Katen Shah hadn’t planned on opening a restaurant, but when the opportunity came along it seemed too good to pass up.
The Glenwood South location was prime, and the fact that it was near his wedding planning business was a bonus. Shah could use the restaurant’s kitchen in the off hours for catering. To top it all off, Shah liked the chic, vibrant decor of the space that had formerly been Blue Mango.
And why wouldn’t he? A friend of Blue Mango’s owner, Shah had helped design that restaurant. With just a few tweaks – opening up the window view onto the patio, hanging strings of crystal beads to separate the dining room from the bar – he knew the place would be the perfect setting for the eclectic mix of traditional and contemporary Indian fare he would offer.
And indeed, Indio’s menu is as varied and alluring as the glass and ceramic artwork on display in jewel-toned alcoves behind the bar. By and large, the kitchen delivers a global gastronomic adventure centered in India with occasional excursions into fusion territory.
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At one end of the spectrum, vegetable samosas differ from those served at traditional Indian restaurants only in their presentation: on a sleek, long rectangular platter, flanked by a small salad and ceramic spoons filled with cilantro and tamarind chutneys. At the other end of the spectrum, tandoori lamb tacos are an inspired fusion of Indian and Mexican cuisines, served on soft corn tortillas, and topped with a tasty mashup of guacamole and mint sauce.
Lest the lamb tacos tempt you to prolong your stay in Mexico, be advised that the only South-of-the-Border element I could detect in Mexican bhel, another offering under the Tapas & Small Plates heading, was a smattering of miniature corn tortilla chips. Otherwise, the mix of puffed rice, chickpeas (which the kitchen had, for some reason, substituted for black beans), diced onions and yogurt sauce was pretty much an average rendition of a classic Indian chaat.
An excursion into Indo-Chinese territory is more rewarding – for chili shrimp, say, in a piquant sauce riddled with onions and peppers; or soy- and ginger-marinated salmon bites, fried in a chickpea flour batter; or, best of all, chicken lollipops, so juicy and flavorful beneath their crisp spice-reddened skins that you really don’t need the accompanying dipping sauce.
The kitchen appears to have gotten the wanderlust out of its system by the time it gets to entrees, which stay pretty much within Indian borders for their inspiration. A number of familiar favorites such as chicken tikka masala differ from traditional versions only in their stylish contemporary presentation. But that doesn’t mean that an adventurous foodie won’t find a few rewarding destinations – with a little careful exploration.
Resist the temptation of scallops moilee, Indio’s surprisingly bland rendition of a seafood coconut curry from Goa on India’s west coast. You’d be better off heading for the section labeled From the Tandoor. There you’ll find Adraki kebabs, which the menu describes as the “chef’s signature lamb chops.” Served with fragrant turmeric-tinted basmati rice and a Western-style medley of sautéed fresh vegetables, the dish lives up to its billing.
Try to order chicken kadhai (a spicy dish native to northern India and Pakistan, named for the Indian wok it’s cooked in), and your server may well attempt to divert you. I took his advice and was rewarded with an off-menu chicken Chettinad, a coppery curry redolent of cardamom, coriander and probably a dozen other spices.
Anyone looking for a vegetarian dish would be well-advised to steer clear of vegetable biryani, whose vegetables are outnumbered by unappetizing clumps of rice. Instead, look for the small but refreshingly different selection of vegetarian entrees, where you’ll find exotica such as malai mehti corn, in a sauce thickened with paneer and spangled with curry leaves.
If navigating the dinner menu is tricky, that’s at least in part because Indio’s first few months haven’t exactly been smooth sailing for its owner. In addition to dealing with the usual wait staff turnover, Shah had to hire a new chef just three months after opening Indio in late March. Recruited from Texas, the new chef already shows flashes of promise as he gets settled in. I’d return tomorrow for another round of those chicken lollipops and Adraki kebab.
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222-101 Glenwood Ave., Raleigh; 919-322-2760
Rating: ☆☆ 1/2
Atmosphere: chic, vibrant
Noise level: moderate
Recommended: chicken lollipops, Adraki kebab, malai methi corn
Open: Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday
Other: full bar; accommodates children; modest vegetarian selection; parking on street and in nearby Powerhouse Parking Deck.
The N&O’s critic dines anonymously; the newspaper pays for all meals. We rank restaurants in five categories: ☆☆☆☆☆ Extraordinary ☆☆☆☆ Excellent. ☆☆☆ Above average. ☆☆Average. ☆ Fair.
The dollar signs defined: $ Entrees average less than $10. $$ Entrees $11 to $16. $$$ Entrees $17 to $25. $$$$ Entrees more than $25.