Village Restaurant offers primer in traditional Pakistani cookery
You don’t need to take a geography lesson before you walk into Village Restaurant, one of only a couple of eateries in Indianapolis featuring Pakistani cuisine. But it wouldn’t hurt to know a bit about the terrain of this sixth most populous nation, situated between those blurry geographical distinctions of the Middle East and Central Asia. The skinny country sweeps upward from mangrove swamps along the Arabian Sea to the rugged, snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas in the north. To the west, tribal territories on the steppe border Afghanistan, and Punjab on the east straddles the border with India. Pakistan’s diverse landscape influences its wide-ranging cuisine, which includes fragrant curries, meaty frontier dishes and heavily seasoned kabobs. Indeed, Pakistanis eat about three times as much meat as neighbor India, though you can certainly get your fill of vegetables at Village.
You might, however, want to call for directions before you head up Lafayette Road in search of this curious restaurant, lest you get lost in a somewhat desolate conglomerate of strip malls. The eatery doesn’t reside in the most inviting of commercial districts, tucked in a row of storefronts next to a tile shop and Spiceland Asian groceries, where you can get many of the ingredients used in your meal. A grand opening sign dated from May still hangs above the entrance, and somewhat sparse crowds indicate a restaurant still struggling to find a faithful following.
But Village Restaurant is one more in a host of recent openings that represent just how much Indy’s international character is changing, and you’ll do well to try out this unique place, if only to experience the subtle nuances that distinguish this cuisine from others. For brave diners wanting a truly one-of-a-kind dining experience, you can stop in from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sundays for a brunch of traditional Pakistani dishes that includes “paya,” cow’s feet slow cooked with a special blend of spices, as well as sweet halwa and puffs of rich fried puri bread.
For a more subdued but no less tasty experience, the lunch buffet ($7.99) is a good way to sample more familiar dishes, as well as to assess the flavors that distinguish Pakistani cuisine. Alongside traditional tandoori items and mild but flavorful kormas and biryanis, a nice selection of vegetables, including a wonderful mélange of carrots and cabbage, as well as a very respectable garlic naan, makes for a nicely comforting lunch, and unusual ingredients like goat and a variety of chutneys set this buffet apart from others. The environment is also a notch spiffier than you’d expect from the outside; deep blue walls, scarlet carpeting and colorful scenes of Pakistani tribesman on the frontier provide a nice backdrop to the cuisine.
Service can be a bit by committee, and the staff tends to be more friendly when there’s a bigger crowd around. On a second visit for dinner, a brusque waiter was ready to take our order seconds after we’d sat down. The menu indicates that the folks at Village Restaurant want to be “Keepers of the Tradition,” however, and with a little probing, they will lead you toward the most authentic Pakistani dishes. Availability of certain dishes is sometimes in question, but we were able to get everything we requested.
At dinner, we chose the vegetable pakora ($2.99) and dahi bara ($3.99) for starters. The pakora had plenty of seasoning, though the fritters were a bit light on vegetables and heavy on breading, in contrast to some tasty eggplant pakora we’d had on the buffet. A typical “chaat” or snack dish, the dahi bara consisted of delicate, if a bit watery, lentil dumplings in a tangy combo of tamarind chutney and yogurt. Among breads, the onion kulcha ($2.49) was a wonderful rich flatbread stuffed with well-caramelized onions. Whole-wheat tandoori roti ($1.49), however, was a tad tough and lacking flavor.
For entrees, our various waiters steered us first toward the behari kebab ($9.99). The menu describes these strips of beef as “extensively marinated” in ginger, garlic and papaya, and the tenderizing effect of the papaya rendered this meat as tender as any we’d had — almost without any recognizable texture. But the slightly acrid and decidedly piquant spicing made this one of the more flavorful dishes of the evening. Goat korma ($9.99) included hunks of surprisingly lean bone-in goat, though the sauce wasn’t quite as thick and rich as kormas we’d had. Chicken Village Kahari ($10.99), named for the frying pan it’s served in, came bathed in a complex, aromatic sauce of onions, tomatoes, ginger and chilis — lingering flavors that helped us understand just what makes Pakistani cuisine deliciously distinct.
4734 Century Plaza Rd.
Wednesday-Monday: 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.; 5-10 p.m.
Food: Three stars
Atmosphere: Three stars
Service: Three stars
Nonsmoking, Handicapped accessible
Recommended dishes: garlic naan, onion kulcha, goat korma, chicken village kahari