Visiting a restaurant during its opening weeks is like seeing an early rehearsal of a play. Cast members are still learning their roles. The timing is off, the blocking a little clumsy.
So it was on a recent Saturday night at Bawarchi Biryanis, the month-old Indian restaurant in the Northeast Heights. No one was there to greet us when we entered the dining room. Momentarily, a server came over and guided us to a booth past a table that hadn’t been cleared. The air conditioner had turned the dining room chilly. We ordered Masala Chai Tea to warm ourselves, only to be told it wasn’t available. The menus were presented on pieces of paper stapled together. My goat biryani came out after my wife and son had finished their entrees.
These are the kinds of glitches that pop up in the early days of a restaurant’s life. I’m happy to report, though, that the food was quite good, especially the biryani, the fragrant rice dish that lends its name to this Albuquerque outpost of a Texas-based chain.
Bawarchi owner Irfan Khan, who also runs the Indian grocer Apna Bazaar on Montgomery, reportedly considered several locations before settling on a long narrow building on the west side of Juan Tabo next to O’Niell’s Pub. The space, previously home to two Italian restaurants, Piatanzi and Pentola, had sat unoccupied for more than two years.
Set behind a large patio, the dining room has booths on one side, tables on the other. As of my visit, the décor was generic. The place settings of blue-and-white-checked paper were more fitting for a barbecue house.
Prices at Bawarchi – the word roughly translates into “chef” – are comparable to those the Heights’ two well-established Indian spots, Taste of India and Taaj Palace. At $15.99, the Butter Chicken is a buck cheaper than the one at Taste of India. The Vegetarian Biryani is $12.99, the same price as the one served up at Taaj Palace on Eubank.
The wide-ranging appetizer menu is divided into Vegetarian and Nonvegetarian with prices running from $5.99 for samosas all the way up to $16.99 for a boneless mutton roast. The two pastries that made up an order of Vegetable Samosa ($5.99) arrived warm but not hot. The filling inside the thick crust was terrific, with a notably spicy kick tempered by the accompanying mint chutney.
Selections in the tandoori section, priced from $13.99 to $19.99, include paneer, chicken, fish and shrimp. Smoke and steam billowed from an order of Tandoori Chicken ($19.99) that was served cut up on a sizzling platter. The chicken was moist and flavorful. It comes with a side of rice and a yogurt-based raita sauce that adds a smooth, sour counterpoint to the chicken. It’s also available in a half order for $11.99.
Fittingly, biryani gets its own side of the menu. It’s available in single servings and as a takeout-only family option that comes with an appetizer and dessert.
The Chicken Tikka Biryani ($14.99) was served in a deep bowl with chunks of chicken and green pepper nesting in the long-grain rice. The pressure and steam from the cooking tenderizes the meat and bakes spices like cinnamon and cardamom into the rice, resulting in a fragrant, evocative mix.
Similar spicing elevated the tender, mild-flavored chunks of meat in the Hyderabadi Goat Dum Biryani ($15.49) topped with half a hard-boiled egg. The portion sizes of both biryani dishes were enough for two days of leftovers.
Beverages include Indian specialties like Falooda ($7.99), floral and sweet; and a Chikoo Shake ($6.99) made from a tropical fruit also known as sapota. We opted for sweet and sour Mango Lassi ($5.99), a mix of mango pulp, yogurt and sugar. Served in a plastic cup, it helped tamp down the heat from the food and satisfy the sweet tooth.
The server knew the dishes well, an important skill considering there were no descriptions on the menu itself. He told us that the biryani dishes were gluten-free.
Bawarchi Biryanis delivers a solid rendition of its namesake dish. The service may be lagging behind the food right now, but I expect it to catch up as the restaurant finds its footing.