Pure Indian Cuisine in Sudbury

Dec. 3 2014

By Jordana Bieze Foster

Garlic naan (pictured) is just one of six varieties of the pillowy Indian bread on the menu at Paani.               Jordana Foster

Garlic naan (pictured) is just one of six varieties of the pillowy Indian bread on the menu at Paani. Jordana Foster

Paani, you had me at “Goan fish curry.”

The first and last time I had Goan fish curry was when vacationing in Goa, a tropical region on the western coast of India. The dish, chunks of tender white fish stewed in a luxuriously thick sauce of ginger, tamarind, and coconut milk, was one of the culinary highlights of our visit, but something I’d never seen on a menu at an Indian restaurant in the States.
So when I saw Goan fish curry on the menu at Paani, on route 20 in Sudbury, I was simultaneously excited to try their version and a little apprehensive that it wouldn’t compare to the delectable dish etched in my memory.

As it turns out, the Goan fish curry at Paani was every bit as sumptuous as the one I’d savored while looking out over the Arabian Sea. And although Paani’s ambitious menu features vegetarian and nonvegetarian dishes with origins ranging from Goa to Hyderabad (best known for biryani) to the northern region that owners Vimi and Surendra Verma once called home, I have yet to try anything at Paani I wouldn’t order again in a heartbeat.

There are plenty of menu items that will be familiar to most American fans of Indian cuisine, including samosas, pakoras, kabobs (chicken, lamb, or salmon), and six types of naan. The silky spinach curry sauce accompanying cubes of cheese in saag paneer can also be paired with chicken or lamb. And the tangy, spicy Goan-style vindaloo sauce—by far the hottest dish we tried—is available with chicken or lamb.

But less familiar selections are no less satisfying. We loved the aloo chaat papri starter—a mélange of diced potatoes, chickpeas, chopped onions, and crispy fried dough layered with sauces and spices and topped with an attractive sprinkling of pomegranate seeds.

The chicken tikka starter is a generous serving of mango-yogurt marinated, tandoor-roasted cubes of boneless chicken thighs, served with a sauce trio of tangy tamarind, cool raita (yogurt cucumber sauce, a little thinner and spicier than at many Indian restaurants in the US), and cilantro-mint chutney (my favorite). The prawns curry masala features good-sized, perfectly cooked prawns bathed in a sumptuous coconut-milk sauce that gets its lovely pink color from the Indian kokum fruit. And the lowly cauliflower shines in banarasi aloo gobi, with florets as tender as the chunks of potato that accompany them, all seasoned with onion, ginger, turmeric, and cumin.

Eggplant is one of the ingredients I think pairs particularly well with Indian flavors, but something that, for whatever reason, was hard to find when my husband and I were in India, so I was thrilled to find that Paani’s menu features three different entrees showcasing the oft-unappreciated vegetable. We sampled the Hyderabadi-style bagarey baigan, featuring tandoor-roasted eggplant, which was a bowl of smoky, garlicky goodness.

The chicken tikka starter is served with a sauce trio of tangy tamarind, cool raita, and cilantro-mint chutney.

The chicken tikka starter is served with a sauce trio of tangy tamarind, cool raita, and cilantro-mint chutney.

On the dinner menu, starter prices range from $6 to $14; entrees run from $12 to $24. The lunch menu includes naan roll-ups ($10-12) and thali plates ($12-$14), which include two menu items plus choice of appetizer, dal, basmati rice, and naan. I have not yet been to Paani for lunch, but that sounds like the deal of the century.

Dessert options include kulfi (ice cream), kheer (rice pudding), and gulab jamun (dumplings in a sweet saffron syrup). But don’t be surprised if you don’t have room. We found that one starter, three entrees, and an order of naan was more than enough for two hungry diners.

Wine lovers who have grown accustomed to the bare-bones offerings at most Indian restaurants will be pleasantly surprised by Paani’s impressive wine list, which features 10 whites and 12 reds from around the world, with prices ranging from $26 to $95 per bottle and $7 to $11.50 per glass. The beer list features five bottled beers from India, including a couple we hadn’t heard of. Nonalcoholic beverages include three types of lhassi (a chilled yogurt smoothie): traditional mango, sweet rosewater, and a savory version with salt, pepper, and spices.

We found the service to be both efficient and personal. Coincidentally, both times we dined at Paani the owners were covering for a server who had called in sick, but there were no noticeable delays or problems with our orders.

Paani is a small place, with seating for about 20 people, so reservations are recommended at peak times. Twice on a Saturday evening, we saw a walk-in couple snag the last remaining two-top, but that’s a gamble I personally wouldn’t want to take. Everything on the menu is also available for takeout.

I don’t know when I’ll be back in India, but I know where I’ll be going in the meantime to get my authentic Indian food fix.