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Shan-a Punjab, Brookline - preliminary review (long)

BobB | Dec 3, 201308:45 AM

Shan-a Punjab, in the former Cognac Bistro location, opened last week, and I checked it out with a friend for the first time last night.

The menu is mostly standard northern Indian dishes (pakoras, samosas, curries, masala, vindaloo, saag) with a few dosas as a nod to the south. But a few things stand out: in addition to the standard lamb, chicken, seafood and vegetable dishes, they offer both goat and beef, and have a section titled "modern Indian," (also the restaurant's subtitle), which appear to be mostly somewhat unusual variations on traditional dishes, such as duck vindaloo, lamb shank curry, scallops balti, and eggplant chicken.

The meal starts with a very nicely spiced complementary basket of papadums, accompanied by the usual three condiments of onion chutney, mint sauce, and tamarind sauce. We started with vegetable pakora, which was pleasant if not exciting, and then ordered three main dishes: duck vindaloo, mango chicken, and gobhi achari (cauliflower cooked with ginger, garlic, potatoes and spices).

Each was offered in four heat levels: mild, medium, spicy, and "Indian spicy." We ordered the chicken medium, the cauliflower spicy, and the duck Indian spicy. All were delicious, and the relative spice levels were exactly as ordered, though I have to say, Indian spicy, while respectably hot, was far from the killer heat level I've had in vindaloos in the UK, for example. I've even had a few in the Boston area that were hotter than this. But the flavors and preparation of all were excellent. Very impressive for a place that's barely been open a week. Oh, and quite good rice is also complementary.

Service was prompt and attentive, though that's not too surprising considering that there were only two other tables occupied when we arrived, and when we left about 9PM there were none.

Two caveats, however: one is temporary, which is that they don't yet have their liquor license (they expect it to take another two to three weeks, and it will be a full license, not just beer & wine), so for now your drink choices are pretty much limited to water and several types of juice, lassi and soda. The other, which I don't see how they can fix, is the table size. They've kept the same basic layout as Cognac Bistro, with some padded benches added along the walls, creating an odd half-booth effect. But the tables (all two-tops that can be grouped for larger parties) are smaller than CB's were. While they might be adequate for a Western meal where you each get a plate of food and there's just a bread basket on the side, they were woefully inadequate in our case. Even after the condiments were taken away, our two rather large square dinner plates, two large water glasses, one lassi, three entrees, a big bowl of rice, and a dish of raita took up so much room that I had to eat carefully for fear of knocking something onto the floor. Once they get their license and you add a couple of beer or wine glasses (and maybe a wine bottle) to that, there's just not going to be enough room, period. I think the next time I come in as a party of two, I'll sit at the bar, which is quite deep, or take a double table if they'll allow it. Or, come to think of it, I may find myself getting takeout more than sit-down meals here.

But there will definitely be a next time. Though it will be a long time before I stop mourning the loss of Cognac Bistro, this is a very welcome addition to the neighborhood food lineup.

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