First Dish: Namaste Indian Restaurant

Nikki BuchananJuly 2, 2021
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Photo by Nikki Buchanan

 

I’m not sure when it happened exactly, but somewhere along the line, “namaste,” considered nothing more than a respectful greeting of “hello” in India, evolved into something much more profound here in the States. Routinely repeated in yoga classes across the land, it’s come to represent spirituality and deep reservoirs of calmness and peace . . . and then SNL and social media got ahold of it. Here’s a typical namaste gag: What did the monk/Buddhist/hippie say when I asked him to leave? “Namaste.” Har-de-har. “Namaste” is the new “kumbaya,” reduced to a silly joke.

But I digress. There’s a new Indian restaurant in North Scottsdale called Namaste, and I’m taking this sweet, family-run operation pretty darn seriously. It’s just a little storefront in Scottsdale Grayhawk Center, but it’s attractively furnished with murals, upholstered chairs and a crystal chandelier, putting it a cut above its competitors.

 


Photo by Nikki Buchanan

 

Sure, I’m a sucker for aesthetics, but ultimately, it’s the food that counts, and here, the food is fantastic — better than the food in just about any local Indian restaurant in recent (or distant) memory. The meal begins with a basket of crispy, airy papadum, studded with cumin seeds and described on the menu as a “crispy Indian tortilla made from yellow lentils.” Served with a mild tomato-y sauce (new to me) and a kicky cilantro-mint chutney, it’s a great pre-meal snack, and yes, a bit like chips and salsa.

I was thinking of skipping the samosas until our server recommended them, and I’m so glad he did. They’re wonderful — crisp-tender pyramids of deep-fried pastry dough enfolding a soft, savory center of mashed potatoes and peas, just spicy enough to give your tongue a little tingle ($5.95). And I would happily spoon the sweet-sour tamarind sauce that accompanies them on everything.

I’ve never had onion bhaji before, described as “India’s favorite monsoon snack,” but they sounded just right for a muggy July lunch here in good old AZ. They’re onion fritters, remarkably like the blooming onions found in American restaurant chains except more exotic and worlds better. Battered in chickpea flour and spices first, then deep-fried to a glorious crunch, they’re completely addictive — with or without a dunk in that dark, velvety tamarind sauce ($5.95).

 


Photo by Nikki Buchanan

 

My friend and I are already getting full by the time main courses arrive — chicken tikka masala (which isn’t an authentic Indian dish but rather a British invention from the ’60s) and kadai lamb (an ancient North Indian classic influenced by Turkish cuisine), both so good we can’t pick a favorite (both $15.95). The chicken tikka masala, brimming with tender chunks of boneless chicken, onions and bell pepper, is lush and faintly spicy, but the lamb kadai, named for the wok-like kadai in which it’s cooked, is deeper and a little more complex, offering up notes of garlic, ginger and perfumed spices. A steaming dish of firm, nutty-tasting basmati rice accompanies every main, the perfect tabula rasa for all those complicated curries. Also great for mopping up sauce — a basket of cilantro-strewn garlic naan ($3.50).

We pack up our plentiful leftovers and leave without having dessert because there’s just no room at the inn. On this first visit, we stuck to the tried-and-trues, but I’m already planning a trip back for the asparagus soup, the vindaloo, the korma and all three of the extra special curries: achari masala, goat and coconut. The menu is huge, and I can’t wait to explore it. For now, I’ll just say, “Namaste, Namaste! Great to meet you!”

20851 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-264-5499, namastescottsdale.com

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