No naan-sense

John Shinoy, visiting Reno from Boston, peruses the buffet selection at India Garden.

John Shinoy, visiting Reno from Boston, peruses the buffet selection at India Garden.

Photo By David Robert

India Garden Restaurant

1565 S Virginia St.
Reno, NV 89502

(775) 337-8002

I remember the first time I had Indian cuisine—it was 1995, and tandoori chicken amazed me. Ever since, I’ve been trying to learn how to use Indian spices in my own cooking. As far as I’m concerned, Indian cooks are the masters of spices. Whether it’s curry, cardamom, coriander, saffron, garam masala, fennel, rose petals or mustard seed, these guys know when and how to use them to perfection.

The chefs at India Garden belong to this group of spice masters.

The place has a stunning new look. Their recent remodel of the dining room creates a more upbeat atmosphere with bright yellow walls, blue trim and modern lighting. They have also added booths around the dining room, creating a warm cozy environment.

I arrived by myself, and my friend Paige joined me for dinner. I ordered for us because Paige was running late. For a drink, I chose the mango lassi ($2.95), a delicious mango yogurt shake. My entrée was the tandoori chicken dalwala ($12.95), a stew of tandoori chicken and black lentils accompanied by herbed basmati rice with fresh coriander, also known as cilantro.

I used to think tandoori was a spice, but I found out it describes food cooked in a pitcher-shaped oven called a tandoor that’s made with Indian clay and burns with charcoal fire. The slow and steady heat seals in the juices and flavors of the meats and makes them so tender they fall off the bone. Breads like naan, tandoori, kulcha and roti are also baked in the tandoor, giving them a distinct, smoky flavor.

The breads are in a league of their own. The most common one, naan—an unleavened white flour bread—is often served with Indian meals. There are several versions of naan with potatoes, lamb or chicken cooked into the bread. You really need to order the bread with your meal in order to soak up all the flavor from the sauces. I chose the aloo naan ($2.50), made with potatoes.

I also ordered raita ($2), a condiment made with yogurt, cucumbers, carrots, potatoes and mint. For dessert, I chose the rasmalai ($3.50), homemade cheese patties cooked in condensed milk with rose water and pistachios. Mmmm. Paige arrived and ordered a mango lassi of her own and shared the food with me. It was easily enough for two people.

Indian cuisine is generally very healthy. It features many vegetarian dishes, and there’s not much fat in the cooking process. Different grains, legumes, nuts, fruits and vegetables are the primary focus of most of the dishes, creating a light, healthy fare.

While Paige and I finished our meal, we talked about how good the food was and when we were going to come back to try some more of the menu’s options, especially the desserts.

I strongly recommend India Garden. It’s a great place for a date or a family dinner, and it’s an educational, cultural experience. I think this restaurant is one of the hidden jewels in Reno. Because it’s tucked away in the strip mall on the corner of Virginia and Mount Rose streets, many people drive right past it, not even knowing it exists. Well, now you do, so hit it up.