In the core of downtown’s entertainment district there are not all that many varied options of ethnic cuisines, outside of Mexican it seems. Deep South, Señor Tequila, Salsarita’s, Taqueria La Delicias, Breezy Burrito, and Mighty Taco (if that even counts) are all located within a couple block radius of one another. So to see a new restaurant open its doors at the beginning of this past holiday season, and a new culinary region represented, my curiosity was instantly (and delightfully) piqued.
Akbor Restaurant, specializing in Indian cuisine has quietly opened for lunch and dinner, serving seven days a week, and business seems to be on the rise. While I was there for lunch (mid-week, at the end of January) every table but one had at least one customer seated. That, to me, was a very good sign of things to come. And for workers on the clock (I arrived at 12:30pm), took my time perusing the new menu, started with appetizers (all things not normally/necessarily done while on a time crunch), and was still in and out in just under one hour.
Now on to the food. I started with the vegetable samosas, and they were – to be honest – a touch on the bland and heavy side. The proportion of peas to potato seemed heavily skewed to the latter, and the seasoning was also inappropriate given the density, and propensity, of the bland filling. The dough was fried perfectly, nice and crisp – but the lack of any apparent seasoning – especially for a cuisine so highly devoted to an absolute litany of Ayurvedic healing and intensely flavored spices, was an inauspicious start to the meal. On the bright side, the green chutney served alongside had a perfect ratio of lemon to cilantro, and mint to green chile, so that did serve to awaken my taste buds quite a bit.
Next out were the mains. Chicken Saag was a pleasant enough entree. Seeing as Chana Saag (spinach & chickpeas) is always my go to, this was the closest that Akbor’s menu offered, and vegetarian diners don’t fret, they do offer Palak Paneer which is spinach cooked with Indian cottage cheese-like cubes. The chicken in the dish did have quite a bit of bones, so be forewarned as it did cut down significantly the amount of protein offered in the dish. Seasoning was spot on and well rounded to boot (think onion, garlic, ginger, cardamon, coriander, cloves, garam masala).
Dal Tarka which consists of yellow split peas cooked down was the absolute highlight of my meal. Translating to perfect comfort food for this weather and season. Also readily apparent were many of those healing spices referenced above, in particular the tumeric, ginger, coriander, cumin, mustard seed, and chiles all playing significant roles – if I was feeling that something was ailing me, this porridge like dish has the power to instantly heal mind, body, and soul. Also of note, instead of the ubiquitous cilantro sprinkled on top for light garnish seen at most Indian establishments, there was a much more judicious hand at play here, ensuring most bites were welcomingly imbued with the bright herb.
Lastly, the Gobi Manchurian, was the wildcard of this experience. I had never before locally seen an “Indo & Chinese” section on an Indian menu, so I had to order and include a dish just for that purpose. Obviously these options are meant to be crowd pleasing hybrids – Chinese seasoning and cooking technique but with Indian spices and flavors. Choosing Gobi Manchurian, I basically took a shot in the dark, simply knowing gobi translated to cauliflower. Now that being said, this entrée consisted of a thick, tangy, and sweet ketchup, soy, and chili garlic (think sambal oelek) based sauce covering fried cauliflower florets. I would not personally order it again. While tasting, all I could think of was that this would be a perfect way to either get your children to eat more vegetables, or include that unadventurous dining partner in a more audacious setting for sure.
All in all, it is nice to see some different offerings for the residents and workers of downtown Buffalo. Akbor is off to a good start, and they definitely have a strong handle on certain offerings, although the place is completely lacking in the realm of decor. It is always hard to review places based on one sitting, seeing as there are so many other selections to be made, showcasing other strengths that any kitchen would indeed have. Being a fairly busy lunch, I unfortunately could not ask more questions of the waiter, seeking additional guidance, which I would have liked in this case. Although my initial experience was not exactly wondrous, I will most certainly pop back in for another try.