Chef and owner Aparna Nayani constantly seeks to innovate, telling the Austin-American Statesman in 2010, “I take world cuisine and try to incorporate Indian flavors into it…. It’s a never-ending process.” Although she prominently features iconic Indian dishes such as curries and tandoor-baked naan, she also experiments with Italian, American, Mexican, Thai, and creole influences. Quesadillas brim with chicken tikka; housemade jalapeño-cream sauces perk up bites of penne; and filets of salmon emerge in a sheath of spicy chili paste. When she isn't forging batches of food for special events or NATO's annual eating competitions, Aparna occasionally leads cooking classes for students looking to learn more about her recipes.
The spice masters at Tandoori Bistro craft a menu of authentic Punjabi dishes served in refined, yet relaxed confines. Golden-fried samosas stuffed with vegetables, chicken, or lamb ($4–$4.50) lead the curried cavalcade, followed by a drum line of tandoori chicken, rhythmically splashed in a marinade of yogurt, ginger, and garlic ($10). The slow cooked goat curry stands at the summit of a mountain of basmati rice ($14), overlooking a green valley overflowing with spinachy saag paneer ($10). Escort meals down esophagi with a specialty naan, such as the jalapeno and cream cheese ($3) or spinach and feta-stuffed variety ($3.50). Scoops of mango kulfi, an Indian ice cream served with pistachios, almonds, and cardamom ($3), cool palates blazing with curry spices or the embarrassment of forgetting some of your taste buds' first names at a party.
Glowing chandeliers scatter light across the sheer copper drapes that frame Pakwan Restaurant's 96-seat dining room, which is sheathed in spice-hued fabrics suggestive of the sumptuous cuisine emerging from the kitchens. Guests dig into aromatic plates of authentic Indian cuisine, from traditional curries and tandoori to village-style vegetable dishes and kebabs marinated in yogurt and special spices. Executive chef Laila Prasla and her crew utilize traditional Indian cooking methods, stirring authentic ingredients such as desi ghee—clarified butter—into entrees before sliding them onto hand-crafted copper vessels and sending them off to the dining room. Behind a black-topped bar, Pakwan's resident mixologist concocts taste-bud-tantalizing "molecular" cocktails, which offer a fresh spin on traditional bar drinks. Those opting for a bar beverage will also be gifted with four complimentary snacks to prep human food processors for main-course meals.
A marigold façade with window cutouts that mirror the Taj Mahal's distinguished silhouette welcomes guests to Indian Palace, whose interior is equally lavish and vibrant. Golden elephant statuettes, paintings of traditional Indian scenes, and deep red tapestries enliven the decor, and aromas of sweet curries and meats roasting in the clay oven add excitement to the air. Inside the kitchen, chefs channel the culture of northern India into traditional meals, then deliver the cuisine à la carte to tables or arrange it at the self-serve buffet. The sweeping buffet enables diners to hop from dish to dish like garden gnomes playing hopscotch on lily pads. A cornucopia of naan breads cushions plates against flying forks and provides a pillowy field for the spicy notes of such dishes as lamb biryani and chicken tikka masala to caper across. The spread always contains an extensive selection of vegetarian options, such as saag aloo, which dispatches a duo of cheese and potato to thwart dastardly hunger pangs.
The mouthwatering aromas of Indian spices and freshly baked bread waft throughout Indian Spicy Kitchen—especially during lunch hours, when chefs stock the all-you-can-eat buffet with a smorgasbord of traditional dishes. In addition to more than a dozen vegetarian entrées, they whip up tender chicken, lamb, and seafood curries, which pool onto plates and get sopped up by warm breads from the tandoor oven.
In the dining room, leather chairs flank tables topped with white-and-red-checkered tablecloths, delicately folded linen napkins, and solitary flowers. Indian Spicy Kitchen also occasionally hosts live music in the form of Bollywood crooners, regional artists, and robots pre-programmed to sing public-domain tunes.