Restaurants & Bars

Butter Chicken and Shamiana in Seattle

Tom Armitage | Jan 2, 200302:20 PM     9

One of my favorite comfort foods is the Punjabi dish, Murg Makanwala, better known as “butter chicken.” There are, of course, many different versions of this dish, built on a base of tomatoes, onions, garlic, ginger, chili, garam masala, butter, and cream. The various recipes may add other ingredients such as yogurt, ground almonds or cashews, bay leaves, turmeric, coriander, cumin, fenugreek, saffron, etc. Regardless of the optional spices used, the result should be moist, tender chicken draped in a rich, velvety sauce with complex flavors. I’m crazy about the butter chicken at Taste of India on Roosevelt. The other night, however, for a change of pace, I decided to try Shamiana on 65th (there is also a Shamiana in Kirkland).

Many years ago I was taken to the Kirkland Shamiana by a friend who raved about the food there. Shamiana is owned and operated by an American couple. The chef, Eric Larson, lived in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Shamiana aspires to be a “gourmet” Indian/Pakistani restaurant, with special sensitivity to vegan customers (items with no dairy products are specially marked on the menu). But on my original visit to the Kirkland Shamiana, I left unimpressed.

My recent experience at the Seattle branch of Shamiana did not change my earlier impression. The butter chicken at Shamiana is described on the menu as “velvet” butter chicken. But the sauce did not come close to the velvety quality of the butter chicken served at other good Indian restaurants, such as Taste of India. It was much looser and more watery in texture. The spices were there, but seemed oddly separate rather than blended into a harmonious whole. The cumin was far too dominant in flavor. To add insult to injury, the chicken was tough. I also shared a prawn entrée with my wife, but it suffered from the same criticism. The spices were there, but too dominant and oddly juxtapositioned in an "angular" sort of way that I did not find pleasing. Unlike the chicken, the prawns were at least moist and properly cooked. The only dish my wife and I liked was an eggplant appetizer made with cream cheese served as a hot dip. But the naan served with it was far below standard.

My take on Shamiana is a restaurant where the owners have aspirations to impart both “healthy” and “gourmet” qualities to their menu, but where the end result is far below other good Indian restaurants in Seattle, plus being more expensive with smaller portions. I can’t see any reason to go back.

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