By the prodigious standards of New Orleans festivals, the food component for last weekend’s India Fest in City Park was small. Just three local restaurants — Taj Mahal, Saffron NOLA and Silk Road — supplied a mix of traditional and modern dishes.
But as a representative slice of Indian cooking around the New Orleans area, this spread qualified as a bonanza. The curry circuit in the Crescent City has never comprised more than a handful of restaurants, and getting three in one place qualifies as a score.
Still, for those who hunger for the flavors of the subcontinent and South Asia and who are willing to venture outside the familiar Indian restaurant format, more options have emerged, with outposts opening in Kenner, Metairie and Mid-City in recent months. Here is a look at three newcomers working in different styles around town:
NOLA Desi Kitchen
3814 Williams Blvd., Kenner, (504) 352-6400
The family tree of new restaurateur Syed Ali has roots in both India and Pakistan, and the menu at NOLA Desi Kitchen shares this mix.
Beef plays a significant role in some of the Pakistani dishes, and Ali says all his meat is sourced from halal suppliers. Most prominent of all here, however, are the chiles and spices that give the cooking its potent vigor.
Nihari is a very rich, mouth-coating stew bobbing with lemon and fatty beef in an oily marrow gravy. It’s a dish that quickly demonstrates the pivotal role of naan in this cuisine. Tear apart the glistening, blistered rounds of flatbread to scoop out the stew, or pour it over whole pieces, using them as edible platforms. Naan proves just as key for the karahi gosht, a goat curry that arrives in its namesake rounded pot with hunks of goat on the bone and a thick, spicy tomato-based paste.
To cool off, get the falooda, a milk drink the color of bubble gum, fragrant with the subtle-sweetness of rose water and packed with scoops of kulfi, which is very similar to ice cream but has a denser texture. It carries sliced almonds up top and, below, a mishmash of different colored gelatin chunks and grain-sized basil seeds that give a pop like tapioca pearls. More dessert than beverage, a spoon is required to dispatch most of the slow-melting kulfi.
Vegetarian dishes are in good supply. NOLA Desi Kitchen serves lunch and dinner Wednesday through Monday and opens at 10 a.m. on weekends with breakfast dishes.
Namo Namaste Indian Cuisine
3120 Cleary Ave., Metairie, 504-324-3448; namonamaste.com
This tucked-away café opened last summer by Bharati and Prakash Joshi is just two blocks from a much older Indian restaurant, Tandoori Chicken (2916 Cleary Ave., 504-889-7880). Namo Namaste is very different, however, and that starts with the fact that it’s completely vegetarian. There is a lunch buffet, but dip into the menu for dishes like mixed chaat, a toasty-flavored textural tapestry of puffed rice, mung beans and bits of crunchy lentil, semolina and chickpea batter, sluiced with yogurt and chutney to scoop up with a spoon like a spicy/sweet cereal. Get the uttapam for a plate-sized lentil pancake colorfully mottled with tomato, onion, green chilies and strung with cilantro, with dueling bowls of cucumber chutney and a savory, soup-like sambar for dipping. Lunch and dinner is served Wednesday through Monday.
Good Karma Prasad Café
2940 Canal St., (504) 401-4698; swanriveryoga.com
This counter-service vegan café is inside Swan River Yoga, which occupies the stately, century-old structure originally built as the Canal Street Carnegie Library. It’s an unusual setting, but it works, as this welcoming, colorful, accessible café also serves as a juice bar and coffee shop for drop-in refreshments to go.
Sughosh Berg, whose family runs similar restaurants in Ocean Springs and Gulfport, Mississippi, serves lunch and dinner here with a meatless menu that takes dishes from a variety of traditions. There’s a Malaysian curry, which is not spicy but very flavorful, with bright lime and ginger and earthy turmeric riding through a coconut milk base, all enrobing thin slices of textured soy (or cauliflower). And there’s the south Indian breakfast specialty upma, a mellow, savory semolina porridge gently flavored with cumin and pepper. Dredge a spoonful through the coconut chutney for a different way to start your day.
The atmosphere, the way the food satisfies but sits light on the belly, the prospect of a tall juice blend brimming with vitamins — it all makes for an easy, restorative meal. Good Karma Café is open 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter, @IanMcNultyNOLA.