Fine Dining: Indian
To me, Indian food has always been relatively cheap and traditional. My interest in Indian food started in middle school while I lived in Hong Kong. My best friend happened to be Indian and had a live-in Indian cook (good life). I spent many nights at her house just to be able to savor the wonderful and diverse flavors that her cook would drum up.
Now, Indian food really only exists on 6th St between 1st and 2nd Ave for me; “little India” as many call it. I’ve been to Raj Mahal and Taj Mahal, but I don’t remember which is which. Several things about East Village Indian restaurants that I’ve noticed are that there are so many imitation restaurants, each with their own bright lights, live band (usually 2 old guys), and cheap prix fixe menus. I’ve heard rave reviews about Tabla, but thus far, I’ve been hesitant to try anything other than very affordable Indian food. For me, it has never felt right to spend a lot on gourmet Indian food (unless the ingredients warrant the price), because I’ve always regarded it as always affordable, accessible, and the same ol’ thing every time. I’ve never had innovative and inventive Indian food before, let alone adding fine dining to the equation.
I completely rebuilt my entire perception of Indian food at Kiran’s in Houston, TX (yes, I’m still here). Initially, I was going to take the Hawkins to a typical Indian restaurant (see above). John stepped in (fortunately) and recommended a fine dining establishment. At first, I was weary of how fine dining and Indian cuisine actually fit together. The restaurant very much embodies a classy steakhouse with white table clothes, penguin-suited servers, dark mahogany walls, expensive wine glasses, and an extended wine list. Yup, I checked the sign and we were in the right place.
Our servers, Marcus and Angie, were phenomenal and really constructed our positive experience. Marcus was particularly knowledgeable, anticipatory, helpful, and honest. Most of us were new to Indian cuisine and he guided us through the meal, from recommending to ordering to explaining.
Brooks and I started off our meals with lassi, a yogurt drink that is very helpful in cooling the palette when eating spicy foods. The mango lassi was perfection here, much better than its’ 6th St counterparts. I love lassi, because it reminds me of yogurt drinks in China (not Yakult). It’s not your typical Yoplait or Dannon. Think American yogurt sweetened and thinned out with whole milk. Perhaps a fro-yo milkshake?
Marcus recommended several appetizers, one of which was their samosas. 4 out of the 5 of us chose crab-stuffed samosas. They were fanciest and most sophisticated kind I’ve ever had. They were also the most delicious! The skin was extremely thin and fried at the perfect temperature. I kept mentally comparing them to the nasty oily ones I’ve had in the past stuffed with potatoes, beef, peas, etc. This samosa was stuffed with real crab meat and a good amount of it as well. This little Indian dumpling really threw me away.
As a table, we also shared the Mixed Tandoori Plate, which included a creamy chicken and a minced meat sausage-type thing. So many fabulous heated flavors and textures.
We decided to do our meal family style, so we shared four entrées and two sides.
The Rack of Lamb came out on a stone plate and was cooked very well. Super juicy and tender. The accompanying berry chutney was mildly sweet and tart making for a perfect pairing. The Seafood Curry was my favorite dish because of the creamy coconut-based curry. The shrimp and scallops were very fresh and greatly absorbed the smooth flavors in the curry (unlike a lot of seafood that is incapable of doing so). I particularly love seafood in curry for the sweet and subtle taste of the sea. The Chicken Tikka Masala came highly recommended by Marcus. I really enjoyed the heavily garlic laced sauce with tomatoes and cream. The chicken could have been more tender. However, soaked in a creamy sauce, the buttered chicken was delicious. Lastly, the Lamb Vindaloo we tried was incredibly spicy for my taste, but it was heavy in a hot chili and garlic. The thick brown sauce submerged the lamb pieces. It didn’t make for a very visually appealing dish, but that’s not a top priority for me.
Dessert was a little culturally anticlimactic, but that may have been due to our rigid decisions. Brooks had the Molten Chocolate Cake, which was was like any other cake of its kind. Unfortunately, the center of the cake was more cakey than molten. I’m always in search of an American version of moelleux au chocolat like those in France. I ordered the Gajar Halwa, an Indian version of carrot cake. However, this version was like a chopped up carrot cake soaked in an Indian spice mixture. It was served with homemade pistachio ice cream which gave the carrot “thing” a nutty component. The flavors were very unique and new to me, but I enjoyed it a lot. Graeme’s dessert, Chocolate Samosas, was Kathy’s favorite. The samosas were filled with a chocolate ganache and accompanied by a scoop of chai ice cream. I thought the skin could’ve been thinner like a wonton skin, but the rich chocolate filling was incredibly satisfying for any chocolate lover.
Dinner at Kiran’s with the Hawkins was simply the best Indian meal I’ve ever eaten. I’m very glad that I was able to expand my knowledge of Indian food after this meal. Hopefully none of us will experience Delhi belly!