My favorite trend by far this year has been the opening of interesting new regional Indian restaurants to add to the city's rich lode of Indo-Pakistani Cuisine.
Hard on the heels of the new Gujarati/Rajasthani vegetarian thali restaurant, Maharaja Bhog, comes Biryani Pot: a spot that specializes in the food of Hyderabad, the capital of the central Indian state of Andhra Pradesh and a center of the the country's tech industry.
The two curries I have tasted at this spare little restaurant on Westheimer near Hillcroft have been electrifying: lively, complex dishes in which a great deal is happening. Curiously, the biryani — the elaborate rice pilaf dish for which the place is named — was only goodish on my visit. But I'll try it again, because I'm going to be coming back. A lot.
If I had to pick a favorite, it would be the so-called Gongura Mutton Curry, as dark and rich and resonant as the best Mexican mole you ever tasted. (Thank you, Misha Govshteyn, for that apt comparison, and for the Twitter tip that sent me to Biryani Pot in the first place.
That's "mutton" as in "goat" rather than "lamb," by the way (mutton being a common term for the meat of mature goats in India); and "gongura" as in the pointy, sour green leaves of a plant that's a member of the hibiscus family, and which are a popular ingredient in Andhra Pradesh. The gongura leaves in Biryani Pot's dish had a tang and a slight, pleasant chewiness to them, and they added an elusive vegetal note to the proceedings.
Oh, did I mention that the Gongura Mutton Curry was hot? My friend and I asked for it "spicy" and were rewarded with gratifyingly sniffle-inducing but not lethal levels of red chile pepper. The heat boosted the savor of the long-simmered goat meat (it fell right away from its tiny bones) and added another dimension to the mustard-seed-flavored tadka (a hot spiced oil) that finished the dish.
Damn, that curry was fine. So was the basket of thin, bubbly naan flatbread that came with it at no extra charge, a nice touch.
My heat-seeking missile of a friend, Chris Frankel, was even more taken with Biryani Pot's Hyderabadi Murg Masala, a chicken curry with an unusual base of sesame and ground onion paste, with some peanuts fleshing out the mix for an effect that was almost African. That one was eye-wateringly hot at the "spicy" level, too, and while just as full and rich as the Gongura Mutton, it had a lighter effect.
I had never tasted anything quite like either one of those dishes.
Of the vegetable biryani we ordered, all I can say is that it had the snappy dryish textures I prize in a biryani, and some of the flavor dance, but the vegetables cached inside were still cool or tepid, and they seemed to have come from a freezer bag.
Two welcome sauces came with the dish: a cooling yogurt raita and a warming traditional savory sauce called mirchi ka salan, which has a peanut-and-sesame-paste base and is good enough to spoon up straight, as if it were soup.
What I missed most of all when the fat mound of variegated rice arrived at the table was the dizzying blast of aromas that issue from the best biryanis — especially those cooked dum style, as they are advertised to be here, which involves steaming the dish under a lid, or in some cases a dome of pastry dough, so that the wonderful aromas are trapped. The drama of their release at the table is part of the fun.
Biryani Pot serves its biryanis in an open bowl, and it wasn't particularly fragrant. I've had much more eventful biryani from Kaiser Lashkari at Himalaya, and from Sunil Srivastava at Great W'Kana, whose dum-style dish comes to the table under a towering pastry crown, a nifty bit of theater.
I wasn't impressed by the rather bland samosas in wonton-skin wrappers, either; or the too-sweet mango lassi, although I drank two of them in an effort to cool down from the curries.
The restaurant seemed to be understaffed during a crowded Saturday lunch Our waiter was a charming fellow, but so harried he had to be flagged down starting about halfway through the meal. The setting, while fairly barebones, is trim and modern.
But it's the curries at Biryani Pot that will bring me back. They are among the most memorable dishes I have eaten this year. I've got the Methi Chicken with fenugreek leaves in my sights; not to mention the ineffably named Goat Chops of Heaven.
Biryani Pot Authentic Hyderabadi Food House: 6509 Westheimer, 713-278-8085.
Lunch: 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Tuesday—Friday, 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday & Sunday.
Dinner: 5:30 p.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday—Thursday & Sunday, 5:30 p.m.—10:30 Friday & Saturday.