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Dec 3, 2013 08:45 AM

Shan-a Punjab, Brookline - preliminary review (long)

Shan-a Punjab, in the former Cognac Bistro location, opened last week, and I checked it out with a friend for the first time last night.

The menu is mostly standard northern Indian dishes (pakoras, samosas, curries, masala, vindaloo, saag) with a few dosas as a nod to the south. But a few things stand out: in addition to the standard lamb, chicken, seafood and vegetable dishes, they offer both goat and beef, and have a section titled "modern Indian," (also the restaurant's subtitle), which appear to be mostly somewhat unusual variations on traditional dishes, such as duck vindaloo, lamb shank curry, scallops balti, and eggplant chicken.

The meal starts with a very nicely spiced complementary basket of papadums, accompanied by the usual three condiments of onion chutney, mint sauce, and tamarind sauce. We started with vegetable pakora, which was pleasant if not exciting, and then ordered three main dishes: duck vindaloo, mango chicken, and gobhi achari (cauliflower cooked with ginger, garlic, potatoes and spices).

Each was offered in four heat levels: mild, medium, spicy, and "Indian spicy." We ordered the chicken medium, the cauliflower spicy, and the duck Indian spicy. All were delicious, and the relative spice levels were exactly as ordered, though I have to say, Indian spicy, while respectably hot, was far from the killer heat level I've had in vindaloos in the UK, for example. I've even had a few in the Boston area that were hotter than this. But the flavors and preparation of all were excellent. Very impressive for a place that's barely been open a week. Oh, and quite good rice is also complementary.

Service was prompt and attentive, though that's not too surprising considering that there were only two other tables occupied when we arrived, and when we left about 9PM there were none.

Two caveats, however: one is temporary, which is that they don't yet have their liquor license (they expect it to take another two to three weeks, and it will be a full license, not just beer & wine), so for now your drink choices are pretty much limited to water and several types of juice, lassi and soda. The other, which I don't see how they can fix, is the table size. They've kept the same basic layout as Cognac Bistro, with some padded benches added along the walls, creating an odd half-booth effect. But the tables (all two-tops that can be grouped for larger parties) are smaller than CB's were. While they might be adequate for a Western meal where you each get a plate of food and there's just a bread basket on the side, they were woefully inadequate in our case. Even after the condiments were taken away, our two rather large square dinner plates, two large water glasses, one lassi, three entrees, a big bowl of rice, and a dish of raita took up so much room that I had to eat carefully for fear of knocking something onto the floor. Once they get their license and you add a couple of beer or wine glasses (and maybe a wine bottle) to that, there's just not going to be enough room, period. I think the next time I come in as a party of two, I'll sit at the bar, which is quite deep, or take a double table if they'll allow it. Or, come to think of it, I may find myself getting takeout more than sit-down meals here.

But there will definitely be a next time. Though it will be a long time before I stop mourning the loss of Cognac Bistro, this is a very welcome addition to the neighborhood food lineup.

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  1. Thanks for the great review-- sounds very promising and looking forward to checking out how far I can push them on "Indian spicy."

    Important question: any indication there will be a karaoke night as at the Quincy location?

    1 Reply
    1. re: rebeccact

      None whatsoever. It's a pretty tight space. Still, if there's popular demand, who knows?

    2. Update - I got takeout last night, some of the same dishes, and a couple of others. All were excellent, and the heat levels on the spicy and Indian spicy were a couple of notches up from last week - very impressive! I wonder if they checked out this thread...

      4 Replies
      1. re: BobB

        I order food from the Sher A Punjab in Quincy often, and I've always had good luck getting them to spice it up to my tastes. It's one of the things I like about the place.

        1. re: mwk

          Curious - have you ever tried the Indian spicy level there? I generally like heat, but my family is mixed so while I am tempted to try it, I don't want to ruin their meal.

          1. re: kobuta

            I have asked for "Indian Spicy". It definitely has a kick to it that you would notice. If you don't like to feel some heat in the food, you might find it too hot. I find it to be just about right for my tastes.

            However, I love spicy food and to be honest, I work with many Indian people. When they bring in food for their own lunches, I've tasted it and I can tell you that Sher A Punjab's version of "Indian Spicy" is definitely hot, but not "Indian" hot.

        2. re: BobB

          One small thing - I paid more attention to the seating last night, and there are a few actual diner-style booths at the front as well as the half-booths elsewhere.

        3. Thanks to BobB's report, we decided to try Shan-a-Punjab today after stopping by the Brookline Winter Farmers' Market. They had a lunch buffet (which today included a soup, vegetable pakoras, dal makhani, several chicken dishes, and a choice of plain or garlic naan), but we decided to order off the menu. We had bhindi masala (okra) and lamb shank curry, both Indian spicy, plus garlic naan. Everything was very flavorful and, as BobB says, not killer hot. As with most restaurant Indian food, I found it heavier what I would prepare myself at home, but it was still very good. I'm curious whether the dosas are any good, as the rest of the menu leans so heavily to northern India.

          We were at a small booth and didn't have any issues with the table size.

          1 Reply
          1. re: nonaggie

            We were also there this weekend. We had the masala dosa. The filling was tasty and the outside was crispy and not too greasy. A very good rendition. The only thing missing was the coconut chutney one usually gets with this dish. It did have a cup of sambhar (soup) alongside. We also had the Baigan Bharta, which we ordered spicy. It had a good level of spice and wasn't too oily, the way some renditions of this dish can be. The kids had the Tikka Masala and said it was very good - it's too rich for me so I can't really judge.

            We really enjoyed the food, it compares more than favorably with the other Indian restaurants in the area and the service was pleasant and attentive. We'll definitely return. There were four of us and with all the dishes the table top was a bit too crowded.

          2. I went here over the weekend and got the lunch buffet. I think they said they serve it until about 3, and it is a steal at $10.
            Definitely one of the best buffets I've been too, all the food there was quite good and there was pretty good variety.
            Dishes included:
            Vegetable samosas, and I was surprised at how fresh they were. Usually when samosas in buffets, they sit there for a long time, these they were rotating in fairly frequently so they did not get hard and dried out,.

            A pakora dish (vegetable pakoras in a yellow sauce) that was really good and paneer korma was very tasty as well.

            I'm forgetting the name of the dish, but they had the one where it's fried pieces of dough and you pop a hole on them and put a filling in there. Their filling was a chickpea dish and it was pretty good. Can someone fill me in on the name of this dish?

            Staples such as Chicken Tikki Masala, tandoori chicken and chile chicken were all solid, although not amazing.

            They might have had one or two more dishes I'm forgetting and they also had a mulligatawny soup and rice pudding. The mulligatawny was pretty good with a good hint of cilantro, but the rice pudding was not really my cup of tea. I'm not huge rice pudding fan though.

            Oh and also it came with garlic naan, which was very good as well.

            Service was very friendly, definitely better than what I expect from an Indian buffet. They said that over the weekends they would try to mix up the dishes they offered. I look forward to trying the buffet again. I only wish that they kicked up the spice/heat levels a bit although I understand why they do that for a buffet. And hopefully in the future they will offer a goat/lamb or other type of meat dish besides chicken.

            3 Replies
              1. re: Jenny Ondioline

                The answer is yes, the buffet is 7 days a week. The price may have changed since the previous weekend - it's now $9.95 M-F, and $10.95 on the weekends. Still good value for money - Jenny Ondioline and I enjoyed our lunch very much.

                Chicken is still the only meat offered - once again they had chilli chicken, chicken tikka masala, and tandoori chicken wings. I only tried the latter but they were excellent - the skin got a nice bit of char from the tandoor, but because the pieces were small and cooked quickly the meat was very moist and juicy.

                I skipped the lentil soup but tried another appetizer dish I hadn't had before - chickpea dumplings in a cold yogurt soup. Looks like it was probably kadhi pakora, or something similar. Vegetarian entrees were good - a delicious bhaingan do piaza, something like mattar paneer somewhat unexpectedly made with tofu, and..I'm spacing on the last dish, but it had potatoes and was tasty.

                One thing that's odd about the room, and may get the management dinged at some point by Inspectional Services - the washrooms aren't really ADA-compliant, because there are a couple of free-standing banquettes directly in front of them. A person on foot can step behind the banquettes easily enough, but there isn't room for a wheelchair to get back there without someone moving the banquettes out of the way.

                No question we'll be back, and Jenny Ondioline is looking forward to weekday lunches there as well.

                1. re: Allstonian

                  I believe the other veggie option was an aloo mutter that had a surprising but welcome chili kick: I'm not used to that dish being terribly spicy, but it was and I liked it.

                  The perfectly decent samosas had the usual trio of chutneys, all fresh and tasty except that I found the tamarind chutney even sweeter than it is on most buffets. (It *is* tamarind, isn't it? The thin brown one? I've always assumed so but I just realized I've never asked.) Also, the garlic naan was decidedly garlicky, which is always nice. Decent sweet lassi. Not the most overwhelmingly fabulous Indian buffet I've ever had or anything, but certainly a welcome addition to the neighborhood choices, and one I look forward to enjoying on days when I want to treat myself to a sit-down lunch out of the house.

            1. tysonmcneely,

              Is the dish you are referring to Pani Puri?

              2 Replies
              1. re: Crazy Egg

                Ah that's it! Thank you! I tried googling descriptions like "Indian Fried dough" and got nowhere.

                One note on these is that they were a little different than the ones shown in the link (as well as the ones I've had previously) as they were triangular in shape, and only puffed up in the middle. Kind of like a turnover or a triangular crab rangoon or ravioli.

                1. re: tysonmcneely

                  No, pani puri ("water fried bread") is specifically the snack made by filling fried dough puffs with a sour liquid. These are just triangular puri served with a chickpea curry.