21 March 2010

India Grill hits it mark in Laramie

How is it possible that Laramie now boasts two Indian restaurant? In this, a town of 28,000 people, around 20,000 of whom regularly wear cowboy hats and Tony Llamas (I really do say this with affection), what were the odds? As you know from my previous entry, I am not entirely in love with Passage to India , but India Grill, which has taken over the restaurant of Howard Johnson’s on 1561 Snowy Range Road, is really worth visiting.

The menu was a heavy, hard-cover book of choices, which can inspire skepticism. How large does a kitchen have to be to excel in six pages of dishes? With dinner prices ranging from $9.85 to $15.95 per dish, I hoped it was large enough.

My dining companion and I were waited on by an owner or the restaurant, and he was certainly attentive and sociable. He was also very confident and proud of his food, but honestly, he deserved to be. After declining chai (too heavy for my taste), we were entreated to complimentary cups, anyway. Not wanting to be rude, I tried it, though I will admit I was a bit put off to be handed something I had just said I did not want. To my surprise, it was really pleasant: milky and a bit rich, but more spiced than sweet, this chai did not interfere with the rest of my meal. It might be the best compliment to a meal of any chai I have tried.

The obligatory flatbreads and sauces were nothing special. There was a green sauce, which had a nice, bright zing to it but was heavily salted, and a brown sauce which, I am guessing, was sweet, but I could not detect much flavor from it. If something had to be dull, this was the most excusable problem.

My friend and I ordered chicken korma, saag paneer, and a dish called Bombay alu, a red curried sauce with boiled potatoes. We also ordered a side of plain naan, which was pleasantly chewy and blackened, but too thick and doughy for my taste. The korma sauce was a heavily creamed yellow sauce; cashew flavor did not seem the least bit present, but there was a strong curry powder flavor to it. The sauce was fine, and the chicken was extremely tender thigh meat, but it was not like the korma I expected.

The rest of my meal, however, was truly incredible. The saag paneer was wonderful: well-seasoned, flavorful spinach sauce with generous amounts of golden brown cheese cubes. The entire dish was lightly browned on top, like it had been run through the broiler at the end of the cooking time, and it was divine. And the Bombay alu was really terrific. The potatoes were tender and buttery, and the red curry sauce was extremely flavorful. We ordered all of our dishes “medium hot”, and the spice level was definitely present, though not overwhelming. It was just right.

I will admit that I found the fact that this Indian restaurant had taken over Foster’s Corner Country restaurant, without changing the d├ęcor, rather charming. How often does a diner get to enjoy the cowboy logo in all of its stained glass splendor while sipping chai and munching naan? And although I was not really looking for a conversation with my mouth full of food, the care and pride the owner showed in his business was heartwarming. Most importantly, this food is good, and though the restaurant is a little off the beaten path in Laramie, it was well worth the trip.