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Attaining Nirvana 

click to enlarge PHOTO BY NICOLE CARROLL

Newcomers to Indian food often assume the spicy, curry-filled cuisine will make them sweat like a stroll in the August heat. However, Nirvana's (4308 Magazine St., 894-9797; www.insidenirvana.com) richly flavored Indian cuisine puts these vindaloo virgins' misconceptions to rest.

  "We want to educate customers one by one," says Anila Keswani, owner of Nirvana. This lesson takes place in a unique culinary classroom. Within walls bedecked with artistic depictions of the Hindu gods, customers dine on popular meals such as chicken tikka masala, a "universal dish" of roasted chicken breast and bell peppers topped with a cream sauce.

  Drawing inspiration from European curry houses, the Keswani family opened Taj Mahal, their first Indian eatery, in Metairie in 1982. Anila describes her late husband, Har, as the driving force behind the restaurant's creation. "His cooking capability and his passion started it," she says.

  Nirvana was established in 1999 and has since become the go-to place for locals craving savory onion pakoras, warm and chewy naan and tall glasses of mango lassi.

  Anila originally discussed the possibility of opening the Uptown restaurant with her son, Anjay. He held a specific visualization of what he wanted in developing Nirvana, from its convenient location to the items appearing on the menu. Keeping a younger demographic in mind, he wanted to place the restaurant on Magazine Street between Napoleon Avenue and Louisiana Avenue.

  "My son is the visionary behind the restaurant today," she says. "(He suggested that) 'Uptown was the way of the future.'"

  This strategy to attract new patrons paid off for the Keswani family. Nirvana not only captured the attention of area university students, but also became a popular vegetarian destination, because the menu includes an array of meatless options.

  "Over the last 10 years, Magazine Street has blossomed in that area," Keswani says.

Nirvana has thrived at its Uptown location since 1999.

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