Back in the ’90s, the Truckee Meadows was home to a pair of Indian restaurants with very different styles. One specialized in South Indian favorites, while the other focused on flavors from the central North regions. Recently opened Cafe Masala in Sparks offers a hybrid menu of dishes from the north and south, as well as American staples, including burgers, sandwiches, salads, entrees and a kids’ menu.
We began with a plate of three vegetable samosas stuffed with curried potato and peas ($6.99), and another trio filled with curried chicken ($7.99). The fried turnovers were crispy and fragrant, served with a pair of sauces—one lightly sweet and the other with plenty of cilantro and a spicy kick. The veggie samosas were full of smooth, savory perfection, but the chicken ones were a little dry. A liberal dose of both sauces added some moisture and a ton of flavor.
A classic dish of puri baaji also featured a mash of curried potato and peas, served with three puffy pillows of flat bread and a creamy coconut relish ($7.99). The bread was light and airy, and the relish added a nice contrast to each bite. We also tried a South Indian dosa—a crepe—filled with the same curry, more coconut relish, and a cup of sambar—spicy lentil—soup ($7.99). The crepe was enormous, dwarfing its veggie filling, and was delicious on its own. Made with a mix of wheat and black lentil flours, the initial nose was somewhat floral, followed by a slightly sour finish. It sounds odd, but it worked well with the stuffing ingredients. As good as the dosa was, it was almost eclipsed by the sambar soup—spicy, herbal, chunky, fantastic.
For me, it’s always a toss-up between murgh makhani—butter chicken—and tikka masala—a spiced curry dish—when trying a new Indian joint, but, this time, the makhani ($9.99) won out. I added orders of beef curry ($10.99) and pork vindaloo ($10.99), mostly because I’ve only occasionally encountered beef on an Indian menu, and the pork was a first for me. All were served with basmati rice and naan flatbread. The chicken’s sauce of tomato, butter and cream was spot-on and decadent. The pork and beef chunks were each cooked in an array of herbs and spices in a base of ghee (clarified butter).
All of the meat entrees were tasty, if a bit mild. Our server seemed surprised when we added a healthy amount of chili oil to each.
The naan was perhaps the only real disappointment. Lacking the blistered, puffy, crisp-yet-soft texture that makes tandoori-baked naan so appealing, it had the texture of pizza crust—perfectly fine bread, but not the naan I’m looking for.
In an effort to not ignore the American side of the menu, we sampled a 14-ounce coffee-crusted ribeye steak ($22.99) served with soup or salad, steamed vegetables and choice of rice pilaf, fries or mashed potatoes. Cooked just a bit under medium rare, the meat was tender and juicy, with the spicy coffee rub adding more than a bit of pizazz. The veggies were al dente. The mash was buttery, and another serving of the sambar soup cranked it up several notches. Having capped an Indian meal with a really decent steak, my mind has been cross-culturally blown. Namaste.