Friday, April 15, 2011

G'Raj Mahal - Austin, TX

For you to really appreciate this review and my feelings on this place, let me give you a brief history of my life.

I grew up in the slums of Mumbai with my brother, got locked in an outhouse, dove in poop, met a movie star, got his autograph, met a girl, ran away from cops, lost girl, got a hundred bucks, drank a Coke, found girl, begged for money, almost got my eye burned out, lost girl, rode on top of trains, found girl again, worked for her boss, lost girl again, worked for Time Life books, found girl again, got on a game show, got tortured, won twenty million rupees, met girl again at train station, danced with strangers, moved to Austin.  So you can imagine how excited I was to find G'Raj Mahal here in Austin, where I could finally get some good Indian food in a city with working plumbing.

Well, anyway, enough about me.

I finally made it over to G'Raj Mahal the other night, after hearing really great things about it.  Over in the Rainey Street district, this place is a food truck, but is much more a restaurant.  Entirely outside, with covered and uncovered tables, this is not one of those trucks you just walk up to and order at.  Rather, you see the hostess, she seats you, they bring you a menu and water, your order, they bring your food to the table, you eat, then they bring you a bill.

As far as atmosphere, this is the cream of the crop of Austin food truck scene.  Like I said, it's really more of a restaurant.  The trailer in back is visible, with a few long tables out front of it with the register, hostess, water, waiters, and all of the other things you'd find at a restaurant.  The "dining room" if you want to call it that, which I will, has a plethora of tables, each with a lit candle on it, in a nice setting under a silk curtain lined roof complete with ceiling fans.  It's an awesome spot that is fine to eat at, rain or shine.

As for the food, the menu contains a full range of authentic Indian appetizers and entrees, with your selection of meat for the various curries and kabobs, which are all very well described on the menu.  I opted to go with some garlic naan bread, lamb rogan josh, and a side of their raita, a seasoned homemade yogurt with carrots, scallions, cucumbers, and things of the like in it, which is similar to a Greek tziziki.

I've heard complaints about price and portion size here, but I have to disagree, I think it's a fine ratio, albeit pricier than I had growing up with mom and Jamal.  All of my food came out at once, which was great because it was all eaten together, and it was slightly more than I could comfortably eat by myself.

The garlic naan was fantastic.  Thin, light and crisp, this flap of dough was perfectly pan grilled, and covered, just covered, with chopped fresh garlic.  It worked perfect as a carrier for the rest of the meal, and I recommend at least a couple orders of it for the table.

The rogan josh was served separate from the rice in a styrofoam bowl, with the rice coming in a separate bowl of the like in equal proportion.  I ordered mine really spicy, and they, unlike so many Thai places around that don't, were more than happy to oblige, and they did an incredible job of nuking this stuff with Indian peppers and spices.  Chiles are eaten across the world in hot weather climates to cause you to sweat, thereby cooling your body down, and this dish did just that.

The flavor and heat of this dish was just excellent.  I don't know just how many ingredients go into rogan josh, but you can tell it is quite a few, which comes together in perfect harmony with incredible layers and depth of flavor.  My only knock on it was the lamb itself.  While having that unique lamb taste, the meat was like little bricks.  Lean and dense, but not chewy at all, it was not like the tender slow roasted melt in your mouth kind that I like and would have expected.  Still though, the flavor of the dish itself overcame the execution on the meat fivefold, and you won't hear any complaints out of me, nor will this keep me from getting it again.  I would recommend to anyone getting this to also get the raika, as it has a cooling effect, both in temperature and spiciness, while also adding some crunch if you drizzle it on each bite of naan-scooped rice and josh.  Perfect combination.

They do offer desert, and as sweat poured from the top of my head, I decided to go with some of their homemade cardamom ice cream, which came out in a pre-packaged little plastic container with some nuts and dried fruit crumbled on top.  The flavor was great, very mild, but the pre-packaging and refreezing did it no justice, as it combatted fiercely with my biodegradable spoon.  The temperature and packaging did it no justice and doesn't allow you to really appreciate the subtle flavors, as it never really gets soft, getting soupy on the outside and staying rock hard in the middle.  If it's ice cream you're looking for and craving, you'd be better off venturing over to Amy's, but this is a nice thing they offer to help you regulate your temperature after a spicy Indian meal.

I'll be returning here often enough to try out other items on the menu, revisiting the rogan josh fairly regularly though.  Last night was an early dinner, and I was flying solo, so I didn't have anything to drink, but like most food trucks in town, this one is BYOB but with a much better atmosphere to enjoy it in, and I can't wait to revisit with a bottle of good wine.


Atmosphere:   food truck/restaurant, outdoor seating both covered and uncovered, good for a date, good place to start or end an evening of drinking at the neighboring bars, good for groups

Food:  Indian

Dog Friendly:  yes

When to Go:  dinner, late

Crowd:  hipsters, 20somethings, 30somethings, old people, REAL Indians

What to Order for the First Timer:  naan bread, rogan josh with meat of your choice, raita

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