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Montrose Vindaloo

Is Indika the best Indian restaurant in the United States?

My other dining companion got "grilled arctic char, Bengali mustard curry, lentil pilaf." The lusciously fatty Canadian fish, which is a cousin to freshwater trout and salmon, was beautifully grilled with flecks of black on the edges. (Yes, it was "charred char." Sorry, I can't help myself.) I wish the Bengali mustard curry was as sensational as it sounded, but it needed some spicier mustard. With a bolder mustard sauce and a pile of frites instead of the boring lentil pilaf, this could be the fish frites of my dreams.

And if you're thinking that frites aren't Indian, well, neither are Arctic char or Idaho trout. That never stopped Anita Jaisinghani before.


The shrimp vindaloo is so sensational, you'll want another plate.
Troy Fields
The shrimp vindaloo is so sensational, you'll want another plate.

Location Info

Map

Indika

516 Westheimer Rd.
Houston, TX 77006

Category: Restaurant > Indian

Region: Montrose

Details

Dinner hours: 6 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. Lunch hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays. Brunch hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays.

Goat brain masala: $9

Foie gras: $12

Shrimp vindaloo: $20

Arctic char: $22

Trout curry: $19

Chicken naan sandwich: $10

516 Westheimer, 713-524-2170.

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Anita Jaisinghani earned a PhD. in microbiology in her native India and then spent ten years working in Canada before she moved to Houston and changed careers. She worked as the pastry chef at Café Annie for nearly two years before opening the original Indika on Memorial. That restaurant was lauded by the New York Times, Gourmet magazine and a host of other publications for its startlingly fresh take on Indian cuisine.

Along with perfecting Indian seafood dishes, Jaisinghani has also made it a goal to teach Westerners about chaat -- which is one of the most popular snacks in urban India. Chaat is a sort of savory snack food sundae generally made with crispy cereal snacks, yogurt and savory condiments.

On a previous visit at lunchtime, I tried one of Jaisinghani's chaat creations, a mélange of corn samosas, warm potatoes and black garbanzos with yogurt and crispy rice. It was a pleasant combination of cool and warm starches, but mainly it tasted strange. As hard as I try, I can't get beyond my "Rice Krispies are for breakfast" mentality.

It's much easier for us yokels to embrace a familiar Western form like the juicy, sweet and cheesy "grilled chicken naan sandwich with spinach, goat cheese and mango chutney," which is also on the lunch menu. The sandwich was huge, and my lunchmate was a dainty eater. So I abandoned my chaat and finished the other half of her sandwich.

The sandwich is indicative of the broader appeal of Indika's new menu. In fact, the whole attitude of the restaurant has become more welcoming. The original location, a little white cottage off Memorial, was certainly charming, but it felt cramped when it was fully occupied. And it didn't seem so cute when you couldn't get a reservation.

The striking new built-from-scratch structure on Westheimer is an architectural wonder. The soaring ceilings give the building a monumental feeling, but the dining room seems quite intimate, thanks to an interior design that divides the tables between a lower level and a gallery-like second tier.

The walls are painted with saffron, peach and pink grapefruit colors. Billowing hanging fabrics in shades of rose break up the angles, and bright blue vases and fabrics provide accents. A huge bar and a cozy outdoor patio add a range of seating options.

At the new location, Indika has found a suitable showcase for its world-class Indian food. And it has added the upscale cocktails and approachable lunch items that it needed to attract a wider audience. Combine the hip new menu with a Montrose-area address, and you have the makings of greatness.

But as brilliant as she is, Anita Jaisinghani owes part of the credit for her success to the palates of Houstonians. Floyd Cardoz at Tabla in New York will never be able to make his food as spicy as it should be, because New Yorkers are wimps when it comes to chiles. And I imagine innovative Indian restaurants in Tennessee and California face the same restraints.

What makes Jaisinghani's food great is that it's not only among the most creative takes on Indian cuisine in the country, it's also muy picante when it's supposed to be. Thanks to the "bring it on" palates of jalapeño-happy Houstonians, Indika's fabulous, fiery Indian food has found the audience it deserves.

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