Despite the expansion of Indian and Pakistani dining options in Western New York in recent years, their collective exploration of lesser known regional cuisines has been limited. ¶ Taraq and Ashfaq Khan, owners of the Super Bazaar Indian-Pakistani grocery at Sheridan and Bailey, set out to change that. They’re Indians from the Kashmir region, which includes parts of northern India and Pakistan. In January they opened a small restaurant down the plaza from their grocery, then decided it was too small and opened Shalimar Garden in a bigger space a bit further down. ¶ Shalimar Garden offers significant menus of two Indian sub-cuisines rarely seen in these parts. Kashmiri cuisine tends to be halal, and not that spicy: vegetables, lamb, chicken, some seafood. There’s no beef on the menu. It includes specialties like rogan josh ($14.99), a type of lamb curry, and dum aloo ($9.99), potatoes cooked in tomato gravy.
The other unusual menu strength is Hakka Chinese, a Chinese-Indian fusion; dishes include hot garlic paneer ($10.99), cubes of stir-fried, house-made cheese in a soy sauce garlic gravy, and chicken chow mein ($10.99), a stir-fried noodle dish that’s similar to American Chinese versions, without the thick cornstarch sauce.
I’m a frequent customer of the Khans’ grocery, and was recognized as soon as I walked in. The roomy space was last a Japanese buffet that fed busloads of tourists, and much of it has been sectioned off into a banquet room. Its foyer glass is still emblazoned with cherry blossoms and a stylized tsunami.
Shalimar’s $9.99 lunch buffet would be worth mentioning just for the chicken tandoori. Everybody gets a piece fresh on their own sizzler, and the server will bring more.
We asked for samosa chaat ($3.99), shami kabob ($3.99) and paneer pakora ($4.99) appetizers, plus naan ($1.99) and garlic naan ($2.99) breads.
Entrees included the rogan josh, dum aloo and hot garlic paneer, plus vegetable korma ($9.99) and tandoori chicken ($10.99).
We also ordered a round of mango lassis ($3.99), which had a more vibrant mango flavor than most versions of the yogurt shake I’ve tried. There’s no beer, so you might splurge on one.
The samosa chaat, a broken up fried vegetable turnover dressed with yogurt sauce, sweet-sour tamarind sauce and chickpeas, was decent but seemed underspiced without the green coriander chutney I’ve enjoyed in other versions. The shami kabob, two patties of fried, finely ground spiced chicken and lentils, was mild and tasty. Paneer pakora, five matchbook-sized pieces of battered fried cheese, was subdued until some of the sweet chile sauce on the table was added.
The breads were bubbly from the tandoor and sprinkled with sesame seeds, but were chewier than I like, and the garlic flavor was muted.
Vegetable korma was a comforting, subtly spiced curry of broccoli, cauliflower and more, accented with golden raisins and cashews.
The lamb rogan josh was a revelation. It was made with chunks of bone-in lamb, unlike most I’ve had, which may have added to its deep flavor. Spiced with cinnamon, clove, bay leaves and more, I ate it slowly, to savor the tender meat. Its richness made it ideal to split.
Dum aloo, potato pieces cooked until tender but not crumbly in a tomatoey gravy, had a touch of tame chile heat.
The hot garlic paneer had chunks of browned paneer suspended in a translucent gravy punched up with fresh garlic and a hint of soy sauce. There were a few chunks of red and green bell pepper, but there was a lot of soupy gravy, and I wanted more paneer and vegetables. But others were happily spooning the sauce onto their rice.
The tandoori chicken was better than average, served with wedges of fresh lime. The drumsticks and thighs that came out sizzling on its iron platter were crusted around the edges, and had been marinated all the way to the bone.
Servings of rabri kheer ($6.99) arrived unbidden. The thick, creamy rice pudding was deeply flavored with cardamom and rosewater, and topped with pistachios.
I look forward to exploring the Hakka and Kashmiri offerings more thoroughly, including the lamb biryani, and Pakistani specialties like haleem ($14.99), shredded chicken topped with ginger. Shalimar Garden is a welcome addition to the tapestry of Indian-Pakistani cuisine in Western New York.
Shalimar Garden: 7 Plates (Out of 10)
Indian restaurant offers Chinese-Indian and Kashmiri dishes, not just lunch buffet.
WHERE: 3192 Sheridan Drive, Amherst (835-0700, shalimargardenamherstny.com)
HOURS: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., 4:30 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., 4:30 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers, $2.99-$12.99; entrees, $7.99-$15.99. Lunch buffet, $9.99
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.