Tucked away on a side street off Veterans Memorial Boulevard, the small, nondescript Shyan's Kitchen building can be easy to miss. But one step inside the restaurant and the scent of rich Indian curries and fiery Pakistani spice blends creates a bold presence that's hard to ignore.
Owner Irfan Khan opened the Metairie restaurant in spring, after selling Salt N Pepper, his hole-in-the-wall Pakistani shop on Iberville Street, last fall. Khan holds court at the eatery most nights, greeting guests when they walk in the door, popping into the kitchen to check on the cooks and returning with trays of fragrant basmati rice and silver serving dishes brimming with aromatic curries.
There's a tandoori oven — a hallmark of Indian and Pakistani cuisines — from which the cooks pull puffy rounds of blonde naan, chewy, steaming slabs of bread stuffed with garlic and spices. The clay oven also acts as the hearth from which a selection of tandoori-style grilled meats, including tender yogurt-marinated chicken tikka boti, emerge charred and succulent.
Khan emigrated to New Orleans from the Kashmir territory, and the cuisine at his restaurant reflects the region's marriage of northern Indian and Pakistani flavors. In line with the predominantly Muslim population of that area, the meat is prepared according to halal guidelines. Vegetarian dishes feature strongly on the menu, and there are a few Middle Eastern and Mediterranean staples as well, including a thick, almost sandy hummus and dark brown orbs of fried falafel, the exteriors of which give way to bright green, herbaceous centers.
Vegetable samosas — deep-fried purses of chickpea dough — are filled with a scorching potato and carrot mixture and flecked with slivers of red chilies and peppers. Chana masala, a stewed chickpea and tomato dish, carries soft heat with notes of ginger, garlic and cardamom. Aloo gobi packs more powerful flavors with strong curry spice heavy with cloves and turmeric. The tastes and textures of the potatoes and cauliflower are supple in comparison, but the dish has a cohesive feel to it.
Indian cooking is no stranger to heavy cream, but the dishes here are stronger on the spice front, and oil, rather than dairy, helps flavors coalesce. Cumin, turmeric and coriander feature strongly in chicken tikka masala, but the sauce lacked the buttery richness I desired. A light-green raita adds a cooling element to some of the spicier dishes, but the dairy solids from the yogurt separated into a watery mix.
Khan features goat meat prominently on his menu, a nod to the family feasts he grew up with at his grandfather's farm in the Himalayas. Simmered bone-in, the tender, dark meat slips freely from the cartilage. The slightly gamey flavor of the goat is well-suited to a dish of slowly stewed spinach (saag gosht), in which oil slicks bob on top of a dark masala curry fragrant with ginger, garlic and coriander.
Some of the dishes go heavy on oil, but it's a great excuse to mop up the delicious mess with naan or paratha, a fried Pakistani flatbread.
There is no alcohol served at the restaurant, but icy mango lassis and steaming cups of chai do their part to supplement an authentic dining experience. Shyan's Kitchen might be tucked away on a side street in the suburbs, but the food here is a testament to the cuisines of a region much farther away.