Reviewing My Fellows in Fine Dining
Good evening everyone! As I promised you last week, here are the reviews for two local Indian food establishments. My partner made a wise observation that perhaps it doesn't make so much sense for me to review my "competition," since I am not likely to be impartial. As usual his insight completely took me by surprise, but made perfect sense, once I thought about it. I had originally begun writing reviews, not as a means to slyly denigrate other chefs, but to give my readers an idea of the vegetarian options that exist in the Triangle. There are so very few vegetarian and vegan eateries (ie, 5 as of today's search on happycow.net) that I really am not worried about losing my client base due to a saturation of the market at this point. So with that unnecessarily long explanation, let me tell you about Raaga in Chapel Hill. Their website claims that it is the "Pinnacle of Indian Fine Dining." Now it is located in a very modern, upscale condo/shopping center place on Highway 54, that houses other swanky places like Aloft. I was there for a Sunday lunch buffet (which I think, is considerably cheaper than the regular menu). The food was decidedly adequate. It was really quite good, yet nothing better than the food I have had from the kitchens of my local Indian friends. Nothing super fancy, just standard, tasty (and simple) rice, dal, curry, and pakoras. That being said, I have to give Raaga credit for their exquisite decor.
Check this out! Hubba hubba, right? The restaurant is absolutely beautiful (hint: this is the place to bring anyone you are looking to impress). I suspect this is where the "fine" comes from in Fine Dining - it is not so much that the food is fancy, but the setting is fancy. I highly recommend dining here if you are introducing someone to Indian Cuisine. They will undoubtedly be impressed by the finery of the restaurant, without having any frame of reference to compare the cooking against.
Over in Durham you can have a completely different kind of Indian dining experience with Suman's Catering. Suman's business model is that of a Pop-up Restaurant. She sends out a menu by email; takes orders (yep, I copied these first two); cooks out of The Cookery, a shared kitchen in Durham; packs up her orders; and then brings them over to Fullsteam Brewery on Rigsbee Ave. (near the Farmers' Market pavilion). It is quite a nifty set up, actually. Fullsteam has a large seating area that is completely separate from their bar section. Outside the bar there are two rooms with seating, quirky art, video games, and even pinball machines. Suman sets up her sales stand in this area, which though certainly inviting and comfy in the summer, was downright cold and drafty the other week, due to the absence of a little thing called insulation. No worries, Suman's meals are neatly packed in to-go boxes with plasticware and napkins, so it is super easy to just run in, pick up your order, and take it home to your cozy little place, all in a lickety-split. Two more wonderful things that I want to mention about the experience of dining with Suman's cooking are that her prices are extremely reasonable. She includes a vegetarian/vegan option each and every weekend and it is only $10 for a serving each of the rice, dal, naan, and two vegetable curries. Quite a good deal I think! The second is what she calls "Shahi 'Paneer,'" soft chunks of tofu (which both my son and my beau swore was actually fresh paneer), in a tomato cream sauce, spiced with fenugreek. I give Suman a solid two thumbs up on this dish! If you are in the Central Park/Trinity Park area of Durham on a Monday night, do stop by to see Suman, even if only for this tofu dish. It is so worth it!