The first thing that struck me walking in the door of Azitra in Brier Creek was how elegant and beautiful the whole restaurant looked. From the colorful strip lighting in the foyer to the softly candlelit dining room, from the crisp white tablecloths and shining water goblets to the gorgeous decor and light fixtures, Azitra is definitely dressed to impress and screams “fine dining.” The second thing that struck me was the dozens of spice aromas I could pick up just on the walk to our table. I swear my mouth was watering before I even opened the menu. The third thing, and the most important, is how my experience at Azitra managed to completely exceed the high expectations set by my first two impressions!
The service was attentive and quick to take our drink orders, which was ideal considering how much I was already salivating. Azitra boasts an incredibly expansive wine selection that has won awards from Wine Spectator magazine for 9 consecutive years, but I’m not much of a connoisseur in that department, so I went with a very agreeable Paycheck Pilsner from Fullsteam in Durham on draft. They also have a variety of inventive cocktails and mocktails: my wife enjoyed a “Mumbai Rain” with banana liqueur, coconut rum, pineapple and orange juice. When the staff returned with our drinks, we were beyond ready to eat our way through Azitra’s lengthy yet well-curated menu.
Dinner at Azitra is served family style, with the individual dishes in large serving bowls and plenty of fragrant basmati rice served alongside to soak with their various gravies. One dish per person was plenty of food for our party. I recommend ordering one or two of their bread options as well, not only because they’re delicious but because I like to use a piece of bread to push the gravy and rice onto my fork. We tried their naan with and without garlic, as well as their Amritsari Kulcha filled with onion, potato, and coriander seed. All of their breads were tender and flaky, and the garlic naan is especially addictive if you enjoy garlic’s punch. The kulcha’s filling was a bit sparse, and somewhat underwhelmingly flavored among the heavily spiced specialties.
After a surprisingly brief wait, our orders hit the table. We had a mix of vegetarians and omnivores in our party so we were able to sample quite a few of Azitra’s offerings. Their interpretation of classic chicken tikka masala was bright with tomato and enriched with cream, and the bite-size pieces of white meat avoided drying out like so many lesser buffet versions. Lamb vindaloo was well balanced with acidity and spice without being overwhelming. My favorite meat dish of the night was definitely the Panch Poran Spiced Grouper, which featured grouper steaks cooked perfectly in a tomato gravy such that each drop was totally imbued with pleasant fishy flavor. Panch poran is a mix of five spices; cumin, fenugreek, nigella, black mustard, and fennel; and the anise and floral notes of this blend lifted the entire dish. After the flaky filets were gone, I found myself heaping rice into the dish in hopes of grabbing one more taste of that amazing sauce.
Eating the amazing vegetable forward Indian dishes at Azitra has me totally convinced that vegetarianism would be easy if I could replicate them at home. We sampled the Dal Makhni, an intensely savory lentil stew made rich with butter, as well as their Chana Masala with potatoes and chickpeas. Both dishes are so simple and straightforward, but they will make you forget all about the meat on the table with their bold spicing. Another big hit was the Bhindi Amchoor, featuring lightly sauced okra seasoned with amchoor, or dried green mango powder. Amchoor lends the dish a slightly sour, fruity brightness which works surprisingly well with earthy, vegetal okra. My favorite vegetable dish of the evening was Tofu Brussels Kadhai; kadhai referring to the flat-bottomed wok it was cooked in. After tons of gravies and curries, this dry stir-fry was a refreshing change of pace with an unconventional combination of cauliflower florets, thinly sliced brussel sprouts, and cubed tofu. Azitra’s “savory homestyle spice” they use to season the kadhai is both delicious and will quickly sneak up on you with heat if you scarf this dish down like I did. I don’t usually go out of my way to order tofu, being an omnivore, but I will definitely seek this dish out every time I visit Azitra in the future.
My family and I agreed that Azitra served up all killer and no filler – some of the best Indian food I’ve ever had and definitely the best I’ve had in the Triangle area. There’s something to order at this restaurant for everyone in your party no matter what their eating habits may be, and the family-style service really enables my favorite way to eat: grabbing spoonfuls of every dish on the table and passing to your neighbor so you feel like you’re at a feast. There’s no better dining experience, and there’s no better place to feast on fine Indian cuisine than Azitra.
Brier Creek Commons
8411 Brier Creek Pkwy
Raleigh, NC 27617