Where Local and Global Appetites Collide

Nibbles & Bites: Essence of India, Tallahassee, FL

This is actually one of our favorite local restaurants except for one thing: it’s almost never busy. Now, I know, you might think that’s a good thing but think about it: if a restaurant isn’t busy when you go at 7pm on a Friday night, it might not be there the next Friday night you want to stop by. Plus, being the only couple in a restaurant is like being the only person in a movie theatre: awkward. The waitstaff just stands there (a fair distance away, of course, it’s not like they’re hovering) until you need them again.

But there is hope! This last time we visited there were several tables occupied when we arrived and even more by the time we left. Todd counted 14 or 15 tables being served over the course of our meal: we were astounded. Also, I’ve driven through that shopping center at lunch and seen fairly good business coming from, I’m guessing, the state office buildings and other businesses around it, so that’s a good thing, too.

Now, onto the food. The menu is long, something I usually dislike, but it’s well-ordered and the length is because there are separate sections for each protein style with the various sauce treatments. It’s actually less confusing than other multi-page menus I’ve encountered because of this.

We always start by sharing the Appetizer Platter which comes with samosa, pakoras, papadum and onion bhaji. Pakora are similar to tempura in that they have a light batter and are fried. The chicken pakora is always a favorite, followed by the cheese with it’s spices and the vegetable (potato, onion and spinach). Bhaji are more like fritters, even though the menu’s description almost makes them sound like onion rings and samosa are a mix of potatoes and peas in a pastry crust, usually triangular in shape. Finally, papadum are thin, crispy lentil crackers that generally don’t contain salt but taste like they do–it must be the natural property of the lentils. These come with three sauces: tamarind, red onion  and mint chutneys. Beware: the tamarind is spicy!

When the entrees (most priced $10.95 to $13.95) arrive, there’s a large plate with rice and smaller pots of the individual entrees. It doesn’t look like a lot, at first, but we usually end up taking half of it home. Also, don’t forget to order some naan to go with your meal! We prefer the garlic naan but there are several varieties available.

On this trip, Todd ordered the Lamb Rogan Josh. The meat is always fork-tender here, just amazing in it’s consistent melt-in-your-mouth texture and they’re not stingy with their meat the way some places might be, adding more potatoes to make it look like a fuller portion. Rogan Josh means a yogurt-tomato sauce with garlic, ginger and various spices. It’s not too hot, but definitely well-seasoned. I decided to go veggie this time and ordered the Navrattan Korma which is vegetables cooked in a yogurt sauce and spices that I can only describe as comforting. This is mega-comfort food chock full of potatoes, carrots, peas, corn, green beans, tomatoes, nuts and raisins. So good, I’m getting hungry just thinking about it!

We’re usually too full, even taking half our entrees and bread home, to order dessert but we made an exception, this time (strictly in the interest of a full report, of course). Todd ordered the Gulab Jamun (fried pastry balls in a flavored honey syrup) and I had the Rice Pudding. It’s important to thoroughly dunk the pastry in the saffron, cardamon and rose-flavored syrup, otherwise the first few bites might be rather unimpressive. Most people think of rice pudding as a carb-loaded goo, but in a good goo-way, but this version is actually thinner, not goo-like at all, and flavored with green cardamom which is a nice change from the usual cinnamon.

All told, our meal was $50 and change, before tip, which is an excellent value for all of the food ordered and the very full to-go boxes that accompanied us home and made for a good lunch for each of us the next day. For whatever reason we don’t order alcohol here but they do have a fully-stocked bar and various beverage choices beyond the usual water and soft drinks. One day I plan to try their lunch special, advertised as $7.99 for an entree (choice of 9) with soup, rice, naan, onion chutney and the dessert of the day (no wonder they seem so busy then!).

Jennifer Walker
Jennifer Walker

  1. I remember years ago, a business colleague saying he did not want to tell people about his favorite restaurant because it would get too busy at lunch and he’d have to wait to get a table. Guess what — the wait is REALLY long now because it went out of business.

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