In a time when money is tight, it's understandable (if lamentable) that restaurant chains command so much appeal with plates that groan under the weight of the tired and true. Still, when many people can identify Mario Batali in a line-up and certainly spot EVOO at 50 paces, it's a shame that otherwise adventurous humans won't try something new. That's especially vexing when there are options where the food is equally plentiful and not that far removed the average comfort zone.
India Cuisine is just such a place. Don't misunderstand: This family-owned restaurant is full of surprises and delights for the experienced eater of vindaloo, korma, and curry, but it also features dishes that might appeal to a good mountain boy or even to lovers of Chinese food.
Located in the Downtown West Shopping Center near Spa Visage, the place began as a small purveyor of Indian street food, and, in the last year, became a full-service restaurant with an expanded menu. It includes an array of food from India's northern and southern provinces, along with a nice selection of Indo-Chinese fare—the sub-continent's version of fusion cuisine. A lunch buffet presents a variety of good stuff ranging from coconut rice and vegetable curry to tandoori chicken and goat korma. India Cuisine is affordable—almost everything on the menu is between $8-15; you'll only surpass that mark if you're in the mood for seafood or lamb, and even then there's nothing over $20. All told, it's an eating experience not to miss.
Dahi Vada: The appetizer section teems with fascinating starters like this beauty. Three cake-like lentil donuts swim in a pool of spiced yogurt sauce. You'll want to eat this, all of it, with a spoon to capture the sauce—a soup, really—with each bite. Texturally, the donuts are perfect, and the sauce, seasoned with a tangy and slightly spicy seasoning (chaat masala), will seem familiar to lovers of Greek tzatziki. It's slightly sweet but with a faint heat that contributes to its addictive character.
Masala Dosa: You won't find this on many, if any, menus in town, but it's one of the best ways to spend eight bucks. This dosa is a huge, rolled crepe with a delicate crunch that may recall the mouthfeel of one of those potato chips from a tube—but it's made from rice and lentil flour and cooked on a 6-foot grill. In the heart of the crepe rests a mound of potato and onion that could almost have come out of Mamaw's iron skillet. Peppery and perfectly cooked, each pillowy bite of potato is suffused with spice. It's served with a richly flavored lentil soup and coconut-abundant nariyel chutney for dipping, saucing, or eating straight from the bowl.
Chicken Chilli: This Indo-Chinese dish is just the ticket for neophytes who love spicy Chinese food. It even looks like it was born in a wok with its mélange of chicken breast, red and green peppers, and scallion, and the flavor is familiar with refreshing spikes of cilantro, hints of sweetness, and a warm and enduring spiciness. It's so moist and tender that you may find it tempting to shovel it into your mouth, but then you'd miss the pleasant tingle that it leaves on your lips between each bite. This dish, listed as an appetizer, would make a fine meal with a side order of rice, butter naan, or decadently fried poori bread.