‘It’s so hard to find good Indian food in Edmonton,” a friend of mine—let’s call her Julie—said when I mentioned I had tried out an untested Indian restaurant in the west end. I’m not in a great position to argue because most of the Indian food I’ve eaten has come from within the city limits, so my ongoing experiment lacks a respectable control group.
This is merely to alert readers that my assessment of Indian food is possibly underinformed, as I’ve been satisfied with many Indian meals I’ve found locally. So perhaps you should take it with a grain of salt—or a pinch of fennel seed to help suppress flatulence—when I say that I think Namaste India, a new-ish Indian restaurant just off Stony Plain Road, is pretty good.
I should add that I did recruit a few co-diners to join me, one of whom has been to India multiple times and has experienced the giddy highs and gut-shattering lows of its culinary offerings and might know a thing or two about Indian cuisine. That said, his favourite kind of food seems to be “a lot.”
Though this was my first trip to Namaste, I had been in its premises twice before in two prior incarnations as different, but equally ramshackle, Caribbean restaurants. The folks behind Namaste have taken rather more care to lay on a polished dining atmosphere from a fresh saffron paint job and brand new fixtures to a menu on which all of the food items are actually available for purchase. There is, of course, a cooler stocked with myriad import beers that is central to so many Indian food establishments.
My main co-diner and I were famished when we arrived to the mostly empty restaurant early on a Saturday evening. As we noted that the long list of entrees made with beef, lamb, fish, shrimp, paneer and pulses—as well as dosas and, for some reason, pastas—seemed to top out just over the $15 mark, we also noted that there was no reason not to order the appetizer called “Gobhi 156” ($10) while we awaited our dining partners.
The other co-diners arrived just ahead of the appetizer, a plate of deep-fried cauliflower coated in a dark red sauce that made it look like truncated buffalo wings. We were all delighted to find the crispy coating and light, fluffy interior were complemented by the spicy, tomatoey sauce with a vinegar snap and quickly gobbled the generous portion. This boded well for the rest of the meal, comprising one selection by each of us.
One diner proclaimed her love of palak and decided she wanted it with beef ($14.50), while another wanted to try the chana masala ($10). I was curious about the coconut fish curry ($14) and the last to decide blurted out tandoori chicken ($14 for a half) as the server stood patiently by. We also ordered plain ($2) and garlic ($2.50) naan bread and some raita ($4) for cooling our mouths, should it come to that, plus rice ($3).
The food came fast and all at once, in the usual small copper pots that look like they don’t hold enough food until you try to eat it all. The beef palak—chunks of the eponymous meat simmered to fall-apart tenderness in a sauce of spinach, garlic, garam masala and ginger—was an excellent choice, with an appealing hint of sweetness about it. The chana masala was likewise very toothsome, a stew of tender chickpeas in tomato-tamarind gravy that I might have been happy with were it the only dish on the table.
Tandoori chicken with its characteristic charred edges and livid pink tint wouldn’t be my first choice ordinarily, but Namaste spiffed it up with the addition of a savoury cilantro chutney and bright orange pickled onions on the side. The Goan fish curry was a tad tame, despite the presence of many whole spices, so the soft morsels of mild whitefish and creamy sauce didn’t make much of an impression. We ate most of it anyhow, with big tranches of crisp, fresh-made naan—three pieces per order so there was plenty to go around. One co-diner volunteered that the meal could have been spicier overall, but that’s probably just a matter of asking.
For just over $20 per person including tip, we were all satisfied to varying degrees and the highlights made me think a return trip (or take-out order) would reveal more winning dishes. Plus I absolutely want to eat the Gobhi 156 again, even if I never find out what the hell the 156 part means. As I said, I may not know much about Indian food, but I know what I like.