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Food Dude

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By Jim Duncan Reviews

Flavors of India

Flavors of India
520 Army Post Road, 285-3555
11 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. and 5 - 10 p.m.

Ethnic cuisines come to America in search of a hyphen. In provincial countries like China and Italy, one can visit 15 different towns within a few miles of each other and find 15 very different recipes for the same dish. Each town’s cooks believe adamantly that the neighboring towns’ cooks are desecrating a sacred edict. After those dishes pass into American culture though, they seem to be made the same way everywhere and often with ingredients that are unknown in the native land. By then, the ethnic cuisine has been hyphenated, as in Chinese-American or Italian-American. And no one cares that sweet & sour pork is as unknown in China as spaghetti & meatballs in Italy.

When an ethnic cuisine makes hyphen status in America, it’s hit the mainstream. Indian-American cuisine just flowed into Des Moines culture at Flavors of India. This new restaurant is the largest Indian café in town, the first South Asian restaurant on the South Side and the first to set a daily buffet for both lunch and dinner. It might also be the first Indian restaurant anywhere to advertise “Steak specials, vegetarian, American food.” Holy hyphenated cow, that’s ambitious. I didn’t see steak on my menu, but I did see mashed potatoes and beef gravy on a buffet where someone had misplaced a gravy spoon in a tray of vegetarian dhal. That’s not typical though and there’s no reason why Brahmins and vegans can’t eat here without facing rebirth in a larval state.

Vegetarian dishes were the best I tried. A fry dhal included yellow split peas, ginger, garlic and a creamy masala. Makhani dhal was even better with a buttery curry of tomatoes, cream, blank lentils and red beans. Saag paneer presented spinach and homemade cheese in a version that was less fatty than most. Bengan bharta delivered cooked eggplant that had been mashed into a light curry of tomatoes and spices.

“Lamb/goat” was the predominant meat on the menu. There’s something refreshingly honest about that lack of distinction. The fastest growing segment of the livestock market, goat is usually cheaper than lamb in Iowa. Line chefs have told me that it is sometimes substituted without letting diners know. In a saucy dish, I cannot tell them apart. So, the lamb-goat I had in a rogan ghosh worked perfectly in this braised dish of ginger-heavy curry, onions and tomatoes.

Chicken tikka masala exemplified mainstream accommodation. This dish usually tastes like baked chicken marinated in yogurt and a tandoori curry that is heavy with coriander and red chilies. At Flavors of India, the dish tasted like tomato-based spaghetti sauce with a pinch of curry added. This would make a perfect introductory dish to Indian-American food for anyone who likes boneless chicken cacciatore. Even the tandoori chicken was Americanized — the pieces I tried were skinless, dry and surely low in fat. Some breads tasted Italian — American, without any of the charcoal and clay flavors that my favorite naans have at India Star. These buttery, doughy breads make another good introductory item for first timers, especially the ones stuffed with nuts, cheese, raisins and garlic.

My vegetarian biryani and Kashmiri pillau were fine light dishes but made me dream of the spicier, more colorful versions at Namaste and Tandoor respectively. I couldn’t taste, nor see, the saffron that the menu mentioned in the biryani.

Kir (sweet rice pudding), rasmalai (sweet cheese patties), galab jamun (fried cheese balls in syrup) and kulfi (home made ice creams) rounded out the dessert menu. The restaurant had a full bar, a smoking section and a large room for private parties. Service was multi-lingual.

Side dishes

Gateway Market Café raised the bar on complimentary Happy Hour hors d’oeuvres with pates, rillettes and upscale cheeses paired with $2 wines and microbrews. … France followed Ireland’s unlikely lead and banned smoking in cafés and bars on the New Year. CV

Food Dude Reviews 2008 2007 Reviews
Splash Raw Oyster Bar (1-3-08)  

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