At one time in the mid-'90s, India had branched out to three or four restaurants in Providence and the East Bay. Now that its Rhode Island realm is pared to one location, it's nice to be reminded what a luxurious, inviting, restful, and beautiful place the Hope Street spot is. The warmth of candle glow frames the bar, and the flickering colors of flame enhance walls, chairs, and booths.
1060 Hope St, Providence | 401.421.2600 | Indiarestaurant.com | Mon-Thurs, 11 am-10 pm; Fri, 11 am-11 pm; Sat brunch, 11 am-3 pm, Dinner, 3-11 pm; Sun brunch, 11 am-3 pm, Dinner, 3-10 pm | Major credit cards | Full Bar | Sidewalk-level accessible
Oversized portraits capture your attention on one side of the main dining space; subtitled Indian films on a large-screen dominate another side; fluted arches into intimate alcoves engage the eye on yet another. Soft Indian music completes the mood. And all of this visual and aural stimulation before you've even had a chance to taste the bright curries, smell the fragrant biryanis, or break off pieces of warm roti.
We began with a north Indian street snack called papri chaat ($4.95 or $7.95) and samosas ($4.95), The turnover-like samosas are baked, with potatoes, peas, and delectable spices. The papri chaat is like nachos, with thick wafers, akin to bagel chips, dotted with chick peas, smothered in tamarind chutney, drizzled with yogurt and fresh cilantro. Truly addictive. The roti ($2.95) is an unleavened whole wheat pita-like bread, baked with the gentle taste of fenugreek.
From the expansive menu of traditional Indian foods, adapted to some Western ingredients and to health-conscious preparations, Bill gravitated toward the char-grilled specialties, which included kabobs with lamb, beef, shrimp, swordfish, chicken, or paneer (Indian-style farmer's cheese), plus grilled eggplant, mushrooms, a mixed veggie grill, and a mixed meat and seafood grill ($18.95). He thoroughly enjoyed the latter, with lamb chops, grilled chicken, shrimp, swordfish, and beef. Bill chose baked sweet potato slices instead of rice to accompany his grilled items, and he also liked the complementary taste of a chickpea/cilantro salad.
My friend Baiba and shared two other dishes: a vegetable and paneer biryani ($12.95) and an aloo gobhi curry ($12.95). The curry combined cauliflower pieces and potato chunks with fresh ginger, cumin seeds, tomatoes, and cilantro. Served over a bed of white basmati rice, it was delicious and a tad fiery and, therefore, well complemented by bites of warm roti.
In the wide diversity of Indian breads, the naan (thin, soft white-flour circles) at India have always been a treat, and they can be ordered with six different toppings: fresh garlic, chili and cilantro, fresh ginger and honey, basil pesto, a hot vindaloo sauce, or onion and cilantro. A bread basket with assorted toppings is a great way to start a birthday party at India (there was one in progress next to us, in a long booth that held 10 people).
The biryani that Baiba and I also split was a fragrant, almost flower-like contrast to the sharp spices of the curries. Rice and veggies (and meat or paneer) are simmered with pineapple chunks, raisins, almonds, cashews, and a mixture of spices that usually includes cardamom, cinnamon, and coriander, though India's variation also seemed to have a splash of rosewater, and, on top, a generous dollop of pistachio sour cream. A veritable feast for the senses.