Friday, March 5, 2010

New India

I love Indian food, and while not an expert, I'd certainly like to think that after eating my fair share of it, I can recognize good food from mediocre. (Well, and I guess I'd say that about most types of food, not just Indian.) Many people are intimidated by Indian cuisine...I am not sure if it's because of it's seemingly exotic array of spices, the combinations thereof which make up a curry sauce, the length of time it takes to prepare even a fairly basic Indian dish, or..... what? To me, Indian food is at its best when you get full range of flavors in each and every bite. When there's tastes you can't readily identify. When there's a balance of sweetness, often from coconut milk or jaggery with a blend of spiciness (as in flavor, not Scoville units) as well as heat. I don't even know that I have adequately conveyed my message on how the flavors all work together for me in a good Indian dish, but I am hoping you get the idea if you are not fully acquainted with the cuisine. (And if not, that's okay, but go and TRY some really good Indian...see some of my previous posts on Tarka & Clay Pit; also Madras Pavillion & Sarovar, though I haven't been to either in quite awhile. Want to go?)

So imagine my excitement when I found out that a new Indian place had opened at Congress & Oltorf, just past the trendiness of SoCo! Close to my stomping grounds! This could be magical! I could have a new fantastic, aromatic, mouth-watering spot that was mere minutes away. Another foodie friend also heard about it, as New India (yes, that's the name) has just opened within the past month. We arranged for a Thursday lunch, and each managed to invite other friends to come along, a total of four serious food people all together for a meal. We ordered a lot of different stuff, and unfortunately, none of it was really spectacular.

We began with chicken lollipops (apparently a signature dish) and vegetarian samosas. The lollipops are drumsticks that have been battered and deep fried (though not greasy); a little bit of spice combo in them, but not much. The dough on the samosas is a bland crust, no flakiness to it; filling is a very dense mashed potato & pea mix. The sauces were the saving grace: a nice tamarind and a very fresh tasting mint/cilantro (?) green sauce with vibrant notes.
For the main dishes, we had: (clockwise, from the 6 o'clock position) malvani chicken curry, kheema masala, saag paneer & eggplant shrimp. The malvani is a dish typical of the Goan coast, along southwestern India using lots of coconut; rare to find it outside that region apparently. So rare that New India believes they are the only restaurant in the US to be serving malvani. Unfortunately, four out of four eaters detected no coconut flavor whatsoever, and the cashier/server came around to check on us, he couldn't say what was in it. A very bland mix of shredded chicken and some nondescript sauce. The kheema was ground goat, in a bit of a spicy brown sauce with peas. It was the one decent entree because the sauce had some seasoning to it (couldn't tell you exactly what). The shrimp dish was okay, in a bit of a tomato-based sauce, but not exciting, and the saag (spinach) was over-pureed with very little paneer (fresh cheese like tofu) in it. There was nothing very interesting about any of the dishes.Other considerations:
Pros: they use eco-friendly utensils, plates & bowls (as in, everything was disposable except the water glasses); great sauces with the samosas
Cons: fairly bland food, lack of descriptions on printed menu or menu board, menu board very hard to read & follow (hand written chalkboard with hard to read print); cashier/server very friendly, but didn't know a ton about the ingredients in the dishes; very random decor from B & W photo posters to painted butterflies on the wall

Just calling it like I see them, but don't go if you're a big Indian food fan.

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