If you live in Denver, Monsoon, a new Indian restaurant that's way the hell out in Aurora, is a trek, but its location, on the east side of Southlands shopping center, is a welcome addition to that chain-ganged suburb. And if what I ate while I was there is indicative of its future consistency, then I'll be a regular.
See also: Ten best Indian restaurants in Denver
The restaurant, with its neutral tones, expansive bar, Indian artwork and lovely service, is owned by Preet Kahlon, a restaurant industry veteran who spent the last three years bartending at Ted's Montana Grill. He also managed the original Little India's on Sixth Avenue, as well as India's Best Restaurant & Bar, in Littleton. And his parents, who are from Northern India, were the original owners of India's Rang Mahal, which is now India Oven. "I don't cook, but I've worked in restaurants since I was thirteen, and I've always had a passion for restaurants and providing great hospitality," says Kahlon, adding that "opening a restaurant has always been my dream."
In fact, Monsoon, named for the monsoonal torrents that account for more than 80 percent of India's annual rainfall, has been two years in the making, admits Kahlon. "I started planning this in 2010, plotting out everything from the location to the kurtas that we all wear, and when I found this location, I realized that it had a lot of potential, especially with all the new homeowners in the area -- plus, there's not another Indian restaurant out here, so I capitalized on that," he says.
Shinda Singh, his chef-partner, has cooked in Indian restaurants for the majority of his life, including Little India's, where he was the opening chef, and together, Kahlon and Singh have created a menu of Indian staples (and a few surprises) that's bereft of any food coloring, a mainstay in most Indian dishes. "Most Indian restaurants have this preconceived notion that you have to add artificial coloring for vibrancy, but food coloring is a chemical, and I think there's a way to maintain the appearance and traditional flavors of Indian cuisine without the addition of chemicals, preservatives and artificial ingredients," he explains, noting, too, that he's getting his spices imported from India.
As well, 90 percent of the dishes are gluten free, and Singh, says Kahlon, is also working on developing a gluten-free naan. There is no buffet either, a deliberate decision on the part of Kahlon, who insists that buffets, which are a mainstay in nearly every Indian restaurant, aren't his cup of tea. "I genuinely believe that you're compromising the integrity of your food quality, and so much of what's offered in a buffet goes in the trash or just sits there," says Kahlon. "At the end of the day," he continues, "food that's made to order is a lot better than food that's been sitting out for three, four, or five hours."
Singh's dishes are all presented on modern, stark white plateware, and his menu is punctuated with curries, numerous tandoori specialties, including salmon, shrimp and mahi-mahi, as well as nine variations of naan, all of which are smoked in the tandoori oven. I loved the naan stuffed with diced jalapenos and paneer and dusted with black pepper, as well as the garlic-and-cilantro naan. And the lamb vindaloo, with its oven-fired potatoes, vinegary tang and salute to chiles, is terrific, too.
Beers, both on draft and by the bottle, are available, and there's a decent wine list, too. But it's the housemade chai that really excels.
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Monsoon is open daily for lunch and dinner. Here's a first look at the quarters and the food.