Bawarchi Biryanis delivers a solid take on his eponymous dish

Bawarchi’s tandoori chicken is served on a sizzling platter. (Richard S. Dargan/For the Journal)

Visiting a restaurant during its opening weeks is like attending the first rehearsal of a play. The cast members are still learning their roles. The timing is off, the blocking a little clumsy.

So it was a recent Saturday night at Bawarchi Biryanis, the month-old Indian restaurant in the heights of the northeast. No one was there to greet us when we entered the dining room. Momentarily a waiter came and guided us to a booth in front of a table that hadn’t been cleared. The air conditioner had cooled the dining room. We ordered Masala Chai tea to warm up but were told it was not available. The menus were presented on pieces of paper stapled together. My goat biryani came out after my wife and son finished their starters.

These are the types of glitches that crop up in the early days of a restaurant’s life. I’m happy to report, however, that the food was quite good, especially the biryani, the fragrant rice dish that gives this Albuquerque outpost of a Texas-based chain its name.

Bawarchi owner Irfan Khan, who also runs Indian grocer Apna Bazaar in Montgomery, reportedly considered several locations before settling in a long, narrow building on the west side of Juan Tabo, next to O’Niell’s pub. The space, which previously housed two Italian restaurants, Piatanzi and Pentola, had been unoccupied for more than two years.

Behind a large patio, the dining room is made up of banquettes on one side and tables on the other. As soon as I visited, the decor was generic. Blue and white checkered paper cutlery was best suited for a barbecue house.

Prices at Bawarchi — the word roughly translates to “chef” — are comparable to those at the Heights’ two well-established Indian spots, Taste of India and Taaj Palace. At $15.99, Butter Chicken is a dollar cheaper than Taste of India. Vegetarian Biryani costs $12.99, the same price as that served at Taaj Palace on Eubank.

Chicken Tikka Biryani, one of Bawarchi’s rice dishes. (Richard S. Dargan/For the Journal)

The extensive appetizer menu is divided into vegetarian and non-vegetarian with prices ranging from $5.99 for samosas to $16.99 for boneless roast mutton. The two pastries that made up an order of Vegetable Samosa ($5.99) arrived lukewarm but not piping hot. The filling inside the thick crust was terrific, with a particularly spicy kick tempered by the accompanying mint chutney.

Selections in the tandoori section, priced at $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 sliced ​​on a sizzling platter. The chicken was tender and tasty. It comes with rice and a yogurt-based raita sauce that adds a sweet and sour counterpoint to the chicken. It’s also available as a half order for $11.99.

Fittingly, biryani has its own side of the menu. It is available in individual servings and as a take-out-only family option with a starter and dessert.

The Chicken Tikka Biryani ($14.99) was served in a deep bowl with chunks of chicken and green pepper nestled in the long grain rice. The pressure and steam from cooking tenderizes the meat and cooks spices like cinnamon and cardamom into the rice, resulting in a fragrant and evocative mixture.

Similar spices lifted the tender, mild-tasting cuts of meat in the Hyderabadi Goat Dum Biryani ($15.49) topped with half a hard-boiled egg. Portions of both biryani dishes were enough for two days of leftovers.

Drinks include Indian specialties like Falooda ($7.99), floral and sweet; and a Chikoo Shake ($6.99) made with a tropical fruit also known as sapota. We opted for the Sweet and Sour Mango Lassi ($5.99), a mixture of mango pulp, yogurt, and sugar. Served in a plastic cup, it helped dampen the heat of the food and satisfy the sweet tooth.

The server was knowledgeable about the dishes, an important skill given that there was no description on the menu itself. He told us the biryani dishes were gluten free.

Bawarchi Biryanis delivers a solid take on its namesake dish. The service may be lagging behind the food right now, but I expect it will catch up as the restaurant finds its footing.

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