Two diverse Indian cuisines liven the palate

 

Two diverse Indian cuisines liven the palate

 

Date: December 23, 2009
by: The Observer Staff

 
 

Aficionados of Indian food suddenly have increased restaurant options. Virtually next door to long-established Chutney’s on Hillview Street is Gateway to India. And settling into the space of the erstwhile Canvas Café is Daawat. You can eat your way across the diverse cuisines of this huge country from Southside Village to Towles Court.  

Gateway to India is owned by Sam Kumar, who was on the floor providing menu guidance and serving tables the night of our visit. He could not have been more pleasant or accommodating, and, as always, the presence of the owner in the restaurant had a propitious effect on the experience. The décor is ethnic and the overall ambience casual and friendly.

Among the appetizers, we sampled kesari jingo arial ($6.99), a tasty mélange of shrimp cooked with bell peppers, onions and grated coconut. We also tried banarsi samosa ($3.99), filled with potatoes and green peas. The menu describes it as “lightly spiced,” and this is the tricky part of Indian food: One man’s “hot” is another man’s “mild.” What’s important is to make your preferred heat level known. Both restaurants will season to your specifications.

One diner at Gateway follows a gluten-free diet and ordered naram garam kofta ($12.99), dumplings of homemade cheese and vegetables flavored with cashew, cumin, raisins and nuts and cooked in a cashew cream sauce and served on a bed of rice. The server kindly verified with the kitchen that the dish was gluten-free. Our second entrée was kadahi chicken ($13.99), sautéed with onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, vegetables and herbs. It took a while for both courses to arrive, but it’s a young restaurant with kinks still to be worked out.  

Dessert options at Gateway to India include gulab kessar jamun ($4.25), fried dumplings of Indian cottage cheese served with cardamom syrup; kheer ($3.99), rice pudding; and Indian ice cream in intriguing flavors.

Both Gateway to India and Daawat have large menus, including Indian specialty categories. Tandoor is a traditional clay oven super-heated with charcoal. It is used to cook marinated meat, fish and seafood and, at Gateway, chunks of Indian cottage cheese with vegetables, called angara paneer tikka ($13.99). Biryani are rice-based dishes featuring vegetables, chicken, lamb or shrimp, typically cooked in a tightly covered vessel and often sealed with pastry.

“Daawat” is the Indian word for an invitation to feast. It is the second venture for owner Amisha Desai. Daawat’s space in Towles Court is inviting with outdoor dining areas.

For starters at Daawat, we ordered samosas and naan. Naan is Indian pita, puffy rounds baked in a clay oven. We ordered both plain ($1.99) and garlic ($3.95) and left nary a scrap.

One diner wanted half a tandoori chicken ($12.95) of all white meat, and that’s what she got. It came to the table steaming hot, beautifully browned and elegantly fragrant. It also came out of the oven five minutes too soon. Shrimp curry ($17.95) was deemed “exquisite” by the gentleman who ordered it, as was shrimp bhuna ($17.95) with herbs, fresh ginger, garlic, onion and sweet peppers.  Chicken dopiazza ($14.95), a Bengali dish, had chicken cubes cooked with rings of onion, ginger, garlic and tomato.  

Desserts here include rice pudding, an Indian standard, here flavored with kewra syrup. Others are rasmalai ($3.95), homemade cottage cheese; gulab jaman ($3.95), pastry dipped in honey, and kulfi falooda ($4.95), a milkshake with homemade ice cream with rice noodles.

Our team ate samosas in both the restaurants for comparison. The samosa at Gateway to India ($3.99) is an unusually croquette-like pyramid. The dense filling is comprised largely of seasoned mashed potatoes. Daawat’s samosa is more expected — a flatter, triangular packet of puff pastry enclosing one’s choice of meat ($4.95) or vegetable filling ($3.95). Daawat’s samosa is lighter; Gateway’s is heartier. Both are tasty. A standard of careful preparation and artful seasoning is clear in both.  

Our bottom line is both restaurants are both still young, so align your service and timing expectations accordingly. That said, aficionados of Indian food will likely want to try both Gateway to India and Daawat. 

IF YOU GO
GATEWAY TO INDIA
Address: 1960 Hillview St., Sarasota. 364-4777.
Hours: Open 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. daily.

DAAWAT
Address: 239 S. Links Ave., Sarasota. 366-4433.
Hours: Open 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 5 to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

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