We were in Atlanta recently for the annual CEDIA Expo held at the Georgia World Congress Center next to the Georgia Dome. This was the second of an originally scheduled three years that CEDIA was to be in Atlanta, but a number of problems - including reported muggings of some convention goers in the downtown area - brought an outcry to move the convention out of Atlanta sooner than later. We'll be returning to Indianapolis next year, which isn't so bad for me considering I can drive to Indianapolis.
With that said, we have stayed out in the Buckhead area of Atlanta the past two years. Buckhead is known for its upscale restaurants and upscale shopping. And it's pretty safe to walk the streets between the hotel and the restaurants in the evening. Actually, I didn't mind Atlanta all that much and wouldn't have been upset had we had to go back for another year. But, of course, I didn't spend any time downtown other than going to and coming from the Georgia World Congress Center.
Over the past couple of years, I've been charged with finding places for our team to eat in the evenings when we get together at trade shows. I was unceremoniously dumped in that capacity - much to my relief - after the debacle we went through at Rosemary's in Las Vegas. Actually, that wasn't the big reason. I just didn't want to put the time into the research of trying to find places that would please 10 to 14 people each meal. We have a couple guys who are pretty picky about where they want to eat. One guy would eat sushi every meal if he could, but he hates cooked fish. (Yeah, I know - you tell me.)
I got tired of having people bitch about the places I picked out - didn't matter if they were good or bad; Italian or steakhouses - there were always complaints. And I said I didn't want to be responsible for finding the restaurants any longer. That responsibility went to my colleague, Todd, who decided to try a place that he found on the Internet that was supposed to have some of the best Indian food in Atlanta - Panahar.
Actually, Panahar bills itself as a Bangladeshi restaurant, of which I'm not that big of an Indian food connoisseur to know the difference between Indian and Bangladeshi cuisine. And quite honestly, I've not been back to an Indian restaurant since we went to Raja in Atlanta last year. I don't know what to order when I go to those places and have to rely upon others who are much more well versed in Indian cuisine than I.
There were 12 of us who made the short trip (less than 3 miles from our hotel, but thanks to Atlanta traffic and an all too literal GPS system, it was a 20 minute drive) to a strip mall on Buford Highway (see map). 9 of us went in a van while the other 3 took a cab over to the restaurant. As we walked into the restaurant, one of the waiters informed us that Panahar was a "bring-your-own-bottle" establishment. Well, we were out of luck, or so it seemed. He informed us of a liquor store just across Buford Highway. Since I drove the van, I was told to go pick out some beer and some wine for the meal.
One of my colleagues who works for our Canadian company accompanied me to the liquor store which didn't have much to choose from. I ended up getting the only cold six pack they had of Singha beer, but I also picked up a couple sixers of the Sweetwater 420 pale ale beer and a sixer of a beer from a micro-brewery in Athens, GA called Terrapin Beer Company. They had a rye pale ale that sounded interesting (and it was pretty good). My colleague, Terry, picked out a couple of cheap red wines that they had to offer. We figured that if anyone bitched, they could have easily hopped in the van with us. But everyone seemed to be happy with our choices.
Initially, the manager of Panahar had told Todd that he wanted to have a "prix fixe" menu made up for us as he felt 12 guys would overwhelm their little kitchen if we ordered individually off Panahar's menu. But Todd explained that we usually order "family style" when it came to Indian/Bangladeshi food and the manager was relieved to hear that. So the food order had already been placed by the time we got back to the restaurant with the liquor.
The first thing to come out was something called Poori Shrimp Tee-ka. Poori is a bread that is puffed up in the oven and it comes out looking like a little pillow. You mash the middle of it and then in a very ritualistic way you line up the sauteed shrimp in one row along the near edge of the poori bread, then follow that with another line of the sauteed onions cooked with spices and herbs. Then you roll up the poori until it looks like a burrito and eat it like that. I have to say the taste sensation was fabulous.
Next came a soup appetizer called Mulligatawny. This soup had a pureed mixture of orange lentils (didn't know there was such a thing), peeled tomatoes, cumin and some secret herbs and spices. It reminded me of a Mexican tomatillo soup that I've had in the past. With the poori shrimp tee-ka and now the soup, Bangladeshi food sort of reminded me more of Mexican food than Indian food.
The soup was very, very good, as well.
Next came the main entrees - three or four different things to choose from. We had Dhaan-shaag - cubed meat (you had your choice of chicken, beef, lamb, shrimp and goat - yes, goat. And more on that later) that was cooked in the same sort of sauce that the Mulligatawny soup was in. We got some beef Dhann-shaag to start out. It was very good, as well.
Learning from my colleagues, I've found that tandoori is a staple of Indian food. Only at Panahar, they called it tondoori. I don't quite know the difference other than the spelling. Todd had ordered up some tondoori lamb for the meal. The tondoori lamb is on the left side of the place on top of the rice and peas. I've had it before and it's also very good to the taste. I'm not big on lamb to begin with, but the tondoori sauce is wonderful.
Bhoona Maang-sho is a seasoned spicy meat that is stir-fried with onions, bell peppers and tomatoes (on the right on the plate served over fried rice). Todd initially ordered up some of the beef Bhoona Maang-sho for the table. When that was finished he said, "Anybody up for trying the goat Bhoona Maang-sho?"
Todd married a Jamaican lady earlier this year and his in-laws had a Jamaican feast recently where goat was served. He said at first he was sort of repulsed, but it was seasoned and cooked to a point where it tasted surprisingly close to pork. I told him I'd give it a try as did one of our other colleagues and he ordered up an entree of the goat Bhoona Maang-sho.
By the way, in the upper part of the above picture is either mixed Naan or Keema Naan - we had both on the table. Naan is a soft flat bread that is made in Tandoori ovens. You can order it with onions, garlic, ground beef, cheese, even coconuts and raisins. We got an order of mixed Naan - a combination of cheese, onion and roasted garlic; and an order of the Keema Naan - the mixed beef version. Once again, it was very similar to a Mexican quesadilla in both style and taste.
The Bhoona Mang-sho with goat meat came out and I tried a piece of it. While it was similar to pork, it was also very fatty with over half the chunk that I spooned out of the dish laden with fat. I cut the fat off and tried the meat part. It wasn't bad, but I definitely would not order that as a main entree at any point in the future.
My colleagues made short work of nearly everything that was brought to the table. It looked like a fraternity feeding frenzy at the table with plates and bowls being passed back and forth, guys exclaiming, "Man, you've got to try this!", and approving grunts and groans as a new taste sensation was discovered with the next dish that was passed along.
While I'm warming up quickly to Indian food, I'm still not thinking that I'll be seeking it out very often while I'm on the road. Still, I know of at least two very good Indian restaurants in the Chicago area that I'd like to try at some point. The bottom line is that Panahar was very good - I don't know if it was better than Raja, but it was very good. I continue to be open to new types of cuisine and always on the look out for great taste sensations. But I'll pass on getting the goat in the future.