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The spice is right

Indian restaurant offers up delicious dishes with complex flavours

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Goan fish curry and keema curry at Karahi of India.

SARAH TAYLOR / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Goan fish curry and keema curry at Karahi of India. Photo Store

This odd-looking, free-standing building was built (I was told) to resemble a nuraghe -- an ancient Sardinian structure. I dug deep into my files and discovered that it had, in fact, been built to house Nuraghe Restaurant, which served delicious Sardinian food but, sadly, didn't last long. Since then there have been several other occupants -- the most memorable of them, the late and much lamented Bobbie's, which served wonderful Romanian and Italian food.

Most recently it was Tio's Mexican Restaurant, but today it's home to Karahi, which features Indian cuisine.

I doubt that the interior has changed much over the years. It's cosy and slightly quirky -- walls panelled in dark woods, with brick-trimmed arches, some around a few semi-enclosed booths that offer more privacy than the rest of the open space, where most of the tables are clustered together. There's nothing to distinguish it from its predecessors, and nothing that suggests India -- only the heady aromas of cardamom, cumin, coriander and chili.

The word halal doesn't appear on the menu, but both Hindu and Muslim sensibilities are catered to by the absence of beef and pork -- the only meats are chicken, lamb and goat. There is a sizable and well-reputed buffet facing the entrance ($11.99 at lunch, $14.99 at dinner), but in order to test what the restaurant does best, I concentrated on made-to-order dishes.

To start with there are the inevitable samosas -- vegetarian only, in good, crisp pastry, but, apart from a kick of heat, without much flavour in the mostly potato filling (two for $3.99). The refreshing chaat papri, though, was a texturally interesting mixture of crisp pastry chips, chick peas, diced potatoes and bits of tomato in a cool-tart-sweet combination of yogurt and tamarind sauce ($4.99). One of the spicier dishes I tried was hara bahara kabab -- dense, deep-fried potato balls which, apart from the mint, coriander and cumin, could almost pass for falafel ($7.99).

But the star among the starters was a marvellous tandoori mixed grill of marinated shrimp, chicken and fish, slightly smoky and aromatic with the flavours of yogurt, ginger and garlic. It's intended for sharing, no doubt, but so good I could make a meal of it all on my own ($11.99).

Most main courses range from $9.99 to $13.99, including basmati rice. And, as it happened, the tandoori chicken on its own was wonderful -- not a whole or half chicken, but a generous leg and thigh that was delectably moist and flavourful, and not (mercifully) dyed fire-engine red.

One of my favourite dishes -- here, or wherever I find it -- is the terrific keema mutter, stir-fried ground lamb with peas, aromatic with a vibrant mix of spices, garlic and ginger. I would have liked the karahi goat curry more if the sauce hadn't been overwhelmed by the flavour of green peppers, but I loved the tender lamb jalfrezi, suffused in a similar thick onion and tomato sauce that also contained green peppers but wasn't dominated by them.

Our lamb biryani should have been wonderful, but wasn't. The rice was moist and perfectly, subtly seasoned, but the lamb was mostly big, barely seasoned chunks that tasted as though they'd been cooked much earlier and added as an afterthought (alternatives are chicken, shrimp, fish or vegetables).

Big, plump shrimp korma came in a richly creamy sauce with a faint hint of tomato and -- unusual in most kormas -- a wee hit of heat. Muglai shrimp were bathed in a similar velvety but milder sauce, enriched by cashews. One rare treat was the Goan fish curry -- also creamy, but with coconut milk in this case -- and with spicing that was more complex than in either shrimp dish.

Indian restaurants are godsends to vegetarians and vegans, and the dishes here are labelled as such. The slightly smoky dal makhni was a savoury combination of lentils and kidney beans cooked in butter and finished in a cream-laced sauce. There's no eggplant on the menu, and the aloo gobi of potatoes and cauliflower was bland, but the bindi masala of okra, cooked in a savoury mixture of tomatoes and onions, was excellent.

The menu lists only three desserts, at $1.99 each, and both the rasmalai cheese patty in a cream sauce with bits of pistachios and the gulabjamun balls in syrup were delicious (kheer rice pudding is the third). But it wasn't until I was paying up front (the bill isn't brought to your table) that I discovered a few more unlisted sweets in a cooler under the counter, among them my favourite, halwah. Next time, I promise myself.

Some of the side items were hit or miss. The naans aren't puffy like most but flat and chewy (in a good way), with a fine smoky flavour, but our aloo naan came without its potato stuffing. Raita was too watery on one occasion; on another it would have been good but was missing the cucumbers we'd requested. The lassis were luscious, but (a first in my experience) came in wine glasses -- much too small for $2.99, which usually buys a tall glassful.

Communication wasn't easy with the lone server, and although the restaurant was almost empty, our food was unaccountably slow in coming -- apparently, much of the kitchen's attention was focused on takeout orders.

Some training in attention to detail would be a good idea, but the food was delicious, the spicing sparkled with flavour and almost everything I had was worth the wait.

marion.warhaft@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 26, 2014 C5

History

Updated on Thursday, June 26, 2014 at 6:33 AM CDT: Tweaks map

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