Know the place has been discussed over the years in general Indian food threads, but few recent posts, so hoping it is ok to give Clay Pit its own new thread here.
I know very little of Indian food aside from the occasional inexpensive buffets I have gone to against my will where I have tended to find overcooked meat and more spice than I can handle. I have only been to Clay Pit once before- a few years ago- where I had naked grilled meat out of fear of spicy sauces from my limited other experiences with Indian food.
Big miss on my part. Tonight's dinner was wonderful. Two of us going "family style". Here goes,
Lamb Roganjosh- mild option requested. This was very good. Nicely robust, properly cooked lamb, and mild, but noticeable heat on the seasoning. Suffered a bit alongside the other two dishes which were surprisingly elegant, but only for lack of the common thread those other two shared shared.
Kabuli Chicken- mild option requested. Marvelous. Lovely texture- nuts and fruits well-pureed, and with an unexpected elegance. The chicken was cooked PERFECTLY. Nice small chunks, very light browning and brilliantly tender. I find it very rare in any restaurant to have chicken exactly right when it comes to cooking. That made the dish for me.
Vegetable Ayam- mild option requested. I could eat this every day. A mix of fresh very thinly sliced carrots and larger chunks of zucchini, squash, broccoli and cauliflower- each of them cut in a way that suggests that if they were all cooked together, someone took the time to apply varying shapes and sizes to each vegetable to ensure uniform results. As with the chicken, the saucing here was very elegant- garlic and curry making their presence, but not the least bit overpowering or intrusive.
Basmati rice also very well prepared. The naan was quite nice- substantial but not heavy. Not sure why there was butter on it, but it did not detract from overall performance.
As for the inevitable question of "authenticity", I have absolutely no idea guys. As I said before, my experience with Indian food is very limited- and only the lamb bore a strong resemblance to what little I have tried before. I will leave that argument to those who know the cuisine better, but I found tonight's dinner for it's own sake most enjoyable and a welcome departure from my usual fare.
I've been mildly disappointed with my recent trips to Clay Pit. I've always thought their protein portions were borderline tiny for the prices charged, and the last few visits have resulted in overcooked, overchewy meat with even tinier portions than I remembered.
I wish there were more authentic Indian choices in Central Austin, but I still resort to Clay Pit in a pinch. Before the culinary boom of the last decade, it used to be one of _the_ places to eat in town, but I think it's just coasting on its reputation at this point.
Quote from blueclaw666, "Thanks for your review but based on those comments, you might as well be reviewing your first steak after being a vegetarian all your life or your first big city meal as you come off the farm."
To be really nitpicky, I would disagree with your analogy to the extent I have tasted many of the base ingredients in those dishes- chicken, onions etc.- countless times, obviously as most people have. But on the point of spicing- where the distinction comes in, you are correct and that is why I qualified my opinion on the place from that standpoint.
You raise a very good point when evaluating a place such as this- and it is something I have pondered the last couple of days. And by a “place such as this” I mean a restaurant that offers a cuisine that is generally unknown in the market where it is sold, and where some tweaking may be necessary to keep the lights on and stay in business.
In short- when does "authentic" or "traditional" really matter in such settings? I checked the website and Clay Pit advertises itself as providing "contemporary Indian cuisine", whatever that means. But I think it matters they did that. I asked around the office today, and while some like it and some do not- I did get general agreement Clay Pit is a clear departure from the basics of spice levels in most Indian food.
And to take your point on authentic as tied to regions within India and how that can vary, I muse over the rash of "authentic Peruvian" restaurants opening in Texas. I have been to Peru, and there are three very distinct cuisines there that vary highly depending on the ancestry of the maker and just how far from the coast one is. So even if "authentic", such a Peruvian restaurant could go in many different directions.
It is a difficult question to really address at a granular level- that question of “authentic” and when it matters- even though from the 10,000 foot view it may seem obvious.
For me personally, that pristinely cooked chicken and the various sizes of the vegetables to achieve uniform cooking were master strokes at Clay Pit I rarely see at any restaurant. That is what really impressed me- and such careful thought would have impressed me elsewhere, just as it does at Chez Nous or Hopdoddy.
The lighter spicing is what made the food something I can enjoy. I went to Shalimar once and had a chicken dish. The chicken was slightly overcooked, but the sauce was incredible. I was in complete agony over the heat- but the subtlety and build of that spice on the palate was marvelous to see. The physical effects were immediate and lasted to the next day. I could never eat it again and go through the aftermath, but I am so glad I gave it a try and got to see that extremely spicy food can also be wonderfully nuanced and not just a palate-blaster.
Anyhow, thanks to all for a good and thought-provoking thread. Appreciate some of the other recommendations given. I am slowly gaining an interest in some aspects of Indian food and will endeavor to give some of these places a try. Ideally, I would like to incorporate some of the basic ingredients in what I cook at home.
Wow you guys take this too seriously. Seems like opinions can't exist on this board for sake of hurting feelings or being "dickish". I'm finished with this Clay Pit post. My bad for stepping in it.
My sincere apologies to those I offended with my opinion.
This is the Internet. Try not to get hurt in here.
I was not offended. I thought you raised a critical question about Clay Pit and places like that- as defined in my post- hence my furthering the discussion.
Do a search on my posts here- and just imagine what the ones were like that moderators have deleted. I have had more than my share of really mean posts- and ones that were very unkind and served no good purpose, which I would not say of your post. The love of food brings it out in us sometimes.
You brought to the table the key issue that I saw in threads that referenced Clay Pit when I did my research before starting my own thread- and good discussion ensued. All good here!
This is funny as I was just eating dinner with Indian friends who were complaining about Americans flocking to Indian restaurants which over season their food. They say it's nearly impossible to find any subtly in Indian food in Texas. I can understand what they mean as I too prefer highly spiced foods (like Shalimar on N Burnet).
That doesn't mean that a more balanced approached to Indian spice is any less authentic or tasty. In fact, if you ask around, a lot of Indians living in Austin will go the Clay Pit every time friends and family visit. They love it as a well executed, new approach to traditional foods and techniques.
elpaninaro, if you enjoy the food, please keep going and thank you for sharing. You might also enjoy the mild options of several dishes at New India on South Congress (suggested by the couple I mention above). Be sure to ask as some dishes do not offer a mild option.
I think the Clay Pit's great; as mentioned in this thread, it's pretty much the typical Indian food we see in the states, but just a step up. The sauces are tastier, the meat's cooked just a little bit better, not to mention the fact that the historic stone building is a nice contrast to the places where every surface is covered with saris.
I know I've mentioned this before, but I'd HIGHLY recommend G'Raj Mahal if you're looking for something a little out of the ordinary. All of their standards are delicious, not to mention that they have a Goan section (the chef's from Goa). Try the rechard masala (I get it with fish). It's this very spicy chili sauce with a surprising vinegar element; it's like nothing I've ever had with respect to Indian food. Plus in general, it's nice to order your food spicy at an Indian restaurant and they actually give you really spicy food.
All in all, I think it's probably my favorite Indian restaurant I've been to in the states. Give it a shot!
I have an Indian friend who loves to go to Clay Pit with other Indians. I think that they like it because it is "Indian enough" but different. There's a lot of home cooking going on, and then many of the restaurants are similar to eating at home (according to him).
We go to lunch all the time - I never get to eat Indian food because he is always tapped out on it.
Indian but different as an attraction is spot on.
My husband is Pakistani and I do a lot of socializing with Indian and Pakistanis. The Clay Pit is often a suggested by friends as a choice for nice meals out because it is upscale and fancy compared to other desi options. No, the food is not 'authentic.' Does one need credentials to say something like that? I don't know, but I have lived in India and Dubai (pretty much an Indian satellite city in the Arabian Peninsula), speak several Indian languages, have travelled extensively in South Asia, and I know Indo-Pak regional cooking very intimately---I cook it myself on a regular basis for my family.
The owners of Clay Pit are Pakistani, I believe of Indian Gujarati origin (Ismaili community)...not that they serve food remotely close to what is served in their particular ethnic community. You will never find food like that in a restaurant. The food doesn't have to be authentic, though. It should just be enjoyable.
For authentic North Indian (Punjabi) I would recommend the goat curry or egg curry at Teji's. Totally different atmosphere than Clay Pit, though. Much more 'authentic' than your average creamy faux Mughlai-Punjabi buffet fare. But for a nice meal in a more upscale atmosphere, Clay Pit for sure.
I also hate to be that guy, and admittedly haven't been to India or eaten with my hands from banana leaves. But having worked as a scientist for so long and after living in the DC metro for 7 years, I have a lot of good Indian friends / colleagues that have cooked me meals and have been to first rate Indian restaurants. Anyone who has been to Woodlands, Udupi Palace, etc. in the Maryland DC suburbs knows where I'm coming from, especially for south Indian fare. Clay Pit may satisfy some, and I'm glad for that, because they have a client base and obviously remain open for a reason. I'm not a fan however and much prefer Chola's and the new south Indian leaning Asiana (my new favorite Indian place in town). Asiana is arguably the most authentic south Indian non vegetarian joint we have. Their heat on most of their dishes is awesome and the flavors deep and complex. Love that place. Austin's getting there, slowly but surely.
"I know very little of Indian food aside from the occasional inexpensive buffets"
"As for the inevitable question of "authenticity", I have absolutely no idea guys. As I said before, my experience with Indian food is very limited"
Thanks for your review but based on those comments, you might as well be reviewing your first steak after being a vegetarian all your life or your first big city meal as you come off the farm.
If you are not familiar with Indian food than the Clay Pit may dazzle you. It even has a cool building that it sits in, complete with cellar dining. After that though if you have been to a truly Authentic Indian restaurant in a city like Singapore or even India itself, you will know that we are lacking in Austin. The Clay Pit is a nice, mild, "date night" Indian restaurant. Their newly opened "fast-casual" restaurants, "Tarka" seem far more authentic when it comes to flavors than the Clay Pit. And what are we really talking about when we talk Indian? Spice, flavor, texture, curries, naan, North or South India, all of it and as much of it as we can get. :)
As a whole, most of the Indian restaurants in the United States serve Americanized versions of North Indian food, which is generally less spicy. South Indian restaurants also exist and are slowly becoming popular but are less preferred because the food is considered very spicy.
I am anxiously awaiting the "eat with your hands on a banana leaf" type of Indian restaurant that I have experienced overseas and when it comes to Austin, I will be smiling through burning lips and watery eyes! :)
Agreed. I have a friend who loves Clay Pit, and I've eaten there with her quite a few times. I've been disappointed with the lack of flavor in every single dish of theirs that I've tried (oddly, I liked Tarka reasonably well he one time I ate there with her...and of course she wasn't a fan). The food at Clay Pit is just too bland for Indian food, in my opinion. I hate to be "that guy," but after spending ten years in the Bay Area in California I sure miss the quality and consistency of Indian food there. I've never been to India.