Yes, I'm one of those annoying foodies who pays attention to every detail of my meal when I go out to eat. I can't help it. My first real job was busing tables in a humble comfort food restaurant in South Asheville; from there I went on to wait tables over the next fifteen years or so in a vast array of establishments, from Pizza Hut in Asheville to Frederick's of London, where I placed a napkin in the lap of Tony Blair and had my first taste of Krug. I have served Cambodian, French, Indian, Latin, Italian, Southern food and more; I've opened hundreds of bottles of wine and wiped and reset thousands of tables, I've done dishes, cleaned bathrooms, prepped food and spilled my fair share of drinks on people. I've eaten almost every dish on each menu I've served, and to this day dining out is one of my greatest pleasures.
Hence I offer my thoughts to you, dear readers of BlogAsheville. Having grown up in Asheville, I've seen lots of places come and go, and may have waited on you during my past life as a server.
So for my first review, I chose Chai Pani, a fairly new addition to the Asheville smorgasbord whose tagline is "Namaste, Y'all." Just like this phrase does so well, I can describe this whole experience in just a few words: sweet, light, and fun! The front door, decorated with charming hand-painted flowers in bright festive colors, opens up into a cozy space with a menu filled with traditional and not-so traditional Indian dishes with a price point for every budget and a portion size for every appetite. They have done two very unique things with their quality ethnic offering to the downtown scene: they have created a walk-up counter to expedite the ordering process, and they've combined local color with some of my favorite Indian dishes. Probably the best example are their already famous okra fries ... they also use sweet potatos and other local ingredients to please the palette.
As far as the service, every time I've walked in, I've been greeted by a friendly server in a black t-shirt, designed to match the hand-stamped menu style. There's nothing pushy about this place, and it adds to the casual easy feeling I like when I am looking for a simple meal.
I had the chicken Thali platter, an item that at $9.99 was one of the most expensive on the menu (not a lot considering a burger costs that much these days), and I was presented with (literally) a silver platter with a wide variety of flavors and textures. Each item was obviously prepared with care, nothing was over the top intense, and the lack of heavy ingredients left me feeling light and healthy. Though it may have looked like a small portion, I was completely satisfied and even left a little bit of pickle on the plate! Two cups of chai (which I got to sweeten myself) and a friendly conversation later, I was telling the owner how much I enjoyed the place.
There's movement and energy here, people sit in a row of booths or at one of the several tables, but often get up and down to order drinks and desserts. It makes for a very social atmosphere, one in which the customer is in control of the things that can sometimes make eating out really time-consuming or frustrating. This place is great for a light lunch, and its location makes it a perfect destination for any downtown event at night; especially if you just want a samosa to go. Highly recommended!