meatballs swim in a tomato-kissed sauce with a mild masala seasoning. The sauces of all three of these go well with the chicken Hyderabad biryani rice dish or the basmati rice palow. Vegetablewise, we like the spicing of pretty much all of the offerings we've tried, although they could all be amped up a turn or two. A recent cabbage bhaji teases with turmeric and mustard seeds. Dal makhani mixes dark lentils with a bit of red bean and ginger in a creamy sauce. Aloo mutter is excellent: punjabi peas and potatoes in a creamy sauce with cumin, garlic, and a bit of chile.
Palak paneer doesn't surprise; a fairly standard rendition of spiced spinach with homemade cheese. Samosas are triangular, flaky, and stuffed with spicy potatoes and peas, excellent soused with some of the chile sauce from the cold bar. Spinach pakora is crispy, not the least bit oily, and more spinach than chickpea batter. If you're there when the buffet offers bhindi masala (okra with tomatoes and spices), chana masala (chickpeas cooked the same way), or the baigan bharta (mashed spicy eggplant), don't hesitate to indulge.
Throw in some watermelon or cantaloupe, a respectable kheer (rice pudding), gulab jamun (pastry balls drowning in warm honey syrup), or the carrot halwa, and you have yourself a meal. The buffet dishes are spiced for the common denominator, and that shouldn't surprise.
Order from the menu, and you'll start to see what some of the fuss is about. Chile chicken ($10.99) is fabulous: tender moist chicken chunks in crispy robes of golden batter, briefly braised in a sauce of fresh red chile slices and onion; addictively piquant. Lamb vindaloo ($12.99) is unctuous chunks of tender lamb in a spicy, vinegar-laced sauce that blends perfectly with the sweet meat. A lamb shish kebab ($10.95) molded around the swordlike skewer spent too much time over the fire, but the flavors and seasonings are nice, and a bath of raita helps the dryness.
In our best-for-last department, the tandoor-baked breads at India Kitchen just might be the best in town. For the buffet, they bring out a basket of naan that is fluffy and buttery, perfectly cooked, and so hot you can barely touch it. An order of onion kulcha ($2.50) is crispy and flaky on the outside, moist and delicious inside, loaded with caramelized onion bits. A Peshawari naan ($2.50) stuffed with nuts, raisins, and coconut is similarly cooked and wonderful.
Portions are generous, service is efficient, and the prices offer value for what you get. Keep going back for the buffet, but branch out, taste some things off the menu, and you'll find food for the Indian aficionado. Whatever you do, order several types of the breads; you will not be disappointed.