Food: Peace in our time

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October 12, 2009
By: Carla Waldemar
Carla Waldemar
This isn’t your parents’ Indian cuisine. Maybe they tossed a bit of wild rice in the tuna hot dish, but we’re not talking about that kind of Indian. Nor is it the buffet fare that awakened our curious palates to life beyond salt and pepper — not even close. Consider that the chow mein of India, suggests Raghavan Iyer: Time to step up to the complex and diverse flavors his homeland offers, region by region, kitchen by kitchen, cook by cook.

That’s the mantra of OM, the new “it” restaurant in the Warehouse District, showcasing the dream dishes this culineer discovered when revisiting his homeland. Deep with spices he’s blended — up to 20 in a single sauce — they’re destined to take our love affair with Indian food to the next level. (And, guess what? Scan the menu and not a single curry to be seen. Curry, he explains, simply means “sauce” — not always hot and certainly never, never created with a pinch of an all-purpose powder.)

Those of you who memorize these annals of gluttony may remember that I have a thing about lamb. Well, OM’s is in a class by itself. It’s a Colorado rack cooked Kashmiri style, which begins with a rub of ginger, garlic, black cardamom and black cumin, the single spice that brings me in the door. Then the baby chops are braised in a hearty fennel-tomato sauce. The bones are balanced on a slope of saffron-blessed basmati rice and pate of smoky eggplant. All I can say is “Om” (official definition: an absolute, ultimate state of peace).

Well, hold on a minute. First, bring on the salmon — an emblem of Iyer’s credo that melds products from the USA with the seasonings he’s grown up with. He sears the fish with sharp turmeric, then gently poaches it in a bath of coconut milk and malt vinegar (East meets West again), along with red chilies for a seductive hint of heat, garlic and scallions for depth, and a toss of grape tomatoes. Ready? Ommmmm…..

Add a bread ($4) from the tandoor (our naan stuffed with green chili and potato seemed cooked at too low a temperature to reach nirvana) or the griddle, as perfected in slim, little lentil cakes topped with tomato, onion and curry leaves.

We also shared a side order of peanut-stuffed eggplant ($7), just because. I’ll crawl through sniper fire for that dish alone. In fact, next time I’ll skip committing to an entree ($14–$27) and play the field with the sides — new potatoes with garlic and red chilies; spinach with golden raisins; squash with fenugreek; a cardamom-Thai chile soup sweet with red bell peppers pureed with cashews, green cardamom and chiles and cooling with yogurt.