SMOKE AND SPICE Tandoori lamp chops.
As if lovers of Indian food weren’t doing well enough around here with such places as Kabob and Curry on Thayer Street and Rasoi in Pawtucket, owner Sanjiv Dhar has opened another restaurant, Rasa, in East Greenwich. Its subtitle/slogan is “Flavors of India,” and since its name in Sanskrit means “essence,” that’s apt.
Rasa also offers an exotic environment, from colorfully decorated walls to Indian music in the background and TV clips from Bollywood movies, those funny mashups of gangsters and showgirls.
Indian restaurants are good for a change of pace if only because papadum replaces a bread basket. Here the cracker-thin discs are flecked with cumin seeds and served with the traditional onion chutney and tamarind dip, a nice transition into those flavors coming up.
Speaking of transition from Western food, my cup of mushroom soup ($4), which I chose instead of lentil, was an interesting variation on something quite familiar. There was no mistaking it for Campbell’s, not with its bounty of button mushroom slices that retained a resistant bite, nor with its sweetish brown base bolstered with spinach and cumin seeds.
Johnnie always starts with a samosa ($5), and the two fat, fried turnovers before us, filled with mashed peas and potatoes, were flavorful even without their accompanying sauces. The other starter was chicken tikka ($6.90), which I ordered because it was “tandoor-fired.” The cylindrical tandoor oven kept the five-spice curry-marinated white meat quite moist, and I especially enjoyed the accompanying cilantro dip.
Other appetizers that looked appealing included fish tikka ($7.50), which are grilled tilapia medallions with the spices heavy on the mustard; and the paneer and vegetables skewer ($7.50) — paneer is low-fat farmer cheese. Then there’s the artichoke and veggie uttapam ($5.50), a thick rice pancake. If you’re not worried about even more carbohydrates, you can have the onion bhaji ($5.50), fritters made with chickpea batter.
For our main dishes, we both did well, sipping a thick mango lassi ($3.50) while we considered them. My tablemate was up for seafood and had a few to choose from. There was both garlic shrimp and green shrimp curry ($9 for lunch and $17-plus for dinner), as well as madras fish curry ($9/$19.99). But what tempted her most was the tamarind salmon ($18.50, lunch and dinner). She found the grilled fish’s light glaze “wonderful,” because it complemented rather than competed with the taste. It was seasoned further with coriander and roasted cumin. All main dishes come with choice of basmati or brown rice and a small cup of dal, which looks like thin lentil soup, to pour over the rice.
The meat entrees include six chicken dishes, such as slow-cooked dum chicken biryani and saffron chicken kebab, and three lamb dishes, prepared as a tikka (marinated), curried, or with spinach. But what my eyes kept returning to was the last item: tandoori lamb chops ($19.99, lunch and dinner). The five small rib chops had flavor from wood grilling plus the spice blend garam masala. Importantly, they remained pink inside, retaining the meat’s flavor.