.Currying Favor

Namaste Delivers the Spice

Sometimes you just need a curry. And for those times, there’s Namaste Indian Cuisine, located in the former home of the Westside’s Vasili’s, roughly at the corner of Mission and Trescony. Full disclosure: I’ve never met an Indian dish I didn’t like. Now back to the most recent encounter.

With a tempting menu, attentive service, a solid list of wines and beers, and a swirl of Indian pop tunes in the background, Namaste is a serious spice island that invites quick lunches or leisurely dining. We took big appetites to Namaste last week and we found plenty to enjoy.

The lunch menu is loaded with classic thali plates, where your choice of entree arrives on a platter accompanied by dal, rice, hot naan bread, fiery pickles, salad, garlicky raita and a sweet yogurt for dessert—a veritable banquet of multi-flavored dishes to enjoy. I always go for one of my favorite curries, Aloo Gobi ($16), an earthy dish that involves red potatoes, cauliflower, cilantro and onions in a gingery tomato curry sauce (patrons can specify degree of spiciness). A diehard tandoori addict, my lunch partner took a look at the dinner menu, where he found a long list of tandoori skewered fish, lamb and chicken, marinated in yogurt and garam masala and finished in a clay oven. This tandoori method of cookery results in items evenly cooked all the way through while remaining lusciously moist. He ordered the Tandoori Salmon ($25.95) and we both settled on ice tea ($3.50), all the while eyeing the chilled bottles of Taj Mahal beer being consumed by the couple seated next to us.

But the best part of our recent lunch at Namaste was discovering a new, gorgeous, intriguingly spiced starter—the house Avocado Chaat ($12.95). Arriving first, while our entrees were being made, the Chaat (Hindi for “snack”) was attractively presented. A plump cake of diced avocado, tiny bits of tomato and potato was infused with chilies, cumin, coriander seeds, yogurt and this complex sweet/hot creation was topped with pomegranate seeds and a dusting of dried mango. We couldn’t stop eating it, even while reminding each other that our main dishes were still to come. (The Avocado Chaat and other appetizer specialties are listed on the main/dinner menu.)

Entrees were as visually dazzling as the jewel-like chaat. Items were served in pretty metal bowls gathered on a large platter. Steaming hot flatbread lay next to a cluster of fiery pickles. Spice-intensive dal in a small bowl exuded fragrance of cinnamon and fenugreek.

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The garlicky raita was a perfect addition to the large bowl of classic basmati rice. My main dish—the bronze-hued vegetable curry—was exactly what I craved. Studded with plump fresh English peas, the sauce-bathed cauliflower and organic potatoes were both comfort food and well-seasoned palate luxury. On another round platter, the crisp deep pink chunks of salmon filet sat on a bed of onions, cilantro and fresh limes.

Like my entree, this one came with all the bowls of spicy cool and hot sides, as well as a lovely little green salad of mixed baby beet leaves, arugula and spinach. I enjoyed adding spoonfuls of the sweetened yogurt, as well as the hot and garlicky raita onto bites of salmon. It was all vibrant and appealing and we didn’t want to stop eating.

Throughout our meal, service was excellent. The staff answered questions, checked on our progress and brought to-go containers which are always needed when portions are so generous. We had enough to take home for dinner again the next evening. Only this time we added glasses of our current house wine, the light alcohol Le Cigare Orange from Bonny Doon Vineyard. Namaste!

Namaste Indian Cuisine – 1501 Mission St. Santa Cruz. namasteindiabistro.com

Open daily 11:30am-2:30pm, 5-9pm (’til 9:30 Fri & Sat)


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