More of a good thing
by Bill Rodriguez
520 Main St., Warren 245-4500
Open Mon-Thurs, 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri-Sat, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
Sun, noon-10 p.m.
Major credit cards
Sidewalk access (two steps)
If there's such a thing as too much of a good thing, word hasn't gotten around
to India -- the restaurant, not the country. It started out as a Providence
fast-food place on Thayer Street, Curry In a Hurry, specializing in Bombay
street vendor food. The first India restaurant replaced that in 1997, on Hope
Street. A second India opened downtown, and now -- years after the Thayer
venture closed -- there is a third India in Warren. If energetic restaurateur
Amar Singh maintains this pace, there's hope that within our lifetime an
unexpected vindaloo jones will be able to be satisfied with a short trot
anywhere in the state.
The Warren establishment is a sprawling two-story place, with the upper floor
dedicated to private functions. Downstairs is a pleasant space, dominated by
those large portraits and paintings of daily life that give the downtown
Providence location such character. My favorite is the goatherd who's looking
up apprehensively as he clutches his charge. The walls are restful colors,
avocado and maroon. Large, gaudy centerpieces on the tables, festooned with
clear glass ovals, dwarf the candles they contain.
We started with a tasty stuffed paratha ($4), unleavened whole wheat
bread filled, by our choice, with roasted eggplant. Well-trained at Curry In a
Hurry, we've usually ordered one of the savory chaat street treats for
our appetizer at the other India restaurants: paapri chaat, described on
the menu as "Indian style nachos" because of its chickpea-flour chips; or
bhel puri, which has plenty of nuts and chutney. Both appetizers are
$3.50. This time, we thought we'd experiment with a variation and tried
chaana chaat ($2.50/$4.50), which is offered in both appetizer and
dinner sizes. Served over a crisp, paper-thin papadum, chickpeas
dominated, as with the above, but there were also pieces of pineapple along
with tomatoes and peas in the tamarind sauce. The menu warns that this is
chili-powder hot, but also be advised that those thin green rings are
jalapeños. The dish was delicious, the three of us agreed, but I noticed
that my companions were avidly sipping their mango lassis ($2.50) -- the
wonderful yogurt drink designed for its cooling benefits -- and I was the only
one who plunged back into the fire to finish it up.
Hotness in Indian dishes isn't as readily controllable as with some other
ethnic cuisines, where less or more chili can fine-tune the Scoville rating.
Combinations of spices such as mustard seed and ginger have to be in balance
with other flavors. So at India, since you don't want a recipe to be spoiled by
muting or pumping up its volume, your waiter will be glad to advise you about
how hot particular dishes are. The menu helps too, with the five basic "robust
curries" listed in order of spiciness, from the mild curried spinach
saag to the fork-bending vindaloo. With the curries, you specify
whether you want it with vegetables or farmer's cheese ($8 for dinner
portions), or your choice of meat or seafood ($9). Other curries, mostly
vegetarian medleys, are offered with specific ingredients.
To go with our entrées, we ordered a serving of naan ($2.50),
without which no Indian dinner is complete. We usually get the thin pita-style
bread topped with fresh shredded ginger and honey, but it's also offered
slathered with such things as basil pesto and, our choice, onion and cilantro.
It was hot and soft, but the cilantro was sparse.
The main dishes we chose ended up being moderately, and agreeably, hot. That
makes sense, since two of the three were masalas, the curry smack-dab in
the middle of the posted five-curry hotness range. One of us chose a special,
broiled rainbow trout masala ($11). Any spiciness on such a
delicate-tasting fish is a risk, but the lime juice marinade provided
additional flavor as well as moistness. You know how -- naughty, naughty --
crispy chicken skin can be the high point on a plate? Well, the pungent blend
of spices made the fish skin, which curled away here and there, a separate
treat. The veggie masala ($8) was also appreciated. Earthy with
fenugreek and cardamom, it had cauliflower dominating the vegetables on a bed
of basmati rice. I had the mixed grill kabobs ($15), served off their skewers
with two small mounds of rice, grilled green pepper and sweet onion. As with
the trout, in the middle was a small bowl of mint "chutney," a smooth variety
with a yogurt base. Again, a marinade rendered every grilled item succulent, no
matter how flavorfully charred some were. Nothing was over-cooked: not the
chicken, two tiny lamb chops, the swordfish or even the two shrimp.
To top things off we could have had mango ice cream or rice pudding, but chose
the gulab jamum ($2.50). Two small baked balls of cheese pastry, soaked
with honeyed syrup and sprinkled with nuts and fat, golden raisins. It was an
appropriately gaudy ending to a deliciously flamboyant meal.