A mild wind
Monsoon Cuisine of India1020 16th St.
Sacramento, CA 95814
Monsoon, the new Indian eatery in Midtown, doesn’t live up to its evocative and artful website. Of course if this were a prerequisite to assessing the caliber of a restaurant, many would be wanting.
Most recently, the location that currently houses Monsoon was Spin Burger Bar, a burger joint whose Rueben and lamb patties are now missed.
Little has changed from Spin’s interior, save the removal of a large chalkboard—whose dust a Howard Hughes-channeling diner could easily imagine, gently settling on the plates of neighboring tables. Still present are the large street-facing window walls and dominant central bar. There are fewer tall seats and more tables. The apparently required black, steel-and-glass Midtown urban-sparse motif still reigns supreme.
Like so many things in life, there is always room for another good Indian restaurant. And, in the aggregate, Monsoon is good. It is not great. Not to be a broken record or scratched disc or whatever the 21st-century cliché is, but Bombay Bar & Grill at 1315 21st Street is an inspired Indian restaurant where, unlike, Monsoon, mango chutney is available—free of charge—at every meal. Free mango chutney being but one of the smaller of Bombay’s superior attributes. And despite little affinity for Indian lunch buffet, Pooja Indian Grill in West Sacramento lays out an expertly prepared spread that offers almost as much variety as Monsoon’s truncated lunch menu. For the Indian buffet aficionados who wish to remain on foot in the greater downtown environs, Mati’s Indian Express at 1501 16th Street gets the nod over Monsoon with its engaging but eagle-eyed matriarch stationed behind the chaffing dishes to ensure her creations are just so.
As to Monsoon’s fare, it runs the familiar gamut of dishes familiar to Americans. The dinner menu offers plenty from the tandoori oven, five biryanis (rice and spice mixed with various meats or vegetables) and 10 vegetarian curries including spinach and chunks of paneer (Indian cheese) and aloo gobi (cauliflower and potatoes).
There is a mulligatawny-ish soup on the dinner menu, but it’s not available at lunch, a heart-crushing blow on the first visit that is lessened by the discovery of its blandness when eventually sampled. Nowhere in the broth, with its bits of tomato, chicken and rice, will you find the traditional curry, cardamom, cumin punch. There are several common elements between the lunch menu and the far more expansive dinner menu. Lamb vindaloo is one. There are plenty of chunks of lamb, neither pink nor dry, with a not-ignorable but also not-overwhelming heat than runs straight down the center of the spiciness spectrum of most American palates.
One of the more nuanced entrees, lunch or dinner, is the coastal prawn dish, composed of three or four shrimp that lay beached in a tomatoesque masala redolent with the spices that form its foundation.
Refreshing is the nibu pani, a spiced lemonade that will earn a pleasantly quizzical eyebrow arch over its unique flavor—a much better choice than the ginger lemonade.
To get the full feel of Monsoon, eat dinner there. As noted previously, the menu is significantly more varied. Lunch offers a series of entrees—although rice is included—and a “vegetable” of the chef’s choice. On days when that’s saag, creamy spinach, sometimes punctuated with a bit of paneer, that’s pert near Punjab-perfect. The aloo something-or-other with peas, carrot boulders and potatoes, is less appealing. Lunch, however, stays well under the $15 ceiling. Dinner can quickly become significantly more expensive. Pulao (seasoned basmati) is à la carte. Plain Pulao is $3. Mango chutney is $2 a throw. Entrees cluster in the $13 to $16 range. There are a few designer cocktails that hover in the $10 range. Brendan, the eager and efficient waiter, recommends an Old Boy.
Add a $5 cup of that mulligatawny and—presto—it’s the high side of $30 a person.
Convenient, worth a try for curiosity’s sake, but not in the pantheon. At least not yet, anyway.