Tucked around the corner and away from the bustle of the main shopping mall, lies one of the most pleasantly surprising restaurants I have ever had the honor of enjoying. I would imagine it as a perfect place to have an affordable business luncheon or to have a unique dinner and a movie date. Friendly employees are inviting and eager to please you, making you feel like a part of their eatery family. All of the staff even lovingly calls the owner’s wife, who also works in the kitchen, “Mama”.
When you enter the dining area, you are met with a sense of calm and order. While there are a small number of tables and chairs, the establishment is extremely clean and thoughtfully organized. Tasteful tapestries adorn the walls to provide you with some beautiful cultural pieces to view, but the best feature of décor is a long wall just to the right of the entrance. A mural of the owner’s home city of Uttarakhand in India spans the entirety of the wall from floor to ceiling. I was lucky enough to hear the owner, who is a fourth generation chef, proudly speak of his childhood there plowing the fields with the oxen that are represented in the whimsical painting.
After graduating high school, owner and chef, Yudhbir Rawat, attended culinary school and began working in restaurants. He climbed the ladder all the way up to executive chef and worked as the head of an overseas cooking team. He traveled worldwide, serving his Indian cuisine from London to Japan to the United States. He worked in Washington DC for a while before venturing into ownership of his own restaurant. He told me a story from one of his international cooking experiences where one of the singers from the Beatles asked to add cheese to the Naan. He has since incorporated the Beatles Naan to his menu and kept the name as such to pay homage to its inspiration. Naan is a type of flat bread baked in a traditional Tandoori clay oven. Fresh mozzarella cheese adds a creamy taste to the balance out the earthy bite from cashew nuts and the sweet notes of the finely shredded coconut. The Naan at Spice Connexion makes for a great bread basket that the whole family can easily share and comes in several styles including Beatles, Garlic, Potato, Roti, and traditional.
My favorite appetizer was the Chicken Tikka. You might think of this as the Indian version of boneless wings that are a popular starter in most American faire. Mildly spiced boneless chicken is cooked in bitesized pieces in the clay oven. The Fresh Palak Chaat is also notable.
This hors d’oeuvre is topped with yogurt, mint, and tamarind chutney, which is a condiment that has a sweet and sour taste that pairs nicely with the milky taste from the yogurt.
Those opting for soup and salad will be delighted by the Chickpea Salad. Made with chickpea, chopped onion, sliced tomato, fresh cilantro with a burst of lemon, mint, and tamarind chutney, this is far from the usual bed of greens. The soup choice is similar to a regular tomato soup, only it is livened up with basil, fresh spices, and a splash of coconut milk to add a sweetness and creamy texture.
There are main dishes to please every individual. The kids menu will delight any picky eater with a selection of smaller portions of Butter Chicken or the option of chicken nuggets, so you can feel free to bring your children along.
You can order some of your favorite preparations in different proteins, such as the curry that comes in chicken, shrimp, or lamb and the vindaloo that comes in every different protein available on the menu. There is even a section of vegetable dishes to please any vegetarian or those looking for a lighter alternative. The menu also specifies which dishes are hot, so those who fear the heat can opt for something milder. If you are like me and want to try a little bit of everything, a buffet is held on Saturdays and Sundays.
A dessert that is just as visually aesthetic as it is tasty is the Bombay Beach Combo. Kulfi is served on a bed of carrot pudding and topped with a rich chocolate sauce. The Gulab Jamun is another sweet dish to try. Milk dumplings soaked in a sweet honey and sugar syrup are topped with nuts for a crunchy bite, making this perfect to have on its own with coffee or hot tea.
Chef Rawat has done a wonderful job of preserving his heritage through his menu. You can almost taste his passion for the industry with every bite you take. All of the ingredients are ordered fresh weekly, and nothing is ever frozen.
Everything is free from additives, and patrons can even order their meal as gluten free. Chef Rawat personally grinds all of his fresh spices and herbs to ensure that his customers are getting the high quality tastes that he stands by.
He wishes to leave a legacy where the community can benefit from the healthy alternatives that his kitchen provides. The fresh spices that he has carefully hand chosen can provide alternative medicinal properties if eaten on a regular basis. If my stomach could smile, I’m most certain that it would after a meal at Spice Connexion.