New Paradise Biryani is well named5/14/2014
I spent a year in India during the 1960s. That was a popular thing to do then. The Beatles, Jackie Kennedy and a few thousand hippies seeking enlightenment also tried it. Most went to the north of the subcontinent, to holy Benares and beautiful Kashmir. I went to Hyderabad, mainly because I had read that it had the most sophisticated cuisine. That city has long been a gateway to the tropical south, a melting pot of Dravidians and its Aryan and Mogul conquerors, of soft-sounding languages written originally on leaves and harsher sounding ones chiseled in stone and of cuisines based around lentils and rice and those based around wheat.
Most of the dishes called Indian in England and America come from the north. Anthony Bourdain said so recently, so it must still be true. While northern paneers (cheeses) and tandoori oven meats and naans are magnificent culinary inventions, they have nothing over the idlis, dosas, coconuts, tamarinds, chilies and plantains of the south. Des Moines has been blessed with the presence of Namaste, a creative kitchen that gives equal weight to northern and southern dishes. But when Paradise Biryani Pointe opened an outlet in the Jordan Creek area in late April, I was overjoyed. It’s named after Hyderabad’s most famous dish.
Paradise Biryani Pointe is the invention of a Hyderabadi-born, former software engineer who has rapidly turned one restaurant in Edison, New Jersey, into 45 cafes all over America. Most are located near large Indian populations, and West Des Moines now employs plenty of Indian-born information-technology engineers. Founder Raj Gowlikar owns about 25 percent of the restaurants, and the rest are franchised.
Gowlikar told a New York newspaper that biryanis — chicken, egg, goat or vegetable — account for 80 percent of the chain’s overall business. Paradise Biryani claims to make dum ka biryani. This is a complicated rice dish invented in the kitchens of Persian emperors and perfected in those of the nizams of Hyderabad. Though there are hundreds of deviations, generally speaking, marinated raw meats or vegetables are slow-cooked (dum style) with partially cooked basmati rice, clarified butter and spices, including princely saffron, in a sealed container over low heat. Paradise claims its recipe contains more than 30 spices. The dish is often called the king of rice dishes. It is dryer than risotto and is often enjoyed with saucy curries, raita (a yogurt dish) and condiments. At the West Des Moines restaurant, I tried a goat biryani that smelled like paradise. I ate it with bagara baingan, a southern Indian baby eggplant dish in a tamarind curry, and aloo gobi, a cauliflower and potato curry that is popular in Iowa’s Indian restaurants.
Tandoori chicken seemed dryer than what I find at India Star or Namaste, but chicken tikka masala compensated by bathing tandoori-cooked boneless chicken in a rich tomato curry. A side of pickled carrots — the spiciest dish I tried — perked up dishes that were generally milder than what is typical in local Indian cafés. Though vindaloos and some other curries used southern touches like tamarind, there were no south-Indian starches, such as dosas, utthapams or nor idlis, on the menu. Instead there were four kinds of naan, a wheat bread cooked on tandoori walls. I did see idlis on a buffet, though.
Bottom line: Paradise Biryani Pointe brings Indian food to the western metro. Its biryanis are marvelous but, otherwise, it’s more representative of northern Indian cuisine. For southern dishes, Namaste is still the nizam of Des Moines.
Side Dishes Head chef Johan Larsson is leaving Django and taking over the kitchen at Trostel’s Dish beginning May 19… Temple B’nai Jeshurun hosts the Jewish Food Fair on May 18, $14. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.