When I walked into the big open, well-lit dining room for lunch, I was immediately greeted by a smiling young woman from behind the counter who handed me a full-color paper menu with detailed descriptions of each dish served.
At Chutney, the soft aroma of curry floats in the air, summoning guests to anticipate the eating experience coming as they browse the menu. The restaurant combines the convenience of a fast-food eatery (you order and pick up your food at the counter) with the slow-cooked, freshly made taste of the dishes you would expect to get at a sit-down restaurant. The arrival of your food does take longer than at a typical takeout place (about five to fifteen minutes, depending on what you order), but you can call ahead and pick up your choices at the counter or eat it there and still feel confident that you’re getting quality, flavorful food that you would expect from a full-service establishment.
“We’re trying to bring street food from India and Nepal back to the States," says owner Ashim Chettri. “We’ve traveled all over the U.S. and saw a few restaurants in New York and Texas with these types of street food, but nobody in Denver. That’s why we have several Nepalese regulars who come in every day for our chaats and housemade momos." (Momos — an order of which are $9.95 at Chutney — are Nepalese dumplings served with various dipping sauces on the side.)
Chaats, despite what the name suggests, are not quiet conversations held over coffee and tea, but instead are an assortment of Indian street foods that you’d get from a side-of-the-road vendor for a mid-day snack. If you’re not familiar with chaat, ask the person at the register to describe them so you can pick what appeals to you, as they all vary slightly by ingredients and sauces. All have a base consisting of either a turnover stuffed with potato (samosa), a potato pancake (tikki) or fried flour balls (vadas), which is then doused in yogurt, sweetened tamarind sauce and sometimes spicy sauce as well. I ordered one of six selections, the samosa chaat ($5.50).
As I ate the first few bites of my saucy samosa chaat, I wondered how people walked around with these messy snacks in the streets…because this thing is pull-up-a-chair good. At first it looked as though I’d accidentally gotten a smothered-burrito bowl, since gobs of yogurt, red sauce, cilantro and red onion blanketed the top. But when I dug my fork in, I unearthed a bite of crispy, golden samosa filled with potato and savory spices. The sweetness of the tamarind sauce, sourness of the yogurt (paired with a little heat from a third sauce) and the firm chickpeas came together in a very appealing combination. Indeed, the chaat covers all the taste profiles and checks all the texture boxes with its sweet tamarind liquid, soft, sour yogurt, salty crunch of garbanzo-bean topping and base of savory, crisp (and surprisingly un-soggy) samosa. It’s no wonder Chutney's owners missed this delectable appetizer from their home country — I missed it after just 24 hours.
Shortly after my chaat came out, my butter chicken ($10.95) also arrived. Large chunks of tender meat are soaked in a hot bath of buttery tomato gravy and served with a side of fragrant basmati rice. I accompanied the chicken with a large basket of lightly charred, cheese-filled naan ($3.50) made in-house. It's outright decadence for less than the price you would pay for a lifeless salad at most sit-down restaurants.
Chettri has worked in the restaurant industry serving Indian and Nepalese cuisine for more than fifteen years. “I wanted to create a place where people could get great Indian and Nepalese street foods in a casual environment,” he says. “By offering a smaller menu, we can serve snacks and entrees at an affordable price, with ingredients that we know are quality and taste great.”
Chutney offers a large selection of main dishes and snack items, including vegetarian dishes like palak paneer, which consists of fresh spinach cooked in a creamy cheese sauce ($9.95), or baigan bharta, fire-roasted eggplant cooked in spices ($9.95). There are several Indian lamb and chicken selections such as lamb korma, which comprises lamb cooked in curry with raisins and nuts ($12.95), or chicken vindaloo, cooked in a spicy sauce with potatoes ($9.95).
On the Nepalese menu, you’ll find four kinds of momos ($9 to $11), as well as goat curries and noodle bowls ($9 to $13). You can choose from eight different kinds of housemade naan or go gluten-free with three different selections of basmati rice with veggies, chicken or lamb ($10 to $13). There are also three different kinds of lassi ($3 to $4), a yogurt-based drink that comes in salty (flavored with cumin) or sweet (flavored with mango or other fruits) variations.
Top it off with a few pieces of small pre-made desserts displayed at the front glass counter. Most have a base of cashews or curds and change daily. I tried the kaju barfi ($.99), with a sweet base of cashews, and the kakland ($1.25), which is made of sweetened milk curds with a few nuts on top.
Chutney’s staff takes the intimidation out of ordering unfamiliar dishes. You can build a meal from a variety of snacks or go with an entree, then enjoy it in the casual dining room (complete with a TV showing Indian soap operas and other programming) or take it home. If you’re looking for a new taste experience on your lunch hour or want to grab something quick that's a little more adventurous than the standard takeout options, Chutney is definitely worth stopping for.
Chutney is located at 2740 Sout Havana Street, Unit K, in Aurora. The restaurant is open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. for snacks, lunch, dinner and dessert. Call 720-644-6677 for more information or to place an order.