September 19, 2018

Royal Treatment at Shahi Pakwan

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Any person of South Indian descent will have fond childhood memories of dosa. Dosa is often described as a crepe-like dish made with rice batter. But to describe dosa through the analogy of a crepe is to do it a grave injustice. A good dosa should be flaky and crunchy yet durable enough to act as a vessel for its contents. It should be served hot, with a glistening exterior that hits your taste buds with a hint of ghee (clarified butter) before giving way to the rest of the flavors that it has soaked up. These other flavors often include sambar (a lentil gravy) or spicy potatoes (a dish usually called masala dosa). Because it was a staple of my diet when I was growing up, dosa holds a special place in my heart (and stomach). Therefore, when I heard that Shahi Pakwan, a new Indian restaurant near the Commons, had dosas on its menu, I knew I had to go check it out.

Tucked away behind a corner just outside the center of the Commons, Shahi Pakwan is an incredibly small restaurant with only about seven or eight tables total. However, instead of feeling cramped, it felt cozy, like the dining room of an Indian uncle’s house. A couple of friends and I attended its Sunday lunch buffet, which had about a half-dozen different options that you’ll usually find at Indian restaurant buffets. These included naan, tandoori chicken, dal makhani (a black lentil dish), a mixed vegetable curry and, of course, rice.

Right away, I tried the tandoori chicken, and it was amazing. The spice mix that Shahi Pakwan used was incredibly flavorful, and, most importantly, the chicken was perfectly cooked. I’ve found that at most buffets, the chicken will sit for awhile and dry up. But none of the chicken served in this buffet was dry at all; it was all tender and juicy, an impressive feat. Although I found the murgh tikka masala, a chicken dish cooked in a red tomato sauce, to be a little bland, I was a huge fan of the murgh curry, which was bone-in chicken cooked in a gravy of ground spices that had a very distinct flavor. The gravy was thicker and had a mouthfeel different from that of most Indian curries. It coated my palate with a complex flavor consisting of cumin, garam masala, pepper and plenty of other spices. I had never tried Indian food with this sort of flavor profile, and I was excited to see that Shahi Pakwan was willing to serve food you wouldn’t usually expect from an Indian buffet.

The vegetarian dishes were quite good. The dal makhani curry, though cooked thinner and spicier than what I am used to, was a refreshing sauce that paired well with the rice. The mixed vegetable curry was also delicious, and none of the vegetables were overcooked.

To be honest, I was planning on coming back to try the dosa for dinner. Dosa is not meant to be served in a buffet — it needs to be served piping hot right off the griddle. (If someone ever offers you cold dosa, run as fast as possible in the opposite direction.) But throughout the whole process of eating at the buffet, I realized how incredible the service was. Shahi Pakwan is a small family-run business, and father-and-son owners Chur and Raaj Singh care a lot about the customer service that they provide. When they ran out of naan, within minutes, Raaj brought some hot naan right to our table so that we didn’t have to get up. So on a whim, I asked him if he was willing to make dosa for us.

When Raaj said, “Of course,” and ran back to the kitchen, I’d never been happier in my life. Within a couple of minutes, Raaj brought out a piping hot masala dosa (stuffed with spicy potatoes) and cut it up into pieces for my friends and me. I’ve never felt so blessed in my life. The dosa was delicious, soaking up the flavor of the potatoes, while still remaining crunchy on the outside. Raaj brought out a total of four dosas for all of us while we were eating there. It was incredible, and definitely one of the highlights of my dining experience because I really appreciated the commitment to service that Raaj demonstrated.

The cherry on top of all of this? This whole dining experience cost $10 flat. That’s including tax. (Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tip though!) I can easily say that this is one of the cheapest lunch buffets around (at the very least, cheaper than Mehak). I ate four plates of delicious Indian food for $10, all while receiving the best service I’ve ever gotten at a dining establishment in Ithaca. Shahi Pakwan means “royal dish” in Hindi, and simply eating there made me feel like royalty. Since it’s just a ten-minute walk from Collegetown, I highly recommend you try Shahi Pakwan and meet Raaj and the rest of his family at their cozy Indian restaurant.

Serves: deliciously different style of Indian food
Vibe: small, cozy Indian restaurant
Price: $
Overall: ★★★★☆