When Jill and I first noticed a name change late last year at what was once a terrific Indian restaurant 7 Hills Cuisine of India, our first thought was that it must be simply that – a name change.
Turns out that Flavors of India, which opened in October of 2014, marks a new and (believe it or not) better incarnation for one of our absolute favorite cuisines. In a town that’s bursting with sushi places, Thai restaurants, and a plethora of Peruvian hot spots, authentic Indian cuisine seems to be playing second (or seventh or eighth) fiddle. One visit here, and you’ll realize that’s a culinary void being beautifully filled in at Flavors of India.
Remodeled and re-configured from its predecessor, the restaurant now sports some private dining spaces, leather banquettes, and a single flat screen playing non-stop Bollywood flicks on the end wall. Personally, we love that!
When we first sat down with our menus, my eyes fell to the over two dozen vegetarian and vegan appetizers and entrées. Hmmm, maybe a “meatless Monday” is in order here. After more extensive reading, I caved in favor of front-of-the-house manager and co-owner Sijil’s highlighting of a few signature items. Meatless Monday will have to wait. Looks like it’ll be “meatless Thursday” for our weekly radio show on WSRQ, with local socialite Kirsten Sponseller, and guest host Bridget O’Brien, both of whom eschew our more carnivoral tastes.
Naturally, I kick things off with an ice cold Kingfisher beer, while Jill orders a nice pino grigio. Sijil brings over a complimentary order of Pappadam crackers with three dipping sauces; a green yogurt, mint and pepper sauce, a ketchup and grilled onion, and a tamarind sauce. Niiice! And this was just the beginning of a magnificent kaleidoscope of flavors in store!
On to the menu. Whew. This is tough. In the end, the vegetarian appetizers of Tamarind Eggplant, crispy fried, with onion yogurt and tamarind sauce, and the Gobi Munchurian – cauliflower florets fried in butter, then toasted with onion, bell pepper and chili sauce called our names the loudest. We’re sooo glad they did!
The Tamarind Eggplant had a crispiness, sweetness, and savouriness that had us all but declaring it “best in show” before we’d even tried anything else!
The Gobi Munchurian is up next. Once again, the flavors are spectacular; the cauliflower is firm, the taste of the onion and bell pepper completely in lock-step, with the heat of the chili sauce making my taste buds dance like the perfectly choreographed people on the screen in front of me.
(Tell us more, I hear you say!) As always, Jill and I collaborate on the main courses, and the Chicken Pista Curry, as suggested by Sijil, makes the cut. The dish consists of boneless chicken breasts cooked with ginger (ding!), garlic (ding!), and pistachio & cashew sauce (ding! ding! ding!)
Now, I happen to think that I know quite a few words, but this dish leaves me grasping for superlatives. Moist chicken is absolutely bathed in the nutty sauce and spices that had us seriously thinking about hoisting the bowl up and licking it clean. (Hmm, I forgot to ask. Perhaps that’s the supreme compliment to the chef?)
Our second main course choice was the Lamb or Goat Chettinadu. This where I got my goat, cooked in a black peppercorn sauce. In both instances the sauces are far more complex than any menu description would let on. You’ll just have to trust me on this – it’s magnificent!
The shrimp from the Tandoori oven, was as delicious as it was fresh and colorful. With the perfect combination of clay oven cooked shrimp and fresh veggies and exotic seasonings, it was gone almost as quick as it took to photograph it!
And did I mention the Naan? The staple bread of Indian cuisine, baked in the clay oven, was absolutely the best we’ve ever had. So much so that it, in its perfect char, garlicky goodness would merit a trip back! Chef and co-owner Lijo Lukose personally delivered the entrées to check on how we were enjoying our meals. (Was our cover blown again?) No matter, we found out that he was classically trained in Mumbai, and was (beyond) well-versed in all the regional cuisines on India, before working in Dubai for several years, and then moving on to work cruise ships in the Caribbean before seizing the opportunity in Sarasota.
“Yes” was the response to whether there were any generations-old recipes incorporated into the menu. When I inquired as to “what’s the secret” to great Indian food, the reply, tongue firmly in cheek, was “it’s a secret!”
Fair enough. Indian food done expertly like it is here, doesn’t require me knowing anything about it’s regional or historical origins, nor even the art and science that goes into it. Nope. It just has to taste great. The levels and depths of the flavors, in combination with the amount of heat you enjoy is all I need. Needs met. Mission accomplished.