By Jeff Berg
Jaan is owned and operated by Syed Hassan, whose other cafe is located in Scotland, of all places. But it is a darn good thing that he ended up in Las Cruces to offer a similar bill of fare to southern New Mexico.
The decor of the restaurant is simple and pleasing. Two white tablecloths drape each table, and there are accents of blue throughout, including cleverly hung pieces of cloth on the walls and blue cushions on the seats. Blue candles are used on each table, and gentle azure ceiling lights add a dash of color to the dining area. The experience is aided by the gentle Indian music piped in the background.
The menu is incredibly diverse, and it covers 12—yes, 12—pages. Appetizers include several different pakoras (kind of like Indian tempura) soups, samosas (pastry filled with spices and veggies and then baked) or a combo plate.
Indian cooking includes many dishes that are built around sauces, with various degrees of heat, from none to pass-the-water. Jaan's vast selection of entrees covers all types of Indian cooking, and all levels of spiciness. At Jaan, I have been introduced to several different specialties that I was not familiar with including nawabi and korma. Each variation of these dishes is a one-dish meal; both can be made with meat or just veggies, and both have a unique creamy, delicately sweet sauce. The veggie nawabi has peas, carrots, potatoes and other good stuff in a sauce made of cream, ground cashews, raisins and almond flakes.
My most recent trip found me ordering vegetable korma (carnivores—just imagine chicken, lamb or prawns in each spot where I mention vegetables, and you can follow along, too). The pleasantly spiced sauce was made with cream and coconut cream. There are other variations of korma, which are somewhat spicier. Gringo that I am, my korma was mild and smooth. Vegans can have a field day here, too.
In previous trips to Jaan, I have had biryani (a medium-spiced fried-rice dish made with meat, prawns or veggies), palak (a creamy spinach-and-cheese dish that can also be made with prawns or meat) and a veggie ginger massala, which has a thick sauce with a hint of garlic.
Other traditional specialties include rogan josh, a sauce made with onion, tomato and subtle spices, and jalfrezi, a spicy sauce with green chile, coriander and veggies. Each of these plates is also served with your choice of chicken, lamb, prawns or vegetables.
Then there is the bread. Eleven selections of Indian bread are listed on the menu, covering everything from naan (like a warm thick tortilla) to chapatti, which is like a regular, albeit thin, tortilla, to parathas, which are unleavened breads, filled with lamb or veggies.
If you have never had Indian food before, it might be best to order a dish with a mild sauce, a side of rice (there are eight different flavors) and an order of bread. The peshwari (filled with almonds, raisins and coconut) and cheese naan are outstanding.
Your food is delivered on a small cart that is heated, and a small warming tray is placed on your table to ensure that your order stays warm as you try to decide what to sample next. Portions are generous, but not burdensome.
At press time, Jaan had not yet acquired its liquor license, but will certainly be serving a variety of wines and such as soon as the license is approved.
To top off your meal, a hot towel, gracefully scented with rose, is brought for each person at your table. Jaan has thought of everything.
Prices for entrees are in the $10-18 range, with side orders of bread or rice costing a few dollars more. Service, which was slow when Jaan first opened, has improved dramatically, and is attentive and knowledgeable. A small lunch buffet is served each day, a bit pricey at $13. (The slightly less fancy India Palace located at 5380 N. Mesa in El Paso has a great buffet for about $8.)
Jaan has added a touch of class to the community, and even though there of course is not a dress code, it wouldn't hurt you to wear something besides your cutoffs and T-shirt while dining here.
Jaan is a great and needed addition to Las Cruces' dining scene, and I find it is much easier to breeze by our 30-plus burrito bastions as I dream of ordering some pasanda.