Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Montrose Vindaloo

Is Indika the best Indian restaurant in the United States?
By Robb Walsh

(I love Indian and seafood.)
I was wowed by the revamped menu at Indika's stylish new location and the intriguing cocktail list. I sampled a deep red pomegranate, ginger and vodka drink called an Anarkali. It had an intense tartness that went beautifully with the spicy appetizers. The "Madras mojito," with mint, lime and guava puree, sounded alluring too.

The entrées were a bit of a surprise: I counted one goat, one chicken, one quail, two lamb, three vegetarian and four fish dishes. There was a time when seafood hardly even appeared on the menus of Indian restaurants.

Along with perfecting Indian seafood dishes, Jaisinghani has also made it a goal to teach Westerners about chaat -- which is one of the most popular snacks in urban India. Chaat is a sort of savory snack food sundae generally made with crispy cereal snacks, yogurt and savory condiments.

On a previous visit at lunchtime, I tried one of Jaisinghani's chaat creations, a mélange of corn samosas, warm potatoes and black garbanzos with yogurt and crispy rice. It was a pleasant combination of cool and warm starches, but mainly it tasted strange. As hard as I try, I can't get beyond my "Rice Krispies are for breakfast" mentality.

It's much easier for us yokels to embrace a familiar Western form like the juicy, sweet and cheesy "grilled chicken naan sandwich with spinach, goat cheese and mango chutney," which is also on the lunch menu. The sandwich was huge, and my lunchmate was a dainty eater. So I abandoned my chaat and finished the other half of her sandwich.

The striking new built-from-scratch structure on Westheimer is an architectural wonder. The soaring ceilings give the building a monumental feeling, but the dining room seems quite intimate, thanks to an interior design that divides the tables between a lower level and a gallery-like second tier.

The walls are painted with saffron, peach and pink grapefruit colors. Billowing hanging fabrics in shades of rose break up the angles, and bright blue vases and fabrics provide accents. A huge bar and a cozy outdoor patio add a range of seating options.

At the new location, Indika has found a suitable showcase for its world-class Indian food. And it has added the upscale cocktails and approachable lunch items that it needed to attract a wider audience. Combine the hip new menu with a Montrose-area address, and you have the makings of greatness.
Dinner hours: 6 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. Lunch hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays. Brunch hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays.

Goat brain masala: $9
Foie gras: $12
Shrimp vindaloo: $20
Arctic char: $22
Trout curry: $19
Chicken naan sandwich: $10

Where: 516 Westheimer, 713-524-2170.

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