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India Café: A Small Gem with Big Indian Flavors

keralachickencurryThe combinations and variety and use of spices distinguish the cooking of India from many other cuisines. Kerala, in Southwest India is one of the old worlds important trading centers and at India Café, the endless variety of spices are the basis for the many fragrant dishes offered from both Kerala , as well as the rest of India.

I recently spent several hours sampling the variety of expertly prepared Indian dishes at the small, unassuming new India Café in White Plains. It may be small in size but it is exceptionally grand in flavor. It is clearly not a restaurant where one sauce fits all. Each dish in its large and varied menu is prepared to order with quality ingredients.

India Café offers food from both north and south of India withIndiaCafe its emphasis on the cooking of the south and of Kerala, home to owner Nirmal Plakattu. Plakatta indicated, "I missed the food of my culture and decided to open India Café to fill the missing piece of Indian restaurants here in the county. While there are a growing number of Indian restaurants in the area, it is hard to find one that specializes in the glorious cuisine of Kerala." With a well-trained kitchen staff of Chef Bain, Chef Roy, Chef Eldo and Chef Glinto as well as manager Darius, attending to the front of the house, India Café is thriving. The staff takes great pride in their work. Owner Plakattu said, "Our goal is to offer customer satisfaction and expose our guests to the cuisine of Kerala in Southwest India. Our food is authentic with the deep flavors of the Malabar Coast and spices direct from Kerala. We grind our own spices." The aroma of these exotic combinations is breathtaking and result in vivid tastes depending upon the level and proportion of spices used in each dish.

The restaurant seats about 50 guests and its design makes the most of the small, yet comfortable space. Its minimalist modern design is simply decorated with brown tables and chairs, silver framed mirrors, wavy acoustic panels on the ceiling and an entrance vestibule which protects diners from cold weather. Contemporary glass vases and salt and pepper shakers decorate the tables. Indian music fills the air. On my recent visits I heard comments like," It is our first time and we will be back" and, "Your food and service are great."

Appetizers include the familiar samosas, bhel puri and pakoras in several varieties. We started with fish pakoras. Strips of white fish dusted with chick pea flour and fried, were accompanied by a yogurt dip, tomato, red onion and chopped cilantro- crisp and delicious. Chicken lollipops were chicken wings marinated in a well-seasoned sauce with an Indo Chinese flavor. Soy sauce, ginger, tomato, onion and bell peppers gave them a unique flavor. We followed this with an offering from the tandoor. A large skewer was threaded with spiced minced chicken and grilled to perfection. With a squeeze of a lemon, these beautifully seasoned kebabs take bland chicken to a new level and give it character. An assorted tandoor dish offers a variety of tandoori specialties. Next to arrive was a foot long cylinder of masala dosa, a South Indian specialty. This delicate crepe of lentil and rice flour is filled with carrots, potatoes and peas with freshly ground spices and rolled up. Sharing the plate were two varieties of coconut chutney and sambar. It's been said that, " Masala Dosa tops the list of things to try before you die." I was still thinking of this dish two days after my visit, and guess what.... I returned for a repeat plate of this outstanding masala dosa and it was equally as good as the first time. Many other crepes or dosas are typical of Southern India. At India Café, a fusion dosa filled with chicken masala tikka is a good choice.

Shrimp JafreziSeafood is very popular in Kerala. We loved the fish molie where cubes of white fish filets are gently cooked in a mild coconut milk sauce. Shrimp Mappas was another fine dish with onion, coconut, fresh garlic and hot chilies. For the vegetarian, highly recommended is one of my favorites, navaratha khorma. As many as nine fresh vegetables are mildly seasoned and combined with a smooth and creamy almond sauce. Cauliflower, green beans, carrots and peas along with paneer cubes and other vegetables, combine to result in a dish with a sauce that is not too thick or too thin, a truly excellent rendition of this popular dish.

Malai Kofta is another favorite here. They are delicate dumplings in a cashew sauce. For those who enjoy mild flavors, the lamb khorma, with its tender cubes of lamb in a creamy nut sauce is excellent. Biryani dishes with basmati rice spiced and layered with sautéed onion, peppers, raisins to add a touch of sweetness and cashews, can be ordered with vegetables, chicken, lamb, beef or shrimp which we loved. If chicken is your choice, I recommend the chicken Kerala Curry where the chunks of chicken are enhanced by a coconut milk sauce with curry leaves, mustard seeds and chilies, very good indeed.
On weekends one of the specialties is tharavu or duck roast. The duck pieces, skin and bones intact are slowly roasted in a complex sauce including onion, tomato, ginger, curry leaves, and coconut milk. I loved the sauce, but prefer my duck skinned and boned.

Breads are an integral part of Indian cuisine. At India Café, a variety of naan baked in the tandoor oven are offered. We tried a sweet coconut naan brushed with butter and flavored with cardamom. Another bread that was new to me and became an instant favorite was Kerala Paratha, a delicate layered lacy looking bread eaten warm with is crisp and crunchy edges.
For dessert I enjoyed ras malai. I hope to try mango kulfi and a French inspired mango soufflé, as well as traditional gulab jamun and kheer on future visits.

At lunch, partake of a small buffet including a rotating selection of entrees, rice, salad, naan, vegetables and dessert. A new and delightful offering, very friendly to the taste as well as the pocketbook are the selection of lunch bowls. Malai Kofta, Chicken Tikka, Chicken Seekh, and Kerala Beef are some of the bowls offered with basmati rice and other suitable accompaniments; a meal in a bowl.

Indian cuisine is wonderful party food and India Café offers catering services for your next event. A few doors down from the dine in restaurant is their small take out spot where you can order dishes to enjoy at home.

For a taste of exquisitely seasoned Indian dishes from Kerala and the rest of India, pay a visit to India Café where the space is intimate and the flavors are big.

India Café
98 East Post Road
White Plains, NY
914- 997-6268 India Café for takeout 92 East Post Road

Recipe: Fish Moilefish moile

1 pound boneless fish filet (cod, tilapia)
1 large thinly sliced onion
1 tsp. turmeric powder
1 sprig curry leaves
1 or 2 green chilies
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 tomato, sliced
1 inch piece peeled sliced ginger
Salt, to taste
1 tsp. black pepper
½ cup coconut milk
1 cup coconut milk diluted with water, {half of each}
4 Tbsps coconut oil

Clean and marinate fish with turmeric, salt and lemon juice for 15-20 minutes. Shallow fry the marinated fish over medium heat in 2 Tbsps. of the coconut oil and set aside. Heat remaining coconut oil in a pan with the ginger and sauté for 1 minute. Add onion, curry leaves, and green chilies and sauté until onions are translucent. Add tomato and black pepper and sauté for 1 minute. Add diluted coconut milk and salt and fish. Cook until fish is well cooked, just a few minutes. Add the thick coconut milk and swirl the pan over a low flame, being careful not to break up the fish pieces. Remove from flame and add a few drops of lemon juice and coconut oil and serve.

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