I had a stretch of travel where I was on the road for 10 nights out of 11 earlier this year. I had gotten into such a food funk that I was burnt out on every type of cuisine. I had gotten into my hotel in the Twin Cities suburb of Bloomington and tried to figure out what I wanted to eat that night. I could have easily walked across the parking lot to Joe Senser's, but I really wasn't up for that. I had a couple three ideas in mind and I got in my car and started to drive around. I went past a sushi place and I didn't think I was up for sushi. Yes, I know. I wasn't up for sushi. That's how much of a food funk I was in. I went to an upscale tavern down the road and the parking lot was packed. Besides, I could have just stayed at Joe Senser's if I wanted food like that. I had an Indian restaurant on my GPS and I decided to go toward that place, even though I wasn't certain I even wanted Indian food that evening. I'm glad I had the address in the GPS, because the Indian restaurant would have been tough to find. The GPS took me right up to Biryani Indian Cuisine. (See map) (Photo courtesy Edina Patch.com)
Sandwiched between a Chinese restaurant and a Domino's Pizza outlet, Biryani has been in business since 2009 after it took over the space from Chapati, a Northfield, MN-based Indian restaurant. If you look closely at the sign on the front of the building you can see that "Biryani" is printed over the old "Chapati" on the sign. In fact, Mohammed Uddin, who was a chef at Chapati at the Northfield location, bought the Edina restaurant and the changeover from Chapati to Biryani took two days. Along with his son, Noor Islam, Uddim kept many similar dishes from the Chapati menu, but offered various culinary signature twists along the way.
Biryani is located on a quiet side street in an Edina neighborhood that has more office buildings than houses. It's tucked back off of Amundson Ave. just south of 70th St., just west of Highway 100. Seriously, if you're not specifically looking for it, or had a GPS like I did, you wouldn't really know where it was.
And because of all the office complexes in the immediate area, most of Biryani's business happens over the lunch hour when they have an extensive buffet. So, it was fully understandable when I got there around 8 p.m. one weekday evening and found the place all to myself. The hostess sat me at a glass-topped table with a linen tablecloth underneath along the long wall of the restaurant. The long buffet was opposite to where I was seated. She gave me a menu and a waiter came to bring me a tall glass of water and left a full carafe of water on the table. They must have some really spicy food at Biryani.
I always seem to get vindaloo or curry dishes when I'm at an Indian restaurant. I looked long and hard at them and something sort of jumped out at me - there was beef on the menu. I don't know if I've ever been to an Indian restaurant where beef was on the menu. I was immediately interested in how that could be considering Hindu's view cows as sacred.
When the waiter came around to take my order, I was still in that food funk where I really didn't know what I wanted. I told him that I was in a quandary as what to order. He said, "Well, our name is Biryani. We're pretty much known for that." I had looked at the biryani - a basmati rice dish made with herbs and seasonings with nuts and raisins mixed in. I told him that I'd had biryani before (actually, Cindy had it and I tried it - I liked it) but I wasn't keen on nuts and raisins. He said, "Oh, we can keep the nuts and raisins out!" So, I ordered the shrimp biryani along with an order of the garlic/cilantro naan bread. The waiter said, "Hope you're hungry. That's a lot of food."
And he wasn't kidding - he soon brought out a heaping plate of the shrimp biryani along with a basket of the garlic/cilantro naan. The naan was light and flaky with a smokey, burnt edge from the tandoor oven. Along with a Kingfisher beer, I was set.
The biryani was good, not spicy, but not overly forward with the spices, either. While I liked it, I remembered why I like vindaloo and curry dishes more - it's the sauce. I love dipping the naan bread into the sauce. There were a dozen or so medium-sized shrimp that had been sauteed in oil and spices and they were pretty good. But as flavorful of a dish the biryani was, I found it to be a little too dry for what I was looking for that evening.
There was no way I was going to be able to finish the biryani, although I did dig through the basmati rice and pick out all the shrimp. And I was able to finish two of the four pieces of the garlic/cilantro naan. I had made a significant dent in the biryani and if I hadn't been traveling I would have taken the leftovers with me.
When the waiter came over to take my plates away, he asked me how it was. I said, "The biryani was good, but I like vindaloo or curry entrees better."
He said, "We have a great vindaloo. You'll need to try it sometime." I told him that I would.
But in the meantime, I told him, "You know, I've eaten at a handful of Indian restaurants over the past couple three years. This is the first place that I've ever seen beef on the menu."
The waiter explained to me that while beef is sacred to Hindu's, it's not for many others in India, primarily Muslims. Without saying it, I figured out that the owner was Muslim. With the name Mohammed Uddim, yeah, that's usually a clue that he's Muslim.
It turns out that Uddim and his son are from the Kushtia district of Bangladesh. While much of the food is the same, it's more of a combination of flavors from Central Asia, the British Isles, as well as India. But 90% of the population of Bangladesh are Muslims and they will eat beef. So, when I see beef on the menu in an Indian restaurant, I'll know it's really a Bangladeshi restaurant.
I'm still a neophyte when it comes to Indian food and I'm starting to know what I like and what I don't like. While I did like the shrimp biryani at Biryani, I'd still rather go with something like a curry or vindaloo dish on my next visit. Considering it's only five minutes away from the hotel I usually stay at when I'm in the Twin Cities, I'm sure I'll be back to Biryani at some point.