I get stuck on favourite restaurants, particularly Indian ones, returning like a moth to a flaming curry. But I wanted to try the year-old India's Oven, so conveniently located near Park métro, and with the added allure of being a BYOB.
Flashing lights on the outside belie the simple, clean setting within. The colour scheme is burgundy and white, from layered tablecloths to walls, with hanging embroidered handicrafts, an obligatory Taj Mahal painting and a 3-D silver-and-gold picture of what, at first glance, I thought was Venice. "Is that Piazza San Marco?" I whispered to my friend. Of course not. It was the Golden Temple in Amritsar, a sacred Sikh site, we were informed. But godly segues to gaudy with the frenetic Bollywood musical numbers on a hi-def screen in the back.
The name India's Oven conjured happy visions of warm nan. The menu has promising detours off the usual Indian restaurant map, like goat feet soup and lamb samosas. The restaurant also uses olive oil instead of ghee - a healthy move - and lets you order dishes mild, medium or hot. Convenient for Westernized palates, but I believe each dish has an optimal level of spice - some, like chicken korma, are meant to be seductively smooth and mild; others, such as the chili-laden jhalfrezi curry, require a slap-you heat.
My friend and I started with two kinds of samosas, including the aforementioned lamb ones, which were plump with minced meat and studded with peas. Gorgeous. The other was chana samosa - regular samosas chopped up and topped with a lovely mix of chickpeas, onion and tamarind sauce.
The lassis at India's Oven are as I like them best: thick, not watered down with ice cubes. They're super filling, so drink only if your appetite warrants it.
Upon ordering the sag lamb, we were asked, "Spinach or Indian?" Most restos fall back on the Popeye standard; here the sag is made with mustard greens. The dish had tender bits of lamb, and the sauce was a muted hue instead of a bright spinach green. Cinnamon struck a note in the multi-layered taste, and our medium was indeed, well, medium hot with a nice late burn.
Chicken tikka consisted of oven-cooked chicken pan-finished with peppers and onions. The meat was more tender than an Udit Narayan love croon, but bland in taste.
We ordered takeout to assuage the homebodies we left behind. The men were happy with the goat curry's thick onion and tomato slurry harbouring mild meat chunks, but less excited over the ho-hum chicken jhalfrezi and karahi paneer (a curried cheese dish I'd been looking forward to). In trying to accommodate different Scoville unit tolerances, the chef underspiced the food and included green chilies on the side.
Much was forgiven with a bite of beautiful nan. Though I confess to enjoying pillowy dough, these are not too thin, not too thick, with perfect golden blisters. A paneer-stuffed nan was daubed with cheese, cumin seeds and other spices; the lamb-stuffed one was a meat eater's pleaser. "It rocks," was one diner's succinct comment. I only wish the garlic nan had been made with fresh garlic, instead of dehydrated flakes.
Overall, some highs, some lows. Even though I will probably still return, moth-like, to my usual fave Indian spot, I'd be tempted to add a detour to India's Oven for at least the lassis, lamb samosas and nans.