Bhojanic gives good signage. The restaurant's name, in curvy Hindi-esque script, glows a moody shade of burnt orange. A face made out of squiggly lines has a subtle but inviting cheekiness, reminiscent of an image contoured onto Madonna's hand during her power yoga phase. It clearly stands out from the other newly minted eateries (Amazing Thai, Ricardo's Mexican Grill, the forthcoming Moya) in the small strip mall on Clairmont Road that once housed Le Giverny.
Underneath the mystical moniker, a far more modest placard announces "Fusion Indian Tapas." I'm not sure what that portends, exactly, but I'm curious enough to find out on a recent Friday night.
Apparently, I'm not alone. I walk through the tinted door of the restaurant to find my cohorts smooshed into a corner at the end of a crowded bar. Hungry would-be patrons glower at seated folks who haven't even been served. The staff looks freaked. I soon learn it's the busiest night yet for this 4-month-old establishment.
Bhojanic is only open for dinner on Thursday and Friday nights, an intriguing limitation that seems to have drawn out the culinary sleuths of the neighborhood. Its owners -- Archna Becker, her parents, Purnima and Surender Malhotra, and brother Gaurav -- relocated their catering company to this space. The restaurant is supposed to be a side gig. We'll see how long that lasts in the face of its burgeoning popularity.
In fact, dinner may be too popular at the moment. We order drinks while we wait -- a flinty white Rioja and a creamy, tart mango lassi sprinkled with cardamom. We also request a few tapas, which turns out to be a smart move. It takes an hour to secure a table. Isn't it amazing what topics arise after you've burned through standard conversation with close friends during a long delay? We talk about death. We debate the merits of circumcision. We practice Kegel exercises (men can do those too, you know).
At last, we sit. And those tapas we ordered way back when? They finally arrive. What were meant as a nosh to tide us over have suddenly become our appetizers. No matter -- we're just grateful to have chow in front of us.
There isn't too much fusion employed in the menu, which gladdens me. The idea of calling small, traditional Indian dishes "tapas" is really the most fusiony concept in play here. In a town where vegetarian specialties from the south of India have star billing, this is some of the most vibrant northern Indian fare I've tasted in Atlanta.
Lusciously thick, smooth eggplant dip laced with caramelized onions is accompanied by cornmeal flatbread, a Punjab novelty. Alu tikki is a complex, satisfying jumble of sweet and pungent, pairing crispy potato patties with a chickpea curry and a drizzling of several chutneys. One fusion idea that does appear is chicken tikka marsala (the spiced tomato cream sauce that's a standard on most Indian menus) served with flaky Malaysian roti bread. Rip off a chunk of roti, dunk it in the rich sauce, fold and stuff in your mouth. Works for me.
Less successful is the Bhojanic shrimp, which strives to marry South Indian and Italian flavors. The curled little sea creatures are buried in a muddily sweet, deep brown sauce that ends up not having much affiliation with either cuisine.
Thalis -- the combo platters typical in South Indian restaurants -- usually come as round trays upon which five or six small dishes are served. Here, they're served on silver trays that look like oversized Hungry Man frozen dinners. In the corner where you'd usually find the reconstituted mashed potatoes, though, is a small salad garnished with mild carrot pickles.
Meat and vegetable curries served with the thalis change daily. You get your choice of two or three. You may score lamb curry, saag (creamed spinach with corn, or perhaps with paneer cheese) or melting, gently fragrant lentils of all shades. I'm never crazy about bony pieces of goat wallowing in curry sauce, and the variation here is no exception. It's the only disappointing curry I have, though. It's obvious there's a soulful, practiced hand guiding the food that comes from this kitchen.
Thalis also come with rice, chapati (whole wheat flatbread), a cucumber-yogurt sauce made with more care than one usually finds, and crispy papadam, the peppery cracker made from lentils. Yeah, it's a whole mess o' grub.
Lunch is a far more relaxed affair. Customers who are quickly becoming regulars linger over their meals. Children are welcomed and treated graciously. You order at the counter during the day, and an enthusiastic member of the Malhotra family brings out the food with pride. They have time to suggest you try one of their chat, the Indian street snacks, or ply you with a generous wedge of cheesecake (intoxicatingly imbued with saffron, cardamom and pistachios) that shouldn't be missed.
"We'll have jazz on Fridays starting at the end of the month," Gaurav mentions at lunch. I smile at him and remember my dinner the previous Friday, when his sister came bounding over to our table while we were waiting for our check to be processed. "My God!" she cried. "Have you eaten yet?" We assured her that we had, and she laughed, shaking her head. "We've had a crazy, crazy night."
There's an understatement. I dig me some jazz, but I think I'll stick to Bhojanic's lunchtime service for the time being.
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