Infusing Indian Recipes With Western Touches
By PATRICIA BROOKS
Published: April 15, 2010
RESTAURANT row in downtown Stamford — Summer Street between Broad Street and West Park Place — is home to about 10 restaurants, most of them relatively upscale. But the Indian restaurant Tawa, the newest arrival on the block, offers several satisfying dishes at more moderate prices.
My appetite was piqued by the menu, especially the starters, which are by far the most intriguing dishes listed. Conditioned by dining on tapas and small plates elsewhere, I decided to make a meal of the appetizers. As it turned out, this was a wise choice. Although the entrees sounded inviting, too many turned out to be variations of one another.
One of my favorite small dishes was Konkani crab ’n’ shrimp pocket: two short dosas (rice crepes) stuffed with a coconut-teased, spicy mixture of lump crab meat and chopped shrimp. They were delicious.
Spinach pakoda (fritters), part of an ample lunch buffet, were tasty, even though they were served at room temperature, not sizzling hot. A better version, and a pleasant surprise, was the artichoke scallion pakoda — hot, crunchy fritters that came with a pleasantly sour-tangy tamarind sauce.
Tawa’s owner and chef, Kausik Roy, who was chef du cuisine for the Taj hotel chain in Calcutta, sometimes fuses Indian recipes with Western ingredients, as in his calamari trio with lightly breaded squid, sun-dried tomato and red onion.
Bombay bhel made a picture-pretty display: a mound of crisp rice puffs laced with coriander and tomato, spiked by a tamarind sauce. Equally appealing was masala dosa, a delicate South Indian rice crepe with spiced potato, which came with a thin lentil broth and coconut chutney.
Other good starter choices were crispy pepper shrimp (black tiger shrimp tossed with onion, pepper and spices) and the sizzling kebab platter (assorted lamb and chicken kebabs on a bed of sizzling sliced onions, carrots and other vegetables).
Curries dominate the entree choices. A really zesty one was the South Indian chicken chettinad, which had great piquancy, with its black pepper, coconut and tamarind sauce.
Five-chili phall, billed as “the hottest curry this side of the Atlantic,” was indeed incendiary, but not much more so than the always fiery Goan vindaloo. Goat rogan josh, a change from the usual lamb version, had tender and flavorful meat, but the overall dish was unexceptional. The same could be said for a moist tandoori roasted half chicken.
There are nine vegetarian dishes on the Tawa menu, and those I tried were adequate, if not inspired: baingan bharta (charcoal-grilled minced eggplant with mint, cilantro and red onion), saag paneer (creamed spinach with cheese, onion and garlic), choley (curried chick peas with roasted cumin) and tandoori gobhi (spice-rubbed cauliflower florets).
The soothing raita, a lively mint chutney and the bland-as-expected dal were as one would wish at an Indian restaurant, though the garlic nan (hot and garlicky) was a notch above the quality of what I’ve had at other places.
Kheer, a milky-thin, somewhat nondescript rice pudding was exactly what it was supposed to be: a soothing conclusion to a spicy repast.
THE SPACE The main dining room is up a long flight of stairs, but there are several tables and a rather dimly lighted bar room on the ground floor. Lunch buffets are served upstairs. Despite lots of low chatter, conversation is easy.
THE CROWD Predominantly youngish couples and foursomes, neatly dressed. Wait staff is friendly and solicitous, but service can be slow, hampered perhaps by a kitchen that is a flight below the dining room.
THE BAR Full bar with small wine list, beginning at $33 per bottle; $8 to $12 by the glass.
THE BILL For downtown Stamford, prices are moderate, with most dinner entrees from $14 to $23, and just two (sea bass) at $28. Many unusual starters range from $5 to $12. The lunch buffet, at $11, is an even better deal. All major cards accepted.
WHAT WE LIKED Spinach kulcha, spinach pakoda, Konkani crab ’n’ shrimp pocket, Bombay bhel, masala dosa, sizzling kebab platter, crispy pepper shrimp; chicken chettinad, five-chili phall, choley, garlic nan.
IF YOU GO Lunch: noon to 2:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Dinner: 5 to 10 p.m., Monday through Friday. Lunch and dinner: noon to 10 p.m., Saturday and Sunday. Reservations accepted. Limited metered parking on the street; pay parking lot half a block farther down Summer Street.