Sunday, January 12, 2014

Flavors of India

Another Indian restaurant on Washington Avenue? There is no shortage of chicken tikka masala on this corner of Lark St-Washington Ave-Central Ave. But having eaten at each of these Indian/Pakistani establishments (hello lunch buffet!), not all are made the same. Indian cuisine can be just as diverse as Chinese or American food, varying from region to region. Flavors of India embraces this diversity by featuring traditional Indian cuisine from North to South, East to West and most uniquely a fusion of Indo-Chinese food. 

It was intimidating stepping into an empty restaurant but putting our skepticism aside, we went for it and couldn't have been more surprised by the flavors we encountered. It was a chilly Monday night and we chose to warm up with cups of milky chai tea. We knew we were in for a treat when we were greeted by comforting aromas of earthy cardamom and warm cinnamon, none of that pre-mixed commercial tea bag crap. It was a good sign for things to come. 

The menu is lengthly. We wished we had come for lunch buffet so we could try a bit of everything but this being our first time, we chose some standards. To balance our meat entrees, we started with an appetizer of gobhi pakoras aka fried cauliflower. These came out piping hot and the chickpea batter made for a delightful light and crispy shell. The star of the dish however were the accompanying condiments. A trio of homemade and fresh chutneys elevated these fritters to a whole new level with every bite. Our favorite was a sweet and sour tamarind sauce with plump raisins but don't count out the tomato chutney and cilantro mint chutney. 

J loves getting lamb at Indian restaurants and went with the house masala. Our previous Indian dining experience left us a bit disappointed because of lack of spice and overwhelming amount of butter in our masala sauce. What a difference at Flavors of India! Spices here pack a punch and are delicately balanced in a creamy tomato sauce with just enough butter. It's one of the most flavorful masala sauces I've had in the Capital Region and by far my favorite to date. Plus they ask you how spicy hot you want it here. The lamb in this dish was a tikka kebab made with ground lamb and spices and the gaminess paired great with the masala sauce. I'm beginning to become a lamb convert. A side of chewy and buttery garlic naan completed the dish. 

My interest was piqued by the Indo-Chinese menu. According to the menu, the cuisine originated from a small Chinese community that lived in Calcutta and this fusion blends Chinese seasoning and cooking according to Indian taste. The results are familiar Chinese flavors that are not quite Chinese. 

Billed as "an Indian favorite fusion food," I ordered the Chicken Chilli. Much like our order of Tikka Masala, our waiter made sure to ask how spicy I wanted the dish to be and informed us that this was a dry dish. I didn't quite understand until it came out. The chicken was lightly fried and sauteed in a chili sauce with onions and pepper. There's no familliar gravy sauce to dip your naan in like most traditional Indian fares, but to be honest this dish stood perfectly fine by itself with a side of basmati rice. Familiar notes of soy, ginger, and garlic lends itself to the Chinese end of things but something about the chilli sauce leaned more toward the Indian spectrum. It was like eating an Indian version of an Americanized General Tso without the cloyingly sweet sauce and heavily fried battered chicken. For more of an Indo-Chinese fusion, you could order its paneer Indian cheese counterpart. But for me, my fusion revelation came when I added the condiments from earlier to the Chicken Chilli. A few spoonfuls of the tamarind sauce transformed the dish into a sweet and sour chicken with a spicy kick and a spoonful of tomato chutney added fresh, bright notes much like a pico de gallo on tacos. 

Why isn't this place more packed? Food is packed with flavor and service was so attentive. They kept asking if our food was spicy enough to our liking. Every bite was wonderful and we can't wait to come back. In fact, lunch buffet is already on our radar for J's birthday. 

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