The original Tawa was hard to find, even though it was in one of Stamford's most trafficked areas -- the Bull's Head section of High Ridge Road.
Located in a tiny, nondescript strip mall, it was nearly impossible to reach, had practically no parking, the tiniest of identifying signs, little ambiance and no walk-by traffic.
Nonetheless, Tawa became a dining destination. Word of exceptional food cooked by chef/owner Kausik Roy from a very small kitchen and served with joy in a very plain dining room spread and the place flourished.
Now, Tawa has upgraded its location and its ambiance to the restaurant row along downtown Summer Street. There is lots of parking and the gleaming sign outside is easy to find. The question is whether Roy can upgrade his address while keeping the subtle qualities that built his reputation for fine food and service at moderate prices. The answer is yes.
There are a few bumps in the new road, such as refining a menu that is both to be praised and to be reined in for its adventurousness. In a menu with several lesser-known Indian specialties, it is important for all servers to be exceedingly knowledgeable and helpful to the many who are new to Indian cuisine. Our experience took asking three separate people (all of whom were most gracious and attentive) for menu recommendations. The first suggested the most expensive things on the menu. The second stuck to the "safe" tandoori or tikka masala choices. And the third allowed us to go ahead and order probably the only boring, bland and tasteless item on the menu (an appetizer of puffed fried flour shell filled with a few lentils with a watery tamarind sauce for dipping), even though we said we wanted adventure and spice.
That said, everything else we sampled was sensational, especially the breads.
Indeed, the new Tawa is really two restaurants. The ground floor level is a small, sleek and sophisticated Bread Bar -- think tapas Indian-style. The bar, with its fine wine and beer selection, opens onto the kitchen where the amazing array of paratha, roti, kulcha, roomali, nan and the huge masala dosa (rice crepe) are prepared and filled with fragrant options from mint or basil to ground lamb, tandoor vegetables or potatoes. Other inventive small plates from the bread bar include a lovely treatment of fried calamari served in heady sauce of sundried tomato, curry and red onion, cocktail tuna seekh kabab with cilantro, and absolutely addictive artichoke and scallion fritters served with a fragrant mashed eggplant tamarind sauce -- a house specialty.
Upstairs is a far more formal, full-scale dining room whose back-lit ceiling and embossed floors flank discreetly private seating at crisply napped tables. The bread bar menu can travel upstairs as appetizers, but the main courses served here deserve full attention and appetite. True, the standard tandoors are superior in their flavor and moistness, and the chicken tikka masala is most satisfying. But the lesser-known options are even more pleasing. Methi murg is a north Indian chicken curry with chunks of white meat in a rich tomato, onion and fenugreek base tempered with a spoonful of yogurt. Another complexity of spices is the Goan shrimp balchao of perfectly sauteed shrimp in a hotly spiced and garlicky tomato sauce. Milder, yet warmly satisfying is the chef's rendition of his mom's home-style Bengalis fish curry. Vindaloo is as hot as expected, and korma as golden with saffron as hoped. The vegetarian section goes beyond the usual aloo gobhi to the chef's signature crisply fried okra with red onion, cilantro and green chili -- a wondrous way with a much maligned vegetable.
The new Tawa has a vastly improved ambiance and location much better suited to the sophisticated and adventurous cuisine. The excellent service could be only improved by more helpful guidance through the lovely menu.