[Sidebar] November 9 - 16, 2000
[Food Reviews]
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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.

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