By Debby Critchley
So many of you are afraid of Indian food. It’s too hot, it’s too spicy. Come to Diya and fall in love with the cuisine. Indian and Nepalese food ranges from gently flavored to fiery hot and many degrees in between. Diya understands and provides a range of flavors certain to make everyone, including pepper heads, happy.
The dining room is light and airy, white tablecloths with red accents and golden napkins, and lit by beautiful crystal chandeliers. Make yourself comfortable on a banquette while your server attends to your needs. The wine list covers a wide variety of wines and there is an extensive list of beers. Mixed drinks are also available. Not in the mood for alcohol? Have a mango lassi and luxuriate in the richness of the mangoes or warm yourself with a milky chai.
There are lots of choices to begin your meal. There are delicious samosas filled with gently spiced potatoes and green peas. Try the Samosa Chat. Diya takes a crispy crusted samosa and crushes it. They top it with chana masala, a chickpea curry cooked with an assortment of warming Indian spices. Then add chopped onions, tomatoes, and scallions and drizzle with a yogurt cream. It’s a cross between a crispy taco and loaded potato with all the flavors of India. All is flavored with chaat masala – expect spice and a bit of heat but easily handled. Another go-to starter is the Nepalese Chicken Momo. These tender steamed dumplings are made with a flour dough filled with ground chicken marinated with fresh garlic and spices. So yummy. For a bit of heat, dip the momos in the tomato chutney thoughtfully provided in a separate ramekin.
Breads are an integral part of any Indian meal and the chefs deliver! There are a variety of rotis, naans, parathas, and kulcha. Order the bread basket which gives you a delightful assortment of the tandoor baked naan, the garlic naan topped with garlic and cilantro, and the onion kulcha loaded with onions and also cooked in the tandoor oven. The breads are nicely browned and have a chewy texture. Each is flavorful in its own right and makes the perfect accompaniment everything you may order. I could make a meal out of the bread. I dip it into any of the vegetables or use it to wrap up a piece of chicken or lamb from the tandoor – it makes the best little Indian sandwiches.
There are so many veggie choices. You can’t go wrong with any of them. It’s hard to pick a favorite because they are all so good. The Palak Paneer is the perfect combination of spinach and homemade paneer cheese flavored with fresh herbs and spices. The spinach is so smooth and creamy and the chunks of firm cheese are just the right counterpoint. Talk about the perfect dip for that naan! The bowl was empty and the spoon licked as the dish was declared utterly perfect. The Aloo Gobi is a blend of fresh cauliflower and potatoes simmered in a blend of herbs and spices. Could the cauliflower be any more tender? Could the spices be more flawless? Next time, I want to try the Baingan Bharta, a baked and mashed eggplant cooked with onions, tomatoes, and herbs and the Daal Makhani, slow simmered black lentils sautéed with a butter sauce.
Entrees offer an array of chicken, seafood, lamb, goat, and tandoori specialties. We barely scratched the surface. The menu offers several rice dishes known as Biryanis. We had the Veggie Biryani. It is a combination of a variety of vegetables cooked with basmati rice, toasted herbs, and spices. Be warned, it comes with heat. The biryani is the perfect example of how Indian spices blend with heat to create a delicious dish. Then there’s the Shrimp and Scallops, a beautiful combination of seafood cooked with onion, tomato, coconut milk, curry leaves, mustard seeds, wine, and garlic sauce. There were lots of shrimp and calico scallops in a sauce that was so, so good. Once we finished the seafood, we devoured the sauce over the perfectly cooked basmati rice.
On to the Tandoori specialties. These kinds of ovens are used throughout the Middle East, India, Pakistan, and parts of Central Asia and China. All tandoor ovens operate on essentially the same principle. The ovens are cylindrical and often curve inward toward the top like a beehive or jug to concentrate the heat. A fire in the bottom heats both the walls of the oven and the air inside to upwards of 900°. Before cooking, the fire is allowed to die down to coals so that the temperature remains consistent while food is cooked. Flatbreads like naan get slapped against the sides of the oven where they adhere to the super-heated surface and cook very quickly. Meats are usually cooked on long skewers that are either inserted directly into the oven or cooked over the mouth of the oven. The easiest way to try the beauty of Diya’s marinated meats cooked in the tandoor oven is with the Tandoori Platter. The flavors range from mild to medium and are served on a bed of browned onions that soak up the juices. The Tandoori Chicken was marinated in yogurt, lemon juice, and mild spices. The chicken leg and thigh were tender, juicy, and flavorful. The thigh being my favorite. There was the Lamb Chop marinated in yogurt and spices. I can only say the lamb chop was a winner – finished with great relish The Chicken Tikka is a boneless chicken breast marinated in a house blend of spices, yogurt, lemon juice, ginger, garlic paste. Each bite was amazingly. The Lamb Boti is made with chunks of lamb marinated with the same ingredients as the Chicken Tikka. I won’t say we came to fisticuffs over the lamb but it was the hands down favorite on the platter. To top off the tandoori was the salmon. Seasoned with a similar yogurt marinade, it was another taste sensation. The fish was beautifully glazed and the flavor of the spice melded with the salmon to create a remarkable bite.
Indian desserts show a sweet tooth. The Gulab Jamun, milk balls in rose flavored sugar syrup with a touch of cardamom. These are little fried donut type doughballs in this sweet syrup. Sweet yet delightful. Less sweet is the Kheer, a rice pudding made with basmati rice boiled in milk with a touch of cardamom and sugar. It’s a large serving, easily shared by two, and a great palate cleanser. The surprise dessert was not on the menu. Ask if there is Kulfi available. Kulfi is not whipped, resulting in a solid, dense frozen dessert. It is denser and creamier than ice cream. Served like a popsicle drizzled with a fruit syrup, it is a frozen guilty pleasure. The version here is flavored with coconut.