When Sanjiv Dahr opened Kabob and Curry in 1990, he hewed closely to the dishes of northern India with which the college crowd and Providence diners were most familiar — the kabobs and curries in the restaurant’s name. His concept for his six-month-old restaurant Rasoi was quite different. He wanted to introduce dishes from many regions in India, not just one.
Our first visit to Rasoi was a lunch date with friends, and we all liked the $5.99-to-9.99 combination plates, in which you can order from a dozen “entrees” and team them up with rice or naan (oven-baked flatbread) and either a salad or raita (a cooling side dish, often with mint and yogurt). One diner enjoyed the Kashmiri-style lamb dumplings with plums, and another the lamb cubes with creamed spinach. Andy had the “crispy okra” with onions and a fresh mint masala sauce. Although the okra had lost some of its crispiness in the tasty sauce, it was not mushy.
I chose the gobhi Manchurian, deep-fried cauliflower in a spicy sauce, a generous portion, though a bit too oily. I also sampled the chana masala, chick peas with Punjabi spices and loved it. Mean¬while, Bill was scarfing up his fish balchao, grilled tilapia fillets with roasted tomatoes and rum-infused mushroom sauce.
We were all eager to come back, either for dinner or for one of the weekend buffet brunches: vegan on Saturday, non-vegan on Sunday, with as many as four new items among the 10 offered each week.
As it turned out, Bill and I got back there for dinner recently, alternately soothed and stimulated by the chic décor. The warmth of the sponge-painted golden walls is enhanced by red room dividers, with leaves and fruits of Eastern spices carved into their surfaces. Playing off those sun colors are the royal blue table tops (or linens in the evening), blue tiles under the L-shaped bar and blue spotlights along the ceiling.
The menu has a few unusual sections to it. In addition to starters, there are breads (seven kinds of naan, plus three other Indian breads), and “mini meals,” which are two kinds of dosa (a crepe made from rice and lentils or from semolina) filled with your choice of potatoes masala, minced chicken and peas, or paneer masala (the curd-like Indian cheese). We opted for the masala uttapam ($4.99), two generous rice and lentil pancakes, a recipe from southern India. Topped with a spicy vegetable sauce or the coconut chutney, they were a good intro to our meal.
I forgot to mention the lighter-than-air pappadam served as a bread basket, with tamarind sauce. These cou¬sins to corn chips are made from lentil flour and cumin seeds before deep-frying. Bill enjoyed a tamarind cocktail, and I a mango lassi, while we munched pappadam and studied the menu.
Rasoi offers more than 15 entrées with meat or fish, including a Bengali seafood stew, chicken with a fiery chettinad sauce from the Tamil Nadu province in the southeast, and scallops with a curry leaf sauce from the southwestern province of Kerala. In all, 10 different regions contribute recipes to Dahr’s menu.
Among them are also nine vegetarian entrées, three biryanis (spiced rice casseroles with veggies, chicken, or mutton) and two thalis. We were intrigued by nearby diners receiving a plate of six or seven small dishes. These are the thalis, based on Ayurvedic balance. One offering is vegetarian, the other with meat, a great way to sample Rasoi’s dishes.
Since I had tried several veggie options at lunch, I chose the tandoori chicken ($12.99), a fiery twist on barbecue, with its beet juice-and-spices marinade sealing in the moisture when the chicken is roasted in a very hot clay oven. For “sides,” I picked masala potatoes and spinach, the latter simmered in a cream-and-tomato sauce. This also came with a small side of lentils, extremely tasty.
Bill was drawn to the “char-grilled boneless chunks of duck supreme” ($14.99), served kabob-style with onion, bell peppers, and mushrooms. He couldn’t have been more grateful, for the skewer-less presentation and for the flavor of the almost fat-free duck pieces. His sides were brown rice and vegetables in a mango curry, absolutely delicious.
The half-dozen desserts ($4) include creamy dumplings, pistachio and rose petal ice cream, and carrot pudding with ginger ice cream. The latter was flourless, just carrots steamed with nuts and honey, very satisfying. Rasoi is justifiably proud of its gluten-free menu items, and will provide a list upon request. And barring your own “passage to India” anytime soon, you can trek to Rasoi for a memorable culinary tour of India’s colorful cuisines.
Rasoi | 727 East Ave, Pawtucket | Mon-Thurs, 11:30 am-3 pm + 4:30-9:30 pm; Fri, 11:30 am-3 pm + 4:30-10:30 pm; Sat, 11:30 am-10:30 pm; Sun, 11:30 am-9 pm | Major credit cards | Full bar | Sidewalk-level access | 401.728.5500 [Delivery 401.272.3463]