panahar – atlanta, ga


ah, buford highway.  or as we so affectionately call it, la buford.  miles of the finest citizens, dining, and shopping in all of metro atlanta.  okay, i’m leading you on.  those statements aren’t entirely true.  but!  la buford is a magical, yellow brick road of hidden gems like panahar, a restaurant that’s been serving bangladeshian cuisine since, well, i don’t know since when.  regardless, we went a little out of the ordinary this week with the largest turnout yet, 15 of us!  and i’m telling you, we filled nearly the entire restaurant and, without doubt, our stomachs.

panahar had been recommended by several of our regular attendees as the best, not just one of, indian restaurants in town.  many folks were quite excited when they heard this is where our next spot would be.  for me, though, the few times i have had indian-type cuisine in the past, i haven’t loved it.  i don’t much care for curry or very spicy creations, so many of your standard indian dishes are probably out of the running for me.  i was a bit hesitant to declare it the latest spot for nrw, but i said to myself, “hey, you’re older now.  perhaps your tastes have changed!”  was i right?  was i wrong?  well, it certainly was no applebee’s, if that’s what you’re asking yourself.

my brother and i arrived fashionably late (just a few minutes after the hour, really), and i was instantly excited for the experience we were about to enjoy.  the aromas of the dishes swirled all around the dining room and wafted their way to my nose.  they were so fragrant that they reminded me of just how hungry i was.  maybe this meal will be different!  maybe at the end of the evening i’ll be singing praises about my new favorite indian and bangladeshian foods!  keep those fingers crossed, folks.

our long table was placed nicely and seated everyone comfortably.  i’m not joking when i say we took up nearly half of the dining room.  it’s a small yet well-kept place, so i’m thankful they were able to make a reservation for our large party.  my heart was so happy once all of us were there; it’s like we’re a family doing our weekly dinner!  precious, i know.

i wasted no time in grabbing a menu and trying to decide what on earth should be ordered and eaten.  batkinson and jon were able to make a few suggestions, but my eye wandered over to the dhaan-shaag.  i decided that is what i would have for dinner, along with a few orders of naan and also the appetizer platter.  when in rome!  wait, should it be “when in dhaka!” instead?

the waiter patiently took our orders, making suggestions and answering questions along the way.  this kind of cuisine was unfamiliar for most of us, so every bit of help was appreciated.  the rest of the wait staff was “disarmingly polite,” keeping our water glasses filled throughout the entire meal and even showing us how to eat our food.  that’s wonderful service, if you ask me.  and, speaking of drinking…panahar is a byob spot, so be sure to grab that extra bottle of wine or six-pack before you head out the door.  whitney and shelby shared their 2012 vintage chardonnay with our end of the table; thanks, ladies!

appetizers arrived for the table, and like the hungry vultures we were that night, we dug in immediately.  the appetizer platter i ordered was a combination of chicken shingaara, vegetable shingaara, and pakoras.  you know what all those things are, right?  no?  well then, good thing i have the descriptions here in front of me to share with you!  shingaara is a triangular whole-wheat pastry spiced with paach-foron.  it was fabulous!  i dipped it in the both the dark and mint sauces they brought out to us and nearly wanted to make an entire meal out of them.  they were crispy yet soft, and the fillings were very flavorful.  maybe it’s a good thing i already ordered dinner…i also gave the pakoras a try; although the deep-fried pastries full of fresh sliced vegetables, chickpea flour, coriander, and cumin were tasty, i’d go for a plate of shingaara again before more pakoras.

another appetizer ordered was the chicken poori by jon, who was quite impressed by it.  it had tandoori chicken, onions, and herbs wrapped in warm, slightly crispy poori bread.  “it was like a bangladeshi burrito and was a great starter to the meal.”  i’ll be honest, it looked so delicious that i almost asked for a bite to try it myself.

eventually our actual dinners arrived in waves around the table.  first came out the heaping platefuls of rice, both white and peas polao.  then they brought the seemingly never-ending stream of naan bread.  naan bread is unleavened and baked in the tandoori oven; its bottom is slightly crispy while remaining soft and fluffy on the top side.  it seems its intended use is to be a vessel for the food on your plate, but that stuff was quite delicious on its own as well.  the garlic and cheese naan was, mm, yep, very tasty, too.

so, you want to know about this dhaan-shaag i ordered?  first, i had planned to go with the korma, a mild dish with cream sauce, turmeric, chopped almonds, and raisins.  doesn’t that sound delicious?  they even describe it right there on the menu as “absolutely delightful!”  but!  i said, “kelsey, be adventurous, be daring!”  am i glad i did?  eh, not particularly.  the dhaan-shaag was much spicier than i thought it would be.  does “slightly spicy” sound intimidating to you?  i learned the hard way that the spicy scale in bangladesh is not the same as our american spicy scale.  the dish, cubed meat cooked in moshoorer daal (orange lentils) with herbs and spices, was topped with the unique sweet, sour, and spicy sauce that really put me over the edge.  i was able to combat the heat of the dhaan-shaag with lots of rice and lots of naan for a bit, but i didn’t have the strength to finish my bowl.  it went home in a to-go box with jon for leftovers.  i should have gone with my gut!  next time, korma it is!

jon had the chicken tik-ka moshol-la, “which is hard to type but easy to love.”  there were tender chunks of chicken in a “slightly” spicy tomato and cream sauce.  jon scooped this on top of the rice and naan, mixing in the deliciously hot onion chutney, and went to town.  although a bit spicier than he was expecting, he loved the extra excitement.  he even said, unequivocally, “that this is one of my favorite meals to get in atlanta.”

well, what was our experience like overall at panahar?  a lovely one.  the service was excellent, the food was exotic and delicious, and the company was wonderful.  although i do not often, nearly ever, find myself craving indian or bangladeshian food, the next time i do, i will know just where to go, what to order, and what not to order.

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