Full disclosure: I have gotten to know the owners of Little India a bit over the past year I have lived in Charleston. They own the International Groceries and Spices in Kanawha City, and I love going there to buy various exotic ingredients and cooking them – sometimes successfully, sometimes maybe not so much. But no matter whether the dish is a success or a failure, I love it all the same cause I make it myself.
I got the sense today that Little India was made with a lot of love, and that pleases me in itself. In the months leading up to the restaurant’s opening, I would hear little stories every time I went to their store about how they were encountering a random stumbling block in their new restaurant endeavor. I would also hear about things like Meena Anada, co-owner of the restaurant, having worked on the art that became their outdoor sign and logo.
I had really wanted to go there to try their food despite the fact I have already admitted to being horrible at identifying Indian food. I find it nice to review restaurants that have been around Charleston less time than I have, and I am not exactly sure why, but my guess might be that while all of my experiences with food in the area are reflections of my newness to West Virginia, the new places are ones in which my perceptions might be as fresh as anyone else’s.
For this adventure, I had talked about the restaurant with my neighboring office mate, Angie, and she was just as excited as I was to try it out – so we decided to share in the experience together! The problem was that so did a few other people I know.
I don’t know a lot of people in Charleston, so when I was there with a friend from work, and saw four friends from a book club and a guy I have chatted with a number of times from Generation Charleston… I was shocked! It was like a community restaurant with my own community in it, and that was something I have not experienced, ever!
So it is apparent that the restaurant is popular with a lot of people, and that the people I know decided to be there all at once, so how was the food experience? Well, since I am illiterate at Indian food (other than knowing what naan is), I was left with the sage advice of Andrew Zimmern of Travel Channel fame – “If it looks good, EAT IT!”
And eat it I did!
Little India has a lunch buffet, and what better way to try a bunch of foods you forget the names to than to load them up on a plate and forget a notepad to jot down the names on? I have some pictures provided here, and they are maybe helpful to those of you who are well informed on such delightful cuisine, but I will instead describe the dish and how it danced on my taste buds. It could be like a game show – Name that Indian Dish!
I started with a full plate of various items and the bright red colored onion relish. The naan was crispy and delicious and sopped up the other foods very well, the basmati rice was perfectly tender and ever so lightly seasoned (hey I do know a couple of the names). There were these vegetable fritters that were lightly crisped on the outside and moist and steamy on the inside, the chickpea dish that was so complexly flavored and wonderful it was the first thing I grabbed on my second run through. The vegetable dish with cauliflower was great with naan.
I am sure that they were spicing the items relatively lightly considering American palates and their fear of all things hot. I have heard from several that the heat index on foods in Indian restaurants are labeled 1-4 commonly, but if you want real Indian heat, you have to order a 7-9 rating. I would list all the foods at about the 1-2 rating, but the onion relish (is it chutney?) added an additional one on the scale for me. At the end of the meal, I had managed to sweat a little and get a bit of a nose run, so it was well spiced. Those of you who want more heat will probably want to avoid the buffet and instead order your dish made to your spice specifications.
On my second run through, I grabbed the soup item and hummus and some of the vegetable salad with chickpeas in addition to a selection of the pickled relish and some favorites from the first run through.
The soup was alternately sweet and salty, and was great with a bit of basmati rice. The relish was good, but I had to pull two pieces of tamarind rind out of my mouth after realizing that it was not, indeed, edible as much as I tried to make it so. The hummus was excellent, creamy and garlicky, and I ended the meal with the things I thought of as Donut Holes in sauce.
I am not sure what they are. I could probably look them up, but I am lazy at this point and think calling them donut holes in sauce fits well. They were very good! The syrup was light and cinnamony and when I cut open the round cakes and ate them with the sauce, my taste buds rejoiced! Also, it put out any remaining fire that might have been on my tongue at the time.
So, in conclusion, I must say I found the experience to be amazing, and I am very excited to try out their coming bar – even if it does not have a firepole. I would like to go back at a non-buffet time and order food normally, and perhaps when I do so I will add an additional post on the experience.
Until then, I encourage you Charleston lunch time seekers to check out Little India! I was so distracted with friends being all over that I didn’t take enough pictures. So I leave you with a Charleston sunset. Unfortunately, my pictures do not do it justice, which is fitting because I do believe my review of Little India does not do it justice to how it is sure to grow and prosper in the future!