Like the smoke that wafts from a burger grill or the steam you inhale from a bowl of pho, the smells associated with Indian cuisine have the might to make mouths immediately water, knees buckle and foreheads sweat in anticipation.
Those scents are the second thing you’ll take note of at Mughlai Fine Indian Cuisine. But first, you’ll notice something much harder to find at your local Indian restaurant: a beautiful atmosphere.
Most suburban Indian spots zero in on the food and maybe hang a few pictures in their strip-mall spaces. Opened two months ago in a standalone building near the Grapevine-Southlake border, Mughlai Fine Indian Cuisine is a restaurant that truly lives up to its billing.
Red and gold curtains hang along dark, wood-paneled walls. Whitewashed planks of wood hover above. Tables are decorated with tablecloths and wineglasses that sparkle under tasteful, subdued lighting. Young, enthusiastic servers dote and smile and mingle.
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It’s hard to think of another local Indian restaurant with an atmosphere as warm and inviting as this — except, of course, the original Mughlai in Dallas, opened six years ago by Sonia and Javeed Khan. The Dallas location remains popular, paving the way for a second venture, this one just around the corner from the Khan family’s Southlake home.
A nice atmosphere can make so-so food go down better, but make no mistake: Mughlai’s excellent food is what makes it worth the drive from Fort Worth.
One of the hallmarks of a good server is patience, and ours had it in spades. He helped us maneuver the large menu, and it still it took us a good 20 minutes to decide what to order, as we flipped through page after page of curries, biryanis, lentils, kebabs and other foods most closely associated with northern India cooking; an indecisive bunch, we ordered a little bit of everything.
Our meal automatically started with a complimentary basket of lentil chips and a pair of dipping sauces, one a zippy, bright green mint, the other a purple tamarind, whose sweetness complemented the likable blast of salt from the chips.
Light and thin, the chips made good companions for our drinks: housemade mint lemonade ($2.50), an Indian craft beer (there’s a full bar here, another Indian restaurant anomaly) and a salty lassi ($3), a whipped, pleasingly curt drink made of cumin, yogurt and cilantro.
Dishes here are served family-style, in round silver bowls called karahis, each with a large spoon. It’s the same concept as, say, Babe’s: Take a couple spoonfuls of what you want, pass it down. It makes for a fun, communal experience, especially with a lot of people and a lot of food.
Although technically an appetizer, there was enough of the vegetarian dish aloo papri chaat ($6) to split among our party of three. This concoction of soft, diced potatoes, tamarind chutney, chickpeas, yogurt and slivers of fried dough gave us a preview of what was to come: Flavors and textures that unfolded — and came together beautifully — with each bite.
The Dallas location has won hearts on the strength of its murgh tikka makhani ($14.50). Fans can breathe a sigh of relief: It’s great here, too. The dish looked like tomato soup, but an unassuming appearance gave way to a creamy stew of chicken chunks, roasted in a tandoor oven and tender to the touch, tomatoes and fenugreek that was as rich as it was spicy; we all eyed the last drop.
We argued which was better: the makhani or the jhinga masala nizami ($18.50), a half-dozen large shrimp tossed in an intensely aromatic curry sauce. The two dishes looked alike but had vastly different flavors. The nizami was earthier, less buttery and slightly spicier.
Most of the entrees are available in four spice levels: mild, medium, spicy and “Indian hot.” “Don’t order Indian hot,” our server told us. “Even Indians think it’s too hot.” We were thankful for the heat advisory; “medium” was pushing it.
Starches cost extra, but at least you have a choice of rice and nearly a half-dozen choices of bread. For the former, we went with the unobtrusive cumin rice ($5); it was more than enough for three.
For bread, our server recommended garlic naan bread ($4). Good call: We loved its crusty edges and doughy middle. And it wasn’t so garlicky that it numbed your taste buds.
Among the six desserts, we chose the gulab jamun ($5), bite-sized fried pastries — think doughnut holes — submerged in a cardamom-flavored sugar syrup. It cleansed our palates so well that we were ready for a whole new meal.