Nawab Indian Cuisine joins a growing trend of restaurants – those that value their vegan customers as seriously as they do their omni ones!
Located in a strip mall shopping center in Willaimsburg, VA, Nawab is pretty much what you’d expect from a nicer North Indian restaurant.
White cloth tablecloths.
Glass goblets for water that are continually refilled by an attentive server.
Indian music with a Punjabi beat playing softly in the background.
And the menu has all the classic dishes you would expect – the butter chicken, the chicken tikka masala, the palak paneer, the chana masala – and, of course the garlic naan!
But there’s something quite different about this menu …
All The Vegan Choices Are Clearly Marked!
Holy cow! If you’ve been vegan for awhile, you’re probably pretty familiar with Indian food and you know which items are “likely” to be vegan. Chana masala, baingan (eggplant), bhindi (okra), and vegetables vindaloo (veggies in a vinegar-y tomato sauce) are almost certain to be vegan. Everything else you have to guess and ask about, sometimes in multiple ways. “So this has no butter? Ok, and also it has no milk? Ok, and just to be clear, no yogurt … Oh, it does it does have yogurt. Well, then, what about Number 14?”
But at Nawab, everything vegan is marked on the menu with a V – and you have decent choices! (Gluten-free foods are also clearly notated.)
Let’s Get It Started In Here
For appetizers, Nawab has the standard three vegan ones – pakoras (vegetable fritters), gohbi manchurian (Indo-Chinese fried cauliflower), and samosas. (If I need to explain to you what a samosa is, you need to get out of the house more.)
We chose the pakoras and received 10; my traveling companion took six and I took four. I wound up with a potato pakora, a cauliflower pakora, an onion pakora, and what seemed to be a mixed pakora. I would have liked a mirch (hot pepper) pakora – my fave! But these were all tasty, non-greasy, and served with a green sauce and a tamarind sauce.
Onward To Entrees!
Nawab has at least a dozen vegetarian entrees, seven of which are vegan. (I love those odds!) Interestingly, one of the options is dal tadka made with yellow lentils. I say “interestingly” because although dals are the simplest, easiest, and cheapest thing to make at home, it’s somewhat difficult to find dals when eating out (unless on a buffet). Especially vegan dals.
A. decided to go with the chana masala.
I decided to break away from my usual bhindi and order baingain bhartha. That’s a bold step for me! I’m usually not too fond of eggplant. However, I’d recently been crushing on the baba ghanoush from Jasmine Grill. So I was feeling a bit … friendlier toward the nightshade than usual.
The rice was dairy free and we ordered rotis on the side. (If you don’t already know it, very few restaurant naans are dairy-free. Rotis are the way to go.)
True Story: When I first met my travel companion, he kept going on and on about baingan bhartha. Due to his slight British accent (his mother is British) and the fact I’d hung around a lot of Brits, I heard that as “Bangin’ Bertha!” I kept wondering who this Bertha gal was and why everyone thought she was so banging! I have to admit, I was sorta disappointed when I found out she wasn’t a real person, but only a popular North Indian eggplant dish.
Both entrees were solid. Non greasy. Fresh tasting ingredients. And …
Spice, Spice Baby!
There’s fewer things more disappointing in life than to go into an Indian restaurant and be served bland food.
Yet, it’s also hard to know exactly what spice level to order. A spice level 5 in one restaurant might be equivalent to a spice level 2 in another.
And if you’re a gori? You never know what spice level they are going to give you. Spice Level Zero is often a pretty good guess.
So I let my travel companion choose our spice level. He chose a “medium” spice – Spice Level 3.
This actually turned out to pack a little heat! (I could’ve gone up to a 4 with the chana – but no need to! If food is otherwise flavorful, heat matters less.)
I would not, for most people, recommend more than a 3 for the baingan bhartha. There’s something about that dish, maybe the creaminess of it – the spice level always starts out smooooth and then the peppers do a slow burn. A 3 at Nawab was absolutely perfect. I definitely do not think most people would want more than a 3 for this one.
So … Nawab is definitely nice if you like spice. Spicy people, start with 3 and work your way up or down from there. Non-spicy people, stick with a 1 or a 2.
Pardon the pictures. I was using my cell phone camera and it is notoriously hard to take a good restaurant photo of Indian food. So much is the red -brown color of Carolina clay (due to the dim lighting, spices, and onion/tomato masala). . Perhaps one day I’ll work up the nerve to start asking for fresh cilantro and diced onion to liven up these photos. In fact, we did ask for diced onion and lemon on the side of the chana. They forgot to bring it. But I will forgive them, because of …
We “finished” our food and had enough left for a “doggy box.” (Don’t worry – the doggy box was for A. – we would never give our dogs “Level 3 Spice”!)
Our server asked if we wanted dessert.
We don’t have much of a sweet tooth. A. looked at me. I raised my eyebrows at him and slightly shrugged: do as you wish.
He said, “No, thank you, we’re vegan, I’m sure you don’t have anything for us.”
“Oh! But we have a mango ice cream. Made here, in house, from mangos and coconut milk.”
A. looked at me queryingly. This time I only raised one eyebrow as I shrugged. “Ok,” he said. “We’ll share one!”
And WHAT a surprise!
Everything about this place had been good, even very good. The vegan labels on the menu were amazing. But nothing had been really … special.
Well, this was special. Like blow-your-comfy-walking-travel-shoes-Sketchers off special. Mango-coconut ice cream with a drizzle of raspberry glaze.
Our server came back to ask us how we liked it. “Excellent!” we said.
“We’ve been working on vegan desserts. We tried a rice pudding, but that was not too popular with Americans.”
(What a surprise! I know my British and Indian friends will hate me for this, but rice does NOT go in pudding. It simply does NOT. It’s just a very bad idea someone had once and everyone else was too polite to say anything.)
“We do have another vegan ice cream … rosewater … would you like to try that?”
Heck, YEAH – we would!
And THIS … was da bomb. Ice cream made with rosewater, cardamom, and coconut milk. Served over a dark chocolate drizzle with a pretty little edible flower.
It tasted as good as it looked.
And in case you think the serving size looked small – this was on a 12-inch-plus plate.
This was one of the most brilliant instances of fusion food I’ve ever encountered. Almost worth the trip to Williamsburg alone.
(Just joking, I’d also seriously suggest a visit to Colonial Williamsburg – it’s AMAZING. Plus a boat ride on the Alliance via Yorktown Charters. A relaxing experience – with vegan food options such as vegan hot dogs. Plus your “sailors” are extremely easy on the eyes. I dunno, when I travel my eyes sometimes get – tired – and one way of rejuvenating my vision is by watching handsome, healthy young men for a few hours.)
Obviously, when we dined Nawab had indoor seating. (We only saw two other parties dining.) However, since we are experiencing COVID and it’s not likely to go away anytime soon, I would strongly advise calling beforehand to confirm dining options and hours.
204 Monticello Avenue, Williamsburg, VA 23185