The Seductive Spices and Aromas of India at Indigo
By RAND RICHARDS COOPER NOV. 19, 2015
Kheema Nachos, a special, include ground-chicken kheema, tomatoes, cilantro, and melted Cheddar Jack cheese, with a side of curried mayonnaise. CreditJessica Hill for The New York Times
Someday, the culinary trickle-down will bring to the hinterlands the same creativity of Indian cuisine in the metropolis, exemplified in such boundary-blurring concoctions as duck confit samosas or crab cakes wrapped in tamarind-glazed papadums. But for now, we still have chicken tikka masala, lamb saag and the other traditional favorites. And with these dishes, you will do superbly at Indigo Indian Bistro in Manchester.
The Indigo menu ranges freely over the subcontinent, from Tamil Nadu to Bengal and beyond. “We wanted to offer variety,” says Sheen Mathew, the owner, who previously co-owned the excellent Utsav in Ellington.
I could have happily compiled all my meals from Indigo’s enticing roster of starters. Some were known to me, like Manchurian gobi, cauliflower florets lightly battered with maida, a finely milled bleached wheat flour, then fried with ginger and scallions in a soy dressing given a sweet-sour cast with a touch of vinegar and sugar. Others were less familiar, like a spicy, chili-stoked chicken dish from Andhra Pradesh — chunks of battered, fried chicken jumbled together with red onion, green pepper, sesame seed, cilantro and curry leaves. Fiery hot, aglow with a tinge of turmeric, it tasted fabulous.
Also fabulous was griddled paneer, cubes of marinated cheese quick-fried in a tawa, the disc-shaped fry pan used for making flatbreads. Mingled with onions, tomatoes, bell pepper chunks, and tiny broccoli florets, it was sweet-hot and delicious, emanating a hint of mint. Best of all was a new fusion item: nachos, piled with ground-chicken kheema, tomatoes, copious cilantro, and melted Cheddar Jack cheese, with a side of curried mayonnaise. Addictive nibbles, the perfect Indian bar food for watching a cricket match.
After such ambrosial apps, main courses — serviceable renditions of the usual favorites — brought us a little bit back down to earth. Best among them were a velvety, creamy, honey-sweetened chicken tikka masala, and chicken Chettinad, a south Indian favorite, with ground black peppercorns deepening and sharpening the cumin-inflected sauce. “Cyclone” prawns were served on a long white rectangular plate amid a heaped-up slather of onions and green peppers in a gingery tomato-based dressing. For a tandoori dish, we tried sheekh kebab, ground lamb formed into ovoid patties scented richly with mint and roasted, served smoking hot amid a plethora of onions, carrots and cauliflower.
Channa masala was a pile of garbanzo beans in a thick tomatoey sauce flecked with scallion bits and prettily topped with a miniature salad of cilantro, tomato and diced red onion. A subtly flavorful prawn dish, chingri macher curry, was prepared with an onion-ginger paste and the simplified Bengali garam masala, which contains cardamom, cinnamon and cloves, making for a light, mild spicing.
Some dishes missed the mark. The Ragada potato patties — a chaat, or street food favorite from Mumbai — were buried beneath a jumble of curried chickpeas, crisped rice kernels and other ingredients, making it impossible to locate an actual potato. Rasa soup, a thin broth, gave off a jolt of chili pepper, but little flavor other than cilantro. Lamb madras — the waiter steered us away from the goat variety, warning of “very many bones” — was not quite what I expected, tiny morsels of lamb rather than the usual chunks, the sauce creamy and mild for a dish that typically can be fairly hot.
Another Tamil Nadu dish, kodi varuval, mingled big chunks of fried chicken breast with onion, ginger, garlic, green chili and curry leaf. Many versions of varuval (meaning “fried”) abound; Indigo’s deploys a lot of grated coconut. Some loved it; I found it dry and too sweet. But nobody in our group disliked any of the breads we ordered, including the superbly fresh naan and a giant, blimpish poori.
Indigo is a pleasant place to dine. From the moment our smiling server appeared, rubbing pre-warmed dinner plates with a napkin as if conjuring a magic trick, service was attentive and remarkably gracious. Mr. Mathew has striven to accommodate as many dietary needs as possible, his menu helpfully tagged with vegan, dairy-free and gluten-free markers. To shape Indian cooking to these restrictions can be as simple as thickening dishes with coconut milk instead of flour or cream, or can be more involved, like preparing a roti from tapioca and rice flour. But doing so makes Indigo and its cuisine accessible to many more eaters.
The restaurant is done up with brilliant wall colors — bright orange, green, a deep eggplant purple — that mirror the bold colorings of Indian food itself. These vivid hues are augmented by an array of framed peacock tails. The effect is fresh, simple and vibrant: a restaurant pluming its feathers, and deservedly so.
Indigo Indian Bistro 232 Spencer Street, Manchester 860-646-8600 indigo-bistro.com
The Space Located in a bland strip mall by a supermarket, the restaurant is surprisingly attractive inside, providing seating for 44. Wheelchair accessible.
The Crowd Rarely filled on a weeknight, the restaurant enjoys a small but solid base of loyal regulars, with couples and foursomes predominating, served by an attentive and unusually gracious staff.
The Bar Table service only; the small wine list is limited to 10 bottles, all under $30, and several wines by the glass, $6 to $7.50. Indian beers on offer include a mega-sized Haywards 5000, its punchy 8 percent alcohol content masked by a sweet, deep caramel flavor that pairs nicely with highly spiced foods.
The Bill Appetizers and soup, $4.99 to $11.99; entrees, $11.99 to $18.99; breads, $2.99 to $4.99; desserts, $3.29 to $4.99.
What We Liked Manchurian gobi, Andra chicken, tawa paneer, kheema nachos, chick tikka masala, chicken Chettinad, cyclone prawns, sheekh kebab, vegetable curry, channa masala, chigiri macher prawn curry, kodi varuval.
If You Go Lunch, which includes a buffet option, Tuesdays through Sundays, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; dinner, Tuesdays through Sundays, 5 to 9:30 p.m. Closed Monday. Reservations accepted. Free parking.
Ratings Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair, Poor.
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