Starting as a trailer a block off of 2009’s Rainey Street and surrounded by whimsical Bike Zoo creations, G’raj Mahal serves Western Indian cuisine with a healthy dash of Austin’s sadly-dwindling shabby-chic aesthetic. Started by native Austinite and chef Sidney Roberts, the original G’raj (so named because the car lot it was on hosted a mechanic’s haunt) is now on Rainey Street proper where she’s recreated her cozy lo-fi vibe.
The food at G’raj Mahal is straight-up Indian with cage-free and free-range proteins mixed with natural ingredients. For an appetizer, we tried the Pani Puri (crispy mini puffs filled with sweet potato, tamarind, onions and spices and served with cilantro and mint sauce; $8), which were delightfully goofy, interactive, and tasty with a puffy crunch offset by warm spiced potato and the cool vibes of mint.
For mains, we ordered the Dahl Makhani (French black lentils and tomato curry; $14) and the Chicken Tikka Masala (creamy tomato base with onions and peppers; $16). Oddly, the dahl makhani arrived with regular lentils instead of black lentils. At first we thought our order had been confused, but the menu did not have a similar dish with regular lentils. Since we’re not the kind of people who send dishes back unless something is horribly wrong, we stayed with it, and it was fine.
I ordered the tikka masala spicy, but it arrived like an aged flamenco dancer who had turned in for the night at 7 pm. In part, I get it. Texans fancy themselves as hot tongues, but in reality–for the most part–Texans can’t take the heat. Furthermore, Rainey Street crawls with inebriated out-of-towners seeking to impress their dates by eating bowls of fire. When reality hits after a few bites that a dish is inedible, they send it back.
Just like grade inflation at college, so goes heat deflation at restaurants, which is lamentable for this fire-lover. Unfortunately, I look like an inebriated out-of-towner seeking to impress my date, so my bowl arrived with nary a flick of fire while the bride’s bowl–requested as mild–at least had a lick of flame. There really needs to be a normalized spice scale for restaurants where you can order a dish at 45,000 scovilles and get something near that level of heat. Either that, or a taster where you can sample and choose your heat level (which has happened once in my all my eating). I get it, but I still walked away disappointed having hoped to become a dopamine machine for half an hour.
Whereas the food was OK, the mixology was creative and inspired. I sipped a Bloody Disobedient Movement (Bloody Revolution, vodka, lime, and house curry blend with a smokey salt rim; $12) that was a different-but-delicious Bloody Mary from the Indian subcontinent. The bride ordered a Pretty in Pink (gin, rose syrup, lemon juice, peychaud bitters, fabbri liquer, and soda water; $11) and it got down like a stylish Psychedelic Furs track. We ended the evening with a Just Cool It (muddled cucumber and basil, coconut syrup, lime, and vodka; $12) as we listened to a couple of friends rock the backyard stage.
– meh [think twice]
* OK [it’ll get the job done]
** good [solid neighborhood joint]
*** damn good [we’ll definitely be back]
**** yippity-yikes that was amazeballs [fantastic; one of the best]
***** holy sh!t [transcendental; best of the best]