Wednesday, October 03, 2007

If You %$&* With Me I'm Gonna Dash My Curry

The title of this post is taken from a rap by M.I.A., my favorite artist right now.

I’ve ridden the kiddie roller coaster that is Asheville Indian restaurants. I once wrote a Dear John letter to Mother India, previously located in a grimy building way down Hendersonville Road. The letter was the back page of a zine I co-authored five years ago. I’ll try to dig it up for you. I cruelly dumped Mother India after I was courted hard by the bright new shiny India Garden on Tunnel Road. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one, because Mother India closed within the year. So there I was, happily discovering vegetable korma and the Garden plate for two at India Garden, staring at garish, gold-framed paintings of what can only be described as someone’s anime nightmare set in India, when along came Mela.

Let the record show: I will never ever be pro-Mela on principle. I loved Vicent’s Ear. I mean, I didn’t patronize Vicent’s Ear unless a friend’s band was playing, but let’s just say I appreciated it from afar. How could you not fall for the romantic combination of a nasty bartender, $2 PBR tallboys, and dirty courtyard crammed with surly, tattooed, disaffected youth? Not to mention the most excellent espresso in town. Alas, the tourism beast must be fed and therefore, we now have Mela. Mela is beautiful. Upon heaving open the ancient, gargantuan vintage Indian wooden door, you immediately realize no one actually eats at Mela. They nosh.

On what do they nosh? I think the vegetable korma here is terrific. The lamb dishes are formidable. They offer a wide array of naan options including an inventive goat cheese and spinach stuffed version. The pakoras are delightfully crisp. The drink options beckon to this wayward diner like a bangled dancer throwing veils and she shimmies down the tiled floor. Spiked mango lassi, oh my! The service: more focused on appearances than quality. Often, I come here for the lunch buffett. Truly, the options are hit or miss. On a good day: saag paneer, curried lentils and beans, vegetable korma, veggie pakoras, and tamarind rice. On a bad day: soupy flourescent yellow stuff, two potato options, fried broccoli, and any other flavored rice option besides tamarind. I know they have a lemon rice and a couple of others I disapprove of on the basis of the rice flavor outshining the sauces dolloped on top. The curry chicken is always pretty good, but at this point I’m bored to tears of this being their only meat option for lunch.

So mostly you will still find me at India Garden. The snazzily dressed (and mostly very attractive) male waitstaff greet me like an old friend, and maintain complete efficiency throughout the meal. I think their sauces are more complex and more authentic, at least according to me and my friend who lived in India for a year. I also love to order the Garden Special. They let you order it for one and split it between two people. I’m a total sucker for anything like a tasting menu, and India Garden offers three of them. I have excellent luck with their Lamb Roghan Josh, a savory/sweetish/velvety close second to my obvious favorite at any Indian eatery, the vegetable korma.

Where can one find Southern Indian cuisine, you ask? I’m afraid you won’t like the answer. There is a restaurant in Winston-Salem I have never tried, but I have heard marvelous things about it for years. I don’t know if Nawab specializes in Southern Indian, but I’ve heard they offer some options, so I suggest you begin there.

1 comment:

Jennifer Saylor said...

Gourmet Grrl, not only am I a fan of MIA AND of Indian restaurants, I only regret that I have but one "Best New Blog" nomination to lose to you.

I think you are a great writer with a clear and enjoyable voice, and I am happy to have a local blogsource for kick-ass restaurant reviews.

Long may you eat.

(Ash, Uptown: I think handing out more posting privileges was a great thing to do.)