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Boti Call

India's knows how to beat the heat.

We stepped outside, Laura and I, our arms loaded down with takeout boxes, protected by an invisible force field of fennel, anise, clove and curry smells that pushed back the gray ugliness of another suburban parking lot in another suburban strip mall. Before us were too many SUVs, greasy puddles full of rainwater, the peeling wall of a Benihana -- but all that seemed distant, incapable of intruding on our tiny world of spice and magic. We stepped off the sidewalk and onto the asphalt, Laura's arm brushing mine, and noticed that the woman from the flower shop was standing out front, talking on her cell phone, eyes fixed on the sky. Two men from the cigar store at the end of the mall stood silently by that door, hands in pockets, looking up. A couple outside the pharmacy next to India's was doing the same -- him pointing, her head on his shoulder. So we looked up out of our private world and saw the rainbow, too. It was a big one, full end to end, and brilliantly colored like a rope of hard candy against the retreating gray of the clouds.

Laura snaked her free hand through my arm and said, "I guess you've got your ending now."

The story began with lunch at India's, where I'd gone because it's August, and August is tough. Of the twelve months we've got, August is the bitch of the bunch. And while August is hard on everyone, it's hardest on restaurant folk. People freak out this time of year. Business dries up. Busboys vanish. Line cooks snap. Every chef I'd been talking to seemed locked in survival mode, concerned only with seeing out the season. August is bunker-mentality time: You try to go easy, ride it out, live through it. And I may still have some of that in me, some kind of line-cook Seasonal Affective Disorder held over from my former life, because August makes me real uptight, makes me want to do nothing but sit on my couch watching cartoons with a bag of frozen Niblets down my pants. I don't wanna eat, I don't wanna cook, and the thought of sitting through a bad restaurant meal is enough to make me want to go all Zelda Fitzgerald: drink a nice warm bottle of gin, maybe light something on fire.

The raita stuff: India's serves up authentic cuisine and 
decor.
Mark Manger
The raita stuff: India's serves up authentic cuisine and decor.

Location Info

Map

India's Restaurant

7400 E. Hampden Ave., Unit F
Denver, CO 80231

Category: Restaurant > Afghan

Region: Southeast Denver

Details

3333 South Tamarac Drive
303-755-4284
Hours: Lunch 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday
Dinner 5:30-9:30 p.m. daily

Papri-pakauri: $4.50
Samosa: $3 Onion bhaji: $3.50
Sheekh kabab: $12.95
Navarattan korma: $10.95
Saag paneer: $11.95
Boti masala: $12.95
Aloo paratha: $2.25
Aloo chaat: $4.00

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So instead I went to India's -- a restaurant I'd heard very good things about but hadn't yet gotten around to visiting. Over the past fifteen years, this almost claustrophobically cluttered Indian spot tucked into the left flank of Tamarac Square has gained a very loyal following with its Mughlai Indian cuisine, a gentler and beautifully complex culinary counterpart to the wholesome simplicity of Haryanvi and the richness of Bengali seafood. Whether you're after an adventure, an education, just lunch or a little of all three, the best way to begin at India's is with the lunch buffet. I piled bright tin plates with a little of everything offered, adding bright tin cups filled with dal(lentil soup), raita(a yogurt sauce) and tamarind chutney, then headed back to my table. I had a plate in each hand, and as I set them down, I realized how much more I liked these dishes than any ubiquitious, workaday, bone-white china. I liked them for how they looked on a crowded table, gleaming against the scratchy maroon-and-cream cloths, acting as frames for all the colorful food. I liked how they carried all the dents and gouges of their history, the record of their long service. They were so much more expressive, so much more honest, than china that chips, cracks and is thrown away.

With these plates in front of me, the room suddenly smelled like Christmas in Calcutta -- like clove and cinnamon and winter spices overlaid with a fine gauze of warm curry and the hot breath of tandoor ovens. Each smell reminded me that Indian is a cuisine made for heat, for a spot where the mercury can top out at truly brutal heights. It's food that's all about balance, about evening-out extremes. There's yogurt to cool every curry, cream to smooth every sauce, and flavors that build in layers. This is food that alters time, stretching it and bending it around long, luxurious pauses; food that benefits the deliberate, contemplative eater with each new spice, each independent taste, growing naturally and slowly out of the one before it like a seed growing into a stalk, stretching out leaves and blooming into a flower.

I took a corner of warm naan -- the bread soft and blistered on one side, crisp and laced with burnt ghee (clarified butter) on the other -- and dug it into a pile of cold chickpeas dressed in vinegar and lemon juice, then dipped it into a small bowl of cool raita. After that, I demolished a pile of wonderful aloo chaat, a yellowish mishmash of chilled potatoes, spices and lemon juice. Then it was on to green beans and potatoes cooked almost like a casserole, onion bhaji (batter-fried fritters of onion and fennel), and chicken in a sweet yellow curry so delicate it was almost like eating the mere smell of curry, a memory suspended in cream and butter. Finally, there was a saag paneer -- creamed spinach bathed in earthy, mellow spices and studded with soft cubes of homemade cheese -- that was milder and more even-tempered than saag I've had elsewhere, but just as smooth and filling.

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