IT'S NOT often that a new Indian restaurant pops up in this area, which is too bad because the cuisine of one of the world's finest. My Yankee buddies wax rhapsodically on samosas and spicy dals sold cheap in big Northern cities, but down South a rare treat.
For this taste test I took with me a foodie friend comfortingly familiar with the cuisine, a Southern boy who also lived in New York (and all around the world!) who can go toe to toe with me on flavors of the Indian sort, Scott West, Master of Savannah VIP Events.
We loved the look of the place right off: stark cream and beige walls enlivened by vivid Indian paintings in blazing colors, carved screens, a black wall with white curlicue calligraphy in the middle, and simple blonde wood tables. The two dining rooms are beautifully sunlit, clean and gracious, and the menus, in bright mustard yellow with their childlike drawings of butterflies and floating kites, were charming.
Owners Seshu Kotcherlakota and her husband Atith hail from southern India. Along with co-owners Sharath and Swetha Gudla and Chef Pulkit Chawala of north India, they’ve put together an interesting range of choices, including dishes with a Chinese influence such as the Hakka noodles or their popular Manchurian sampler.
The owners have lived in the Savannah area for four years, and gotten to know something of local tastes—when Seshu suggested the Fried Okra side I could almost see the twinkle in her eye. What true-hearted Southerner can resist fried okra? Neither one of us, that’s for certain!
The presentation was different: long, slender fresh okra, cut lengthwise, rolled in a lightly seasoned coating and deep fried to divine crispness.
The vegetable Samosas, plump, fried, triangular pastries stuffed with curried potatoes and peas, are a vegetarian treat even for confessed carnivores, and the accompanying green mint-coriander chutney is a delicate dipping sauce you should definitely try with them!
Lamb is one of those dishes that tends to appear only in local high-end venues and ethnic joints (or smoking on the BBQ at certain favorite huts) and, amazingly, has yet to become a highly sought-out dinner choice in Savannah.
Living in Beijing for three years, where it’s served as cheaply and as often as hotdogs or burgers here, my natural yearning was finally satisfied. Then I came home.
In seeking out good lamb I invariably hunt up the local Indian eateries--Naan Appetit offers ‘Lamb Korma’, in a creamy sauce made with cashew nuts and lightly spiced cream. Since this is a longtime fav, I wanted to change it up a bit: Lamb Rogan Josh, spicy chunks in a masala curry, and their tasty appetizer Seekh Kabab.
This kind of kabob is not the toothsome nuggets you’d expect, but tender, minced lamb, garlic, ginger, coriander and such, rolled into long fingers and roasted over fire. With a good dal (lentil stew) or aromatic pulao (rice dish) under your belt, it’s a sustaining, yet light, dinner.
Chicken Biryani is a big, bright dish bursting with color and topped with a spiced, poached egg. An evergreen classic for rice lovers, it is usually made with aromatic basmati rice, plus a yellow variety for color, and always fragrant with a dazzling array of spices. Here, you can order it with chicken, seafood, or keep it meat-free and full of fresh vegetables.
It’s partnered by soothing raita, a thin, salty yogurt which keeps the tongue from tingling during spicy meals—and I confess that I ended up drinking it straight from the shallow bowl— culinary sophisticates are welcome to use a spoon.
The eponymous naan is the well-loved Indian flatbread—we chose Butter Naan, which is brushed with golden ghee (clarified butter) and roasted, along with Roti (whole wheat, crispier flatbread) and the wonderful Kulcha, softer, a little more tender, and stuffed with cheese and potato—if you’re a bread lover like me, you’ll want this Sampler Bread Basket for sure! It’s the perfect companion to the sweet, spicy paneer cubes (farmer cheese)!
Most folks here don’t realize India possesses a vast array of sinfully rich desserts and sweets, and Ras Malai, an appealing simple dish of sweetened paneer patties immersed in chilled cream, redolent of cardamom and pistachio, and topped with sliced almonds, is top on my list!
Not being the timid type, I also tilted the dish to drink up that heavenly cream to the last drop—in as dainty a manner as possible, of course!
‘Naan Appetit’ is closed on Mondays, and offers separate Lunch and Dinner service, closing for two hours in between.
Vegetarians will find this place a haven of tasty dishes and the spice-wary soul can feel comforted knowing that their request for Mild will be satisfied—that also goes for those seeking more heat—just ask and Chef Pulkit will be happy to fire it up for you!
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