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By Jim Duncan Reviews

Scallion uthappam
Namaste India
7500 University Ave., Clive, 255-1698
Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. (buffet available)
Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, 5 to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5 to 10 p.m.

Namaste India

In the last year, Namaste India expanded and remodeled, changing owners and chefs. The place opened three years ago as a grocery store with a small kitchen in back. Its self-service window introduced Des Moines to Dravidian and vegan specialties like dosa, idli, bajji and uthappam. Its grocery store introduced scores of chutneys, pickles, rices and dhals that also improved life for nostalgic South Indians as well as vegetarians of all ethnicities. The popular restaurant outgrew its secondary status and was closed to remodel. Bureaucratic red tape shut it down longer than expected — too long for the talented dosa chef, who moved on. When it re-opened, walled off from the market, it became a north Indian café that resembled most other Indian restaurants in town. During those changes, I received more anxious e-mail inquiries about Namaste than anything else in town.

All that is history. Things are better than ever now on both sides. Namaste’s market is much larger now with added space for more bags of regionally specific flours, rices and dhals. With kewras of floral waters, Namaste’s hair care section now includes more organic foods than one can find in most convenience stores, plus safer rose water than you can make with flowers bought at a florist.

The restaurant is thoroughly modern Indian, with chefs from both north and south of the subcontinent and an Indo-Chinese menu to boot. That latter category is hot with contemporary middle class Indian diners. Basically, it amounts to Chinese staples like hakka (duram wheat) noodles, fried rice, egg rolls, fried vegetables, meats and shrimp — all treated with Indian spice and chile. “Manchurian sauce” replaces Indian curries in many of these dishes, adding soy sauce and wasabi to ginger, garlic and onions.

More traditional Indian palates are also appeased here. I tried roti, naan, kulcha and poori from the bread menu; the onion kulcha rates as one of Des Moines top pizza. Naans (white flour bread baked on clay oven walls) were inconsistent. One day they tasted like buttermilk biscuits; another day more like deep-dish pizza crust. Pooris (fried wheat bread) were heavenly puffs. From the rice menu, bisibellabath (rice cooked in lentil soup) stood out, even from an authentic Hyderabi dum biryani. That second dish, called “Dravidian paella,” cooks yogurt-marinated meats in saffron and lemon flavored rice, over a coal fire.

Dosa (rice flour crepe) and uthappam (gram flour pancake) menus have been reinstated. Dosas are no longer rolled into cylindrical shapes, but their flavors remain similar. A masala butter dosa was a reasonable facsimile of the food of Hindu gods. Its clarified butter helped turn its texture to a divine crunchy lace. Other dosas were more ordinary, with the texture of typical pancakes. Uthappam varieties should enter the Des Moines vegetarian hall of fame; their only drawback is having to choose whether to eat them straight or with their accompanying sambar (soup) and chutneys.

I tried several northern Indian dishes — curries including goat, tandoori meats, kabobs, pakoras (fritters) and bajjis. That latter is the original “popper” — fried chile peppers that have been coated and stuffed with a paste of gram flour and yogurt, or cheese. It produced wildly different levels of heat on different occasions, with chile membranes removed once and retained another time. Servers ask about heat preferences with the other dishes, but you might offer that information if you order bajjis, too. All meats at Namaste were Hallal (kosher). Lassis (shakes) were made with homemade yogurt and available in either sweet or salty varieties, perfect for soothing the bite of too much heat.

Bottom line: Better than ever, Namaste now offers the most contemporary, cosmopolitan pan-Indian menu in town.

Side Dishes
Super Quick Gas Station (East 30th and Scott Avenue) now has samosas made with Italian sausage, likely the first Indo-Italian fusion fast food in Iowa… Brian Dubai (DuBay’s) now chefs for Jerry Talerico at Sam & Gabe’s. CV

Food Dude Reviews 2009 2008 Reviews ~ 2007 Reviews
Best & Worst of 2008 (01-01-09) Maxie’s (01-08-09)
Fawn's (01-15-09) Kwong Tung welcomes the Ox (01-22-09)
Noah's Ark (01-29-09) Taste of Elegance (02-05-09)
La Mie Bakery & Café (02-12-09) El Chisme (02-19-09)
Florene’s (02-26-09) Fourth Street T (03-05-09)
Supreme Bakery (03-12-09) Town Hall Tavern (03-19-09)

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