There is almost no time I don't crave Indian food. Growing up around Indian Americans, from both South and North India, and having traveled throughout the diverse country, has only made that craving more penetrating. But in Denver, I’m just not as versed in where to look for good Indian cuisine as other places I have lived. Luckily, Spice Room, in a small Berkeley neighborhood strip mall (in a spot that was previously Biryani Pot), shouted out to me with its orange and black sign.
Normally an intimate space where you could take a first date and feel unique and clever, Spice Room is an equally good option for a home date while restaurant dining rooms remain closed. That's in part because many Indian dishes travel well: Vegetables and proteins arrive already mingled with divine sauces and curry blends (which is also why Indian buffets tend to fare better than other cuisines). Rice, the curry vehicle, can easily be meted out to taste for each person sharing the meal. And the cuisine adapts beautifully for vegetarians, vegans and gluten-free diners without leaving omnivores and bread-heads like myself lusting after something more substantial.
In other words, if you live in a household with a variety of dietary needs, you can probably all find something good from Spice Room. You need booze? Why, you can order that too — several menu items even include recommended wine and beer pairings, so you can get takeout with canned wine, Indian beer and kombucha from the regular menu. As far as a clean pick-up goes, it was easy for me to order online. I arrived to paper bags lined up along two tables, one for pick-up and another for delivery, with each receipt stapled to the bag, making it an appropriately distanced hand-off.
For our Spice Room home Indian feast, my roommates and I opted for four curry dishes we knew would carry us through the week (and, it turns out, beyond). First, the old standby: saag. I have to quote the website here, which matches my sentiments exactly, “It’s hard not to love the rich, thick, creamy spinach.” Add cubes of fresh Indian cheese to the mix — making it saag paneer — and you have yourself a perfect feel-good comfort food. In addition to saag paneer ($13), Spice Room offers a gamut of proteins and veggies that can be included in the saag base, including potato, chickpeas, daal (usually split lentils), tofu and mushroom (all for $13), and chicken ($15), lamb ($17), shrimp ($18) or salmon ($19). So you could order this dish once a week for almost three months and never have a repeat.
The same goes for most curry dishes on the menu, which is why we elected for one eggplant, one chicken and one lamb addition to each of our orders. My roommate’s affinity for tikka, combined with our mutual desire to revel in the creamy sauces, led us to try Spice Room’s chicken tikka masala. Unlike straight up tikka (marinated and grilled pieces of meat, potatoes and cheese), tikka masala serves the spiced chicken in a creamy tomato- and yogurt-based sauce. Though some food historians think that it's possibly a Western invention, I'm down with how delightfully the masala pairs with Spice Room's aromatic cardamom-flecked rice.
My roommates generally eschew goat and lamb, but it's one of my favorites, so I ordered lamb korma to satisfy my own craving — and in hopes that they would be converts. The korma, with its “royal cream gravy," crunchy almonds and sweet raisin bursts, wasn't everyone's favorite, but it was by far the most interesting. Of similar hue, the baigan bharta (mashed eggplant, $14), was mostly of one texture, despite the many ingredients, and probably did best in our third-day soup-making extravaganza, in which we added potatoes and more coconut milk to the mix.
Which brings me to my final point. I have ordered from Spice Room a few times in the past, and I can’t say for certain that I recall the spice level chosen, but I can definitely say that medium gave every one of us a run for our money. But diluted with other ingredients in our leftover soup, the heat was toned down toward the more palatable end of the Scoville scale, allowing us to enjoy everything for several days of lunches.
When you order, don't skimp on the naan. Since we’re all in such close quarters these days, I probably shouldn’t recommend the garlic naan, but I do; it’s delicious. If I could do it again, I would have left off a curry and sprung for one of Spice Room’s smaller dishes and appetizers, such as the mulligatawny soup or ten-piece pani puri ($7), delicately fried puffs filled with chickpeas, potatoes and spicy-sour mint water (accompanied by tamarind chutney). I’d also probably go straight for the Kashmiri rogan josh (usually made with goat) and keep it all to myself.
Spice Room Neighborhood Indian Bistro is located at 3127 West 38th Avenue and is open for carryout and delivery from noon to 9 p.m every day but Tuesday. Call or order online for the easiest touch-free purchase.
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