Dawat Fine Indian Cuisine

Exactly what you'd expect — and then some
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  September 2, 2009
3.0 3.0 Stars

THE DAWAT SPECIAL: This platter — whether vegetarian or not — shows off the merits of fresh frying and the use of varied spice mixtures.

Dawat Fine Indian Cuisine| 129 Brighton Avenue, Allston | 617.562.0200 | Open daily, 11:30 am–3 pm and 5–11 pm | AE, MC, VI | Beer and wine | Sidewalk-level access | No valet parking
Dawat does what all other Indian restaurants do — sometimes better — with newish things besides. Within the usual Punjabi format of stews, rice, breads, and kebabs, there is a good variety of flavors, with premium herbs like fresh curry leaves, Asian basil, and cilantro. Portions aren't enormous, and the menu is long and confusing, but stick with me here, and you can dine very well in this rather handsome storefront.

To start with, I had my first encounter with morabba ($6.95), fried pumpkin slices that look deceptively sweet on a bed of yogurt. The real flavors are a slight pickling holding together the pumpkin ("morabba" is actually a Hindi and Urdu word for sweet pickles), and then a tickle of pepper from invisible curry oil. Even hotter was baingon ($5.95), an Italian-looking plate of sliced fried eggplant with more yogurt and spicy tomato sauce.

The Dawat special platter ($9.95) is available in vegetarian or not. We opted for the meat, and got a very neatly arranged array. The main items, samosas of potatoes and cumin ($3.95/two, à la carte) and ground lamb ($4.95), featured exceptional pastry with a few cumin seeds that showed on the golden pyramids. An aloo tikka ($4.95), or a flat potato patty, was alive with curry leaves and spices. Three mixed-vegetable pakoras ($4.95) were nicely fried with the onion dominant. A chicken pakora ($6.95), however, was not far from a white-meat chicken finger — the better to employ strong chutneys of coriander, tamarind (also with some bite back), and onions and red pepper. It all goes to the merits of fresh frying and the use of different spice mixtures.

That technique was even more evident in our main courses. I was delighted to see goat dhansak ($15.95), a Goan stew popular in London that doesn't often show up on Boston menus. This dhansak was more sweet than sweet and sour, and had dried chilies that scare you more than burn you. It was thickened with various pulses, too. Add to that a heap of basmati rice topped with caramelized onions, and this was the most filling and heartiest main dish. Goat — once you get past the idea of it, and of eating stew with bones in the meat — is not much different than lamb in a complex dish like this one.

Barra kebab, a current special described as a Peshawari dish for which lamb chops are marinated three days, was probably just that. The lamb was cooked up to the falling-off-the-bone point, but never lost its own flavor or that of a sophisticated seasoning. Still, it was a small portion, even with salad and a baked flatbread thrown on.

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