An Aromatic Taste Trip To India
Indian music plays softly in the background as warm spices scent the air. There is light, jovial conversation as customers enjoy the lunch buffet at Kaua’i’s new Indian restaurant Shivalik, located in the Waipouli Town Center in Kapa’a.
I ask restaurant manager Bahadur “Bob” Thakur how to correctly pronounce the restaurant’s name. “She vah lick,” he answers. “It means a gathering place … Shiva is a Lord. For Hindus, Lord Shiva is the Lord of mercy and compassion, and when you sit together for lunch or dinner, the place is called Shivalik.
“We are North Indian cooking,” Thakur says with a thick accent. He is from a small town close to Punjab at the Northwestern tip of India. “We make mostly curries, bread, different rice flavors and tandoori.”
Tandoor is an Indian clay oven traditionally fueled by charcoal, but Shivalik uses a gas tandoor to minimize pollution and adds wood for a smoky flavor. Chicken and fish marinate overnight before tandoori chef Ashok Lal roasts them to order at 400 degrees. His calloused hands deftly reach inside to stick naan – a yeasted flat-bread – to the oven’s wall before peeling it off a minute later.
Curries are like a flavorful stew full of aromatic spices, and vary in contents. Shivalik has three sauce bases: tomato, onion and cashew. Curry chef Saurab Kenwar expertly blends these sauces with different meats, vegetables and heat levels, creating endless curry varieties.
“We special order our spices from an Indian supplier,” Thakur says. “You grind all the spices together and put it in the food and it flavors it. Every dish has its own flavor.”
At Shivalik, there is a difference between spicy and hot. “Every day we use about 16 different spices,” Thakur says.
Dishes are infused with toasted and ground spices such as coriander, cumin, cinnamon, garlic, ginger, paprika, cardamon, bay leaf and cloves, creating complex and layered flavors.
If you like your food hot, ask for some chili sauce. My husband Dan likes the Vindaloo sauce made with cumin, onion, tomato and chili peppers. It’s the hottest they have.
Thakur recommends that folks new to Indian food try the all-you-can-eat buffet. “There are a lot of choices: rice, bread, curries – and nothing is hot. Everything on the buffet is mild. That is why we have the buffet, so people can try our food and not be afraid of the heat in our dishes.”
The lunch and dinner buffets offer at least 10 options including two meat dishes. “The rest is vegetarian plus naan and dessert,” Thakur says with pride.
It’s a great deal. The lunch buffet costs $13.95 and the dinner buffet, with more choices, $16.95.
Thakur adds,”Last month we got our liquor license so now we have a full bar.”
If you dine in the months of November and December, you can print a 15 percent off coupon from their web-site, or “Just come in and ask for the 15 percent off,” Thakur says. If you like Shivalik as much as we do, you’ll want to ask about the “buy six lunches and get the seventh free” offer.
In the name of research, Thakur confidently presents us with a grand feast. Dan and I start things off with a mango lassi, a thick and rich “smoothie” made of mango and yogurt. The sweet and creamy blend gets our mouths watering and prepares us for the coming appetizer.
The Vegetable Samosas ($4.50) are filled with a savory blend of potatoes and peas and wrapped in a light and flaky house-made pastry. Crunchy on the outside and creamy on the inside, these deep-fried snacks don’t last long.
Jeera Chawal ($3.25), India’s prized basmati rice, steamed and lightly spiced and Nimbu Chawal ($3.50), turmeric-stained basmati rice flavored with fresh lemon juice and flecked with toasted nuts and mustard seeds, add a complementary base to the curry dishes.
Murgh Tikka Masala ($18.95) combines tender boneless tandoori chicken with a sweet sauce of tomato, spices and cream. Palak Paneer ($14.25) is a savory dish of creamed spinach studded with a house-made Indian paneer cheese.
We delight in the naan, ($2.50-$3.75), baked fresh in the tandoor oven only minutes before, and scoop copious amounts of curry onto it. The Lassan Naan was spread with freshly minced garlic and cilantro before being cooked, and the toasted garlicky nibs are an epiphany.
The crowning jewel is a whole cut-up chicken marinated in yogurt, garlic and spices and roasted in the tan-door oven. The Tandoori Murgh ($17.95) comes out on a sizzling platter resting on a bed of caramelized onions.
We finish things off with a cup of masala chai tea and Gulab Jamun ($5.50), house-made balls of what seem like yellow sponge cake, deep fried and floating in a golden and sweet cardamom rose syrup.
After the meal, we are happily full. Warm spices linger on my tongue, a reminder of the complex flavors we enjoyed, a testament to North India’s flavorful food.
“We have a nice atmosphere. It’s air-conditioned and quiet, good food, good prices and good service,” Thakur says.
He’s right about that. We’ll definitely be back!
4771 Kuhio Hwy.
Lunch Buffet: 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday-Friday
11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Dinner: 5 to 9:30 p.m. 821-2333 shivalikindiancuisine.com Vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options available.