As many of you know – and my waistline unfortunately shows – I have a penchant for Indian food. Pammy does not share my enthusiasm for this bi-directional heat flow, so I usually limit my indulgence for Indian exoticity to road trips.
Over the years, I have scoped out the temperature of Chicken Vindaloo from Houston to Honolulu. I have tested the nuances of Naan from Cheswick to what is left of Czechoslovakia. I have a file somewhere in the basement with take-out menus from some of the best curry shops around the world. One of these days, I’ll write a guide to global Indian eating.
Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time in Seattle. By now, I’ve spent enough time out there that my friends and colleagues who live there have learned that I am really not that interesting…they have their own more interesting lives to lead outside of work, and don’t feel like sporting me around town anymore. So, I now find myself eating alone quite a bit when I am out there.
I personally like the rundown, out of the way, local greasy Samosa’s just as well, or even more than the ornate elegance of the Bombay Bicycle Club’s of the world. Over that past few months, I’ve found several of these Indian velvet Elvis spots that offer a welcoming meal to a lone diner, and I am thankful to all of them.
I tripped into a good one, Laadla, near my hotel in South Lake Union. I appreciate the family effort involved in creating and running humble spots like this – I love kitsch, and these places have India-kitsch down to a science - Nauga-hyde booths, and paint on velvet Indian art tacked up on the walls, and music that makes your teeth hurt even before the chili’s. Mom brings a candle to your table with water and roti, son takes the orders, and Dad or Uncle is tending the clay tandoor oven in the back. The dishes are what you would expect they serve guests in their home, and they are so happy to have you join them for dinner that you are almost embarrassed to be invading their space. Sure the chicken is dark meat and a little grisly, the pakora is a little oily – but it all tastes so good its hard to stop. I imagine this is how foreign tourist must feel about eating in an American diner…a cultural crossover - you are getting honest, local, proud, working class food.
And if you are lucky, like I was at Laadla, the food is so freaking hot it makes the bottoms of your feet sweat. I love these places. When you travel as much as I do – and you find yourself eating alone as much as I do – they are a friendly oasis in almost any town in virtually any country.
Every once in a few years of my Indian indigestion, I’ve run across a different sort of Indian themed restaurant. Simla Pink’s in Manchester (England…England – beyond the Atlantic Sea – there is a special OSG inspired tee-shirt headed to the first respondent who knows where that line comes from…) is one – omigod, I need an excuse to go back there. These folks took cool urban hip and infused it into curry. The result is tapas meets tika. One of the best ever. No velvet, no bollywood music, just awesome food. Please doesn’t somebody in Manchester need a visit from an OSG? Ah, but I digress…
My point in sharing all this nonsense is that I just tripped over another standout spot so good it warrants this much ink. Chutney’s Grill on 15th Avenue in Capital Hill of Seattle slams heat into Northwest/California cool. Lots of glass, ferns, brass, and no squeally anti-tonal Indi-musak. No dark meat. No grease. Just great food. Clean, lite, delicious non-gruelly. The Naan is butter free – toasty, fluffy, light and delicious. Vegetable samosas are hand-made, sweet, with a strong potato flavor. No greasy stain on the plate, no oil build up on the doily.
I almost always order Chicken Vindaloo in an Indian – creature of habit, I guess – but this time my new friend, Chutney owner Geogy Chacko recommended Tika Marsala instead (east coasters might know this as butter chicken). I was surprised to find chunks of roast, boneless, gristle-less, white meat swimming in a soft and delicious orange colored cream sauce. Hot, yeah, but so much more complex - with sweet, tomato, and vinegary-sour fighting for tongue-time. Delicious spooned on the light, fluffy, and colorfully spiced basmati – and I am embarrassed to say, just as good drenched on the left over Naan, and perhaps just as wonderful in licking the bowl if I had been in a slightly less visible table.
Don’t be fooled though – there are several Chutney’s in Seattle, Geogy and his partners built for our five before going their separate ways. Only Chutney’s Grill on the Hill is still owned and managed by Geogy and his family – I cannot speak for the rest of the now broken-up chain. But I can tell you that the folks at Chutney’s Grill have taken Indian food to a higher level – this is not the typical Indian equivalent of a ham and egger – it is an Indian spiced owner-chef fusion experience – yet it somehow maintains the unaffected home cooked personality that makes a hungry, lonely traveler look forward to returning.
Don’t tell Pam…but I can’t wait for my next trip…