2717 West Main Street
Good restaurants are hard to find… And good Indian restaurants, in my opinion, are positively an endangered species.
I say this for several reasons. First of all, most Indian restaurants serve inexpensive buffets at lunch, which makes them exceedingly popular with the corporate crowd. This is just fine, should you be dining at the noon hour…. However, showing up in the evening can often be a significantly less than edifying gastronomic experience, as a number of Indian eateries with which I am familiar simply recycle the noonday fare for dinner patrons. In other words, the fodder you’re so happily chowing down may have spent the greater part of the afternoon wasting away in the nether regions of a steam table, losing color, flavor, texture, and a lion’s share of its nutritional value.
Secondly, Indian cuisine’s greatest asset, namely its expert use of aromatics – herbs, spices, and seasonings – may also, in less than reputable establishments, become its greatest liability, allowing all those flavors to successfully sequester a multitude of poorly prepared and/or inferior quality meat, fish, poultry, and vegetables.
On the other hand, Indian food that properly integrates colors, tastes, textures, seasonings, and aromas with top flight ingredients is an unmitigated joy. Indeed, there are precious few cuisines that can match its delectable diversities…
And I trust that the paragraph immediately above will serve as an appetizing intro to what is certainly one of the best Indian restaurants I have encountered in quite some time: the Spice Kitchen. Tucked away in a Ridge Pike strip mall, and a scant six months old as of this writing, Spice Kitchen is an establishment that is surely worth seeking out.
The interior is simple and sedate, boasting handsome light & dark orange-tinted walls, crisp white tablecloths & maroon cloth napkins; service is exceedingly knowledgeable (the gentleman who served us on two occasions obviously knew his stuff and made several right-on recommendations); and the food is pristinely fresh, made to order, and seductively seasoned.
You begin with a complimentary basket of papadums – wafers made with finely ground lentils – accompanied by a trio of condiments: tamarind sauce, zippy onion relish, and mint-cilantro. Papadums can – and often do – vary in both taste and texture, depending upon their preparation. I’ve sampled some that were unappetizingly heavy on the palate and others that were off-putting “fishy.” But have no fear, the representatives proffered here are delicately crisp & crunchy and addictively flavored with roasted cumin seeds.
Among the appetizers, the chaats – the Indian equivalents of salad – are particularly noteworthy. But don’t look for greenery here. The aloo chaat, for example, is comprised of a grilled cutlet of fried mashed potatoes spruced up with a variety of spices; the pappri chaat has a foundation of lentil wafers topped with chickpeas, potatoes, and sprinkling of roasted cumin. In both cases, tamarind & mint chutneys and yogurt play strong supporting roles. Chaats would never be characterized as “eye candy”; but what they lack in the optical art department is more than compensated for in the incredible coalescence of tastes and textures. And be forewarned, even if specified “mild,” these items still deliver a nice kick to the taste buds.
“Chicken 65” is another highly recommended prelude. Generous chunks of boneless chicken breast are marinated in a variety of red-tinged spices and yogurt flavored with curry leaves and ginger garlic. The result is an extraordinarily attractive and delicious dish that, like the aforementioned chaats, also generates a comforting degree of heat. Spice-wise, the presentation of stir-fried mushrooms with peppers and onions is a bit more subdued but no less pleasing to the palate.
For those seeking more familiar Indian starters, the vegetable samosas (deep-fried vegetable triangles filled with green peas, potatoes, and spices) and pakoras (mixed vegetables deep fried in a spiced batter) are always a good bet here.
Main courses continue the kitchen’s exemplary work… and there are a variety options to consider. Among the vegetarian entrées, I would heartily endorse a personal fave: the baigan bharta. Here you have eggplant broiled in the tandoor oven and then slowly simmered with tomatoes, onions, and an ingratiating blend of spices. Simple but seductive. Equally recommended is the aloo gobhi, fresh cauliflower prepared with potatoes and cooked with ginger and tomatoes.
Other items, namely chicken and lamb, present potential diners with a plethoric variety of options. When it comes to lamb, I would go straight for the saag (spinach) entrée. The greenery is delicately seasoned and exhibits just the right amount of creaminess; and the lamb is melt-in-your-mouth tender. Top-notch in every respect.
When it comes to the fowl, the chicken tikka masala is difficult to resist. Tender pieces of boneless breast of chicken are barbecued in the tandoor and then cooked in a mild, addictively creamy tomato/onion sauce. The chicken balti, an evening special, however, is considered more authentic, as it commingles morsels of chicken with peppers and onions, sans cream. It also offers up a bit more heat than the masala.
Goat is highly prized among Indian dishes; so if you consider yourself adventurous of palate, it is certainly worth a try. And what does goat taste like…? Well… it tastes like, yes… goat. In point of act, in both flavor and consistency, it is somewhat akin to venison. Goat is low in fat, high in protein, and infinitely more digestible than either beef or pork. The aforementioned saag would be an excellent match… ditto the kadahi, tender morsels paired with fresh tomatoes, green pepper, and spices.
And now a word about those possibly incendiary seasonings. You will note a number of vindaloo presentations on the menu… These originated in the state of Goa on the southwestern coast of India and are the hottest of the curry dishes (and I do mean hot). So be forewarned. Which leads to another matter… Your server will ask if you prefer your dishes “hot,” “medium,” or “mild.” Unless you’re accustomed to Indian cuisine, I would suggest that “mild” is most assuredly the better part of valor, as even the “medium” option generates a significant amount of heat.
In that regard, two side dishes are essential. The first is the cucumber raita. This is a cooling blend of diced cucumbers and yogurt that will not only ameliorate the various spicy onslaughts but also head off any potential peristaltic indispositions. Secondly, in Indian eateries, bread is not included in the price of your meal but it is always worth the modest added expense. Spice Kitchen’s menu lists eleven (sometimes elaborate) possibilities… however, in my opinion, the simpler, the better: I clearly prefer the naan. This is white bread that is baked in the tandoor oven and subsequently emerges golden brown, delightfully puffy, and refreshingly unadorned. It is also yet another delicious foil for those possibly lethal spices.
When it comes to dessert, you (obviously) want something cool and refreshing. And kulfi (Indian ice cream), when it is made in-house, as it is here, is just the ticket. Indian ice cream is much thicker than the American version and may be flavored with a variety of different items, including almonds, pistachios, dried fruits, saffron, and cardamom. Recently sampled, for instance, was the orange kulfi, which was a benchmark effort and extraordinarily soothing and delicious.
The Spice Kitchen serves its lunch buffet from 11:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 11:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Dinner is served Tuesday – Sunday from 5:30 p.m. The restaurant is closed on Monday.
If you enjoy authentic, lovingly prepared and beautifully presented Indian cuisine, the Spice Kitchen should be at the very top of your dining agenda. Just be sure to BYOB.
The Artful Diner
Diner is an independent, freelance food writer. His latest review and an archive of past reviews for restaurants around the country and the world can be found on this site on the REVIEWS page.
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