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Memories of India

Try Rasoi for dinner

Dec. 27, 2007
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Never judge a restaurant by its lunch buffet, especially if the restaurant happens to be Thai, Chinese or Indian. Stir-fried food keeps poorly on a steam table; meat is often used sparingly; and spicier dishes tend to be so mild as to be unrecognizable.

This proved the case at the new Indian Rasoi, located at the corner once occupied by Dancing Ganesha. While the basic layout is the same, the new color scheme is bolder and the lighting brighter. Dancing Ganesha was a unique Indian restaurant due to its attention to detail. The aroma of freshly roasted spices wafting from the kitchen is now gone, but diners at Indian Rasoi will find a menu that is quite a bit larger and filled with familiar names. Expect the usual cast of characters, including tandoori entrees, flatbreads, biryani, samosa and a large vegetarian section.

The dinner experience is quite different from that of lunch. Arriving first in the evening are complimentary papadums, wafer-thin lentil wafers seasoned with a variety of spices. These are served with mint chutney and sweet tamarind sauce. The vegetable samosa ($3.50) boasts a thin pastry wrapper with a delightful spiced filling of potatoes, peas and onions. There is also a meat samosa ($5.50) filled with turkey.

One of the low points at the lunch buffet was the chicken vindaloo. Vindaloo is a Portuguese-Indian cooking technique that incorporates vinegar with hot spices. At lunchtime the chicken wallowed in a nearly flavorless sauce, devoid of any hot pepper and even any taste of vinegar. But after 5 p.m., try the lamb vindaloo ($11.95), which the courteous servers will be happy to have prepared to order. The result is tender boneless chunks of lamb with white potato in a fiery reddish-orange-hued sauce. It’s what a proper vindaloo should taste like.

Lamb appears in several other dishes, too. Among the best is frontier kebab ($15.95), an Indian version of rack of lamb. The pieces of lamb with the rib are marinated in a spice blend and cooked in a tandoor oven. It arrives at the table on a sizzling cast-iron plate with fresh slices of onion and mild peppers. Ask for the hot sauce on the side, as the lamb is already amply spiced. The sauce, however, makes a good condiment for the long-grained basmati rice.

Following a trip to India 20 years ago, I’ve always remembered an elegant restaurant in Calcutta that served a memorable dish of jumbo tandoori prawns. The tandoori prawns at Indian Rasoi are as good as my memories from that long-ago vacation. They are served in the same manner as the lamb, with an identical sauce on the side. There are only four prawns, but they may be the largest in Milwaukee and are cooked for maximum flavor. It’s an exceptional entre.

Dining on spicy food requires a counterbalance. A side of raita, yogurt with chopped cucumbers, should do the job, as yogurt can tame even the spiciest vindaloo. Indian beer also comes to the rescue, and the best pick here is a large bottle of Taj Mahal.

While I will always miss the food and aromas of Dancing Ganesha, Indian Rasoi is a worthy substitute. And as an added bonus, there is still a great deal of the menu left to explore.

India Rasoi

1692 N. Van Buren St.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53202



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