My friend chose Indian cuisine for tonight’s dinner, wanting to enjoy a healthier option, as a pose to our original plan of burgers.
I have driven past their familiar store front several times. The orange and black colour scheme is eye catching from the road. Peering inside I couldn’t see much thanks to their dim lighting. Though once in, I saw white walls and red booths, and wall trim in a dark wood brown. This wood matched the type and colour of the frames handing above. Inside these frames was a series of oil painting. Each represented a traditional East Indian scene, a prince in a gold carriage led by two handsome white steeds. Two woman dressed in colourful saris balancing parcels on their head as they walk pass a beach with fishermen working in the water. And a man and woman riding a camel in a gold and orange desert. Across from this scene were two aches built into the wall. These alcoves with their dome shapes made the best place for a shrine. Stone statues, Lotus flower tea lights, flowered garlands and other traditional elements sat on display. They took time and pride to keep this ledge dust free.
Their handsome stone faced bar was left unused, even with the placement of three high top stools. Though they were not meant for seating as the counter surface in front was covered with chocolate, newspapers and used more as a place for storage. And realistically you would want guests seated so close to your cash register and it frequently opened and shut throughout the night. Behind this was their kitchen, closed off and separated by a cabinet door. Peering in you could see a few men bussing dishes in the back. Extra place mats, utensils, and supplies were kept in a cabinet that had an electronic fire place hanging over it.
Two young girls in traditional garments worked the front of house. They were polite and helpful. Armed with great knowledge, they guided those, like ourselves, who are unfamiliar with the cuisine. They answered all questions with patience and repeated descriptions of dishes as needed. During slower periods they spoke to each other casually as if related. From our table I was able to over hear too much of their details. Concerns on personal life to complaints of work to do.
Each table was set with white table cloths and paper place mats. These mats gave diners an educational explanation of spices found common in Indian cuisine. Cumin seeds, cinnamon, cardamom, and curry leaves. It spoke of their health benefits and their role in the cooking. We were both intrigued at the restaurant’s label of South Indian cuisine. The differentiation from regular East Indian cuisine merited additional questions. One of the two girls took the time to explain it all to us. South Indian cuisine is most noticeably different in that their cooking uses no dairy. For the consistency of milk they use coconut milk. Their curries are made from tamarind and tomato, not just coconut. I was surprised to see “Dine Out” menus at each table, and to see them professionally printed in colour and on hard stock paper. Dine out offers a tasting of a restaurant at very reasonable prices. On another day we would not be able to get all that we did for $18. Though food does come as smaller portions. I think this is a good way to try new things without much commitment or any great feeling of loss if you don’t like it. Starters, Entrees, and Desserts.
Each of our three courses were served on metal plates. With lots of unknown spices and flavours new to me, I found our meal hard to describe or review. With no reference point I am unable to deem what I liked and what is good. I think the best is to try it all for yourselves. I did however get very thirsty and was very thankful to have my taller cylinder of water refilled regularly.
We were first presented with an assortment of chutneys to accompany our meal. The tomato and coconut ones were on the spicy side, and the mango and apple fairly sweet. My guest and I both found the later most appealing and apple our favourite. A few dishes were already spicy and the addition of a spicy chutney was unnecessary for us. According to our server, chutneys l are popular dips. In regular Indian cuisine they usual come in coconut. However South Indian cuisine offers a larger variety, using a lot more fruits. This was well exampled by our four portions above.
“Dosa crispy rice & lentil crepes”, served with lentil soup and a cool coconut chutney. This large shell is an impressive sight, and this isn’t even the full size that it regularly comes it. The wrapping is crisp and slightly on the oily side. The filling is loosely wrapped by the rounded crepe shell. The potato, onion, and pea inside reminded me that of a samosa’s. We agree that this was enjoyable to eat and deemed it the best dish of the night.
“Meen puttu seamed ling cod”, tossed with green chillies, turmeric, coconut, and mustard seeds. Texturally it felt like tiny rice grains or sand. This is not what we expected when we ordered fish. Especially as we were unable to make out or taste any of the supposed ling cod. We heavily used our platter of chutneys to coax in some flavour.
“Pepper lamb”, tender lamb pieces boldly spiced with black pepper, cardamom, fennel, and coriander; then teased with a touch of mint. This was a strong and sharp first spoonful. My guest passed on the lamb knowing she would miss its actual lamb-y taste, which she likes. She was right. With all the spices I couldn’t tell what protein I was having, if not for the menu. It was a fair amount of meat, each cut up into manageable bites. The rice was a welcomed base, its light airy taste and texture helped to better balance all the heaviness found in the stew. I suspected the rice was cooked in coconut milk to give it that extra freshness. The potato sides added substance and the different sauces added a new taste component. I found the yam purée too grainy and therefor off putting. The white sauce reminded me of a mild tzatziki, it helped to cool things down when it got too spicy. And the crisp fried chip was a fun crunch.
“Allepey chemen”, white prawns cooked perfectly in a gravy of coconut milk, fenugreek, fennel and ginger; then tempered with a dash of coconut oil. Mild and much lighter compared to the lamb. With five pieces of shrimp you had a fair amount to have with your rice and sides. Though we also found extra empty shrimp tails in the mix.
“Gulab Jamun”. A classic Indian sweet, melt in you mouth milk solids, soaked in sugar syrup. This was my favourite of the two. The syrup gave an extra sweetness and softened the bite. Though towards the bottom things got too sweet when the syrup soaked through.
“Kesari Halva-style”. Cream of wheat flavoured with saffron or pineapple. I can best describe this as a thick cake, with its chewy texture and glutinous notes.
Would I come back? – Undecided.
Would I recommend it? – Undecided.
I am very inexperience with East Indian cuisine, let alone South Indian cuisine. All that I tried this evening was for the first time. And without a comparison point for reference I cannot give an honest opinion. Did dishes taste like how they normally do? Were things presented how they normally look? Was there a twist? Is this fusion? With an equally inexperience dining partner we were unable to decipher any of the questions above. All I can say is none of it is bad, but this isn’t the type of food I would normally gravitate towards. There are flavours I am unfamiliar with and would not immediately crave. Maybe I should come back with someone who does have experience with this type of cuisine to get a better experience. Don’t deny your cravings.