Spice of life
Priya Indian Cuisine brings sweet aroma to Chico
Priya Indian Cuisine2574 The Esplanade
Chico, CA 95973
The absence of Indian restaurants in Chico has been the topic of more than one conversation amongst my foodie friends. Guzzetti’s fills a niche, but with limited dining options and times. I’ve heard stories of drives to Yuba City for the taste of tandoor, for the comfort of curry. But now, unless you’re a fan of driving long distances for delicious food, those days are over. Let us welcome to Chico, with a resounding namasté, Priya Indian Cuisine.
Inhabiting the space that was Grayatip Thai Cuisine on The Esplanade, Priya’s spacious dining room and abundance of wait staff are necessary to accommodate the throngs of Chicoans hungering for aloo gobi and chana masala.
We happened by Priya one late Monday evening, while on a freecycling mission that took us to the north side of Chico. I figured it couldn’t hurt to stop by the restaurant if only to check their hours. To my surprise and subsequent delight, the sign said, “Open 7 days a week.” It seemed too good to be true.
After a quick wait, we were on our way home with a bag full of samosas, fried patties stuffed with spiced potatoes and green peas ($3.50); raita, yogurt with onions and cucumber ($2); vegetable masala, mixed vegetables cooked in various spices ($9.95); and malai kofta, vegetable patties in a creamy tomato sauce ($9.95).
The entrees are available a la carte for $9.95, and include basmati rice and tandoori naan, or for $11.95 you can get it thali-style, which includes dal curry, sambar (a thick lentil soup), the vegetable curry of the day, raita, basmati rice, tandoori naan and dessert. Not a bad deal.
The flavors of Indian food are complex and can include a great number of spices, depending on the region and personal taste. Aromatics are important; often ingredients are added to tantalize the olfactory sense alone. We ate our dinner on the porch, a warm, late-evening breeze wafting the aroma of Indian spices and warm flowers over us and the setting sun lending a rosy hue to our surroundings.
My next visit to Priya left me just as impressed. Diners are served complimentary pappadam, a crisp, very thin flatbread made from lentil flour, with three sauces, coconut-, cilantro- and tomato-based. Cuisines from both northern and southern India are featured, making the menu that much more extensive.
We sampled the Priya South Indian combo plate ($8.95), an appetizer sampler featuring masala dosa, a lentil flour crepe stuffed with potato curry; idli, steamed rice cakes; vada, a deep-fried lentil donut; and sambar. Although I was already quite full, the biryani beckoned, and I heeded the call. We sampled the vegetable biryani, basmati rice cooked with vegetables and a blend of herbs and spices ($12.95); and the eggplant curry ($11.95), opting to get both thali. The biryani was perfection, tantalizing and spicy, wafting an intoxicating fragrance ahead of its arrival to our table.
As I sipped my chai, I marveled at the flavor combinations that make Indian food so distinctive and so delicious. We tried the gulab jamun, a small donut marinated in sugar syrup, and the fruit salad, made with vanilla ice cream and mixed fruit, for dessert. The small portions are the perfect size and the perfect ending to a monumental meal.
The wait staff at Priya is helpful and pleasant and always happy to explain menu offerings to patrons. I overheard more than one diner inquiring as to the nature of a particular dish during my visits, and the servers gave detailed explanations. Small kinks that often arise when a restaurant first opens its doors are to be expected, but will undoubtedly work themselves out in the near future.
The long wait for an Indian restaurant has come to an end, and oh, sweet Shiva, we’ve been blessed with one that’s open seven days a week and serves up some beautiful dishes with spicy complexity.