(Our thanks to Alice Zhou, of GraciousHost.ca, for arranging this visit to Siddhartha’s Indian Kitchen, and providing us with these photos.)
Last weekend, it was snowing in Vancouver, perfect for the close of the Olympics! Blanketing the city lightly in white, it’s also become quite chilly over the past few days, so why not go out and have some spicy, tangy Indian food to warm the body?
BeyondYVR went to Siddhartha’s Indian Kitchen. Situated out on the Drive, Siddhartha’s looks very unassuming from the front, but that’s only if you don’t notice the beautiful mural on the side of the building.
I wasn’t sure when I saw this – was I going for dinner, a yoga session, or a lesson on writing fortune cookie messages?
Upon entering, we were struck by the nice décor. Soft lighting, with enough of a bright focus to see your dishes, permeates the large dining space, and a few large paintings decorate the walls. While it may sound minimalist, the space was comfortable and felt warm, with a high ceiling and meditative music helping to minimize noise from adjacent tables. I felt at peace as soon as I came in from the cold.
The service also reflected the relaxed, but caring atmosphere. Our servers were very attentive, professional but also ready to crack a joke. We also got to meet the chef and owner, Siddharth Choudhary, who was curious to meet us because he couldn’t recall our faces (which I was impressed by, since we’ve never visited before). Speaking with him, we both got a sense of the nice, earnest approach he takes towards his food. It’s these kinds of touches which make me appreciate not just the food, but the people behind it.
And what is his approach? It’s quite simple: to make healthier food that is tasty through merely accenting the natural flavor of ingredients. To do so, they minimize the amount of cream and butter added to dishes, and use as many local ingredients as possible. This challenges standard Western conceptions of Indian cuisine, where butter chicken and other heavy items from the food court are our standard impression of food from the subcontinent. What we often fail to remember is that India has a culture of cooking that long predates Europe, with regions and provinces having distinctive styles in the way we would compare Mediterranean countries. While there are some overlying themes, they are interpreted in many ways, with the preparation and presentation of ingredients rendering a wide assortment of differing, delicious results.
At Siddhartha’s, chai started off our meal. While most chais are strong on cinnamon and cloves, the chai at Siddhartha’s is milder, and in toning down on the strong spice some subtle tones of cardamom came through.
We then embarked on two of Siddhartha’s special drinks. First was Devine Love, which was a punch flavored with pomegranate, rosewater and dates. The color of the drink was indeed divine, a lovely ruby tint decorated with a light chiffonade of mint. However, the drink itself we both found off-balance and too sweet, even drowning out the mint, and thus making it difficult to detect anything else. However, upon noting this to the chef, he proceeded to remake it with less sugar, which allowed us to pick up on some date flavor.
The second drink was a New Delhi lemonade. Analogous to lassi, the drink was a salted, spiced lemonade that was likely intended for a hot day. Again, with this drink we found an imbalance; the salt predominated the flavor and so we could not detect many spices. Also, the citrus in the drink was very mute. Perhaps it was because the drink was served at room temperature rather than cool, but we did not feel that the elements came together in a cohesive way.
Our appetizer was a Delhi-style samosa. Unlike most samosas, this one was wet and moist, a contrast to the standard dry and crunchy dumpling commonly seen. Broken apart and topped with a spicy, fragrant sauce, it reminded me of papri chaat, a popular snack from northern India. The samosa brought out many flavors quite nicely, with a beautiful balance between the firm dough, the moist potatoes and chickpeas, spices and a small dollop of mint chutney. We found that the dish tasted a bit sweet, particularly in the dough and sauce, which we thought wasn’t necessary.
Then came our main dishes. First was a coconut vegetable korma. Beautiful and bold, a large skewer of paneer and vegetables came on a bed of a thick sauce that was mild with a hint of spice. The paneer was well done, with a slightly charred surface to accent the slight sourness of the cheese, and the sauce was a good complement. However, we did not detect a coconut flavor to the sauce (though it looks like it may have been blended in to make the sauce chunky and thick), and also felt that there may have too few vegetables with too little variety. The skewer was comprised of paneer, bell peppers, onion, and only one piece of mushroom, which was, sadly, the gem of the dish. We would have loved it had there been more!
The next dish was a special of Siddhartha’s – a grilled quarter of chicken served with eggplant and a special, fiery sauce that was reminiscent of tandoori masala. A beautiful dish, it also had the addition of roasted bell peppers to add a slight sweetness (some may have also been blended into the sauce, as it also had that slightly vegetal and sweet taste) and a color contrast to the plate. The flavors matched nicely, with the chicken being able to harmonize well with the other ingredients. The eggplant was expertly cooked, being soft and soothing to the palate, without any fibrous tone to it. Overall, it was a highlight of the meal, though the chicken being served on the bone made was a challenge, as separating the meat from the bone in a bed of thick sauce made for a small mess.
Rounding out our mains was a tandoori lamb cooked gently in a coconut curry sauce. The small pieces of lamb were tender, with the sauce being the gentlest of all the dishes. However, this dish did not stand out in the crowd and was quite forgettable. A problem with it may have been the cooking method, which seemed to be slow cooking after roasting. The idea that the lamb was cooked in the tandoor was all but lost through the cooking, because the gamier, stronger taste of roast lamb was not as readily present.
We had all of these dishes with garlic and basil naan. Crispy and fluffy, it was a fine accompaniment, but we could only detect the presence of garlic, although we could see dried basil had been liberally applied. We also felt that whole wheat naan would have made for a crispier finish that may have helped, but also that it would have been more in line with the philosophy of Siddhartha’s.
One issue that came up with all of the mains was the high, almost excessive amount of sauce added to each dish. In thinking about it, the dishes did not use a lot of oil or dairy products, as the dishes were not submerged in a layer of oil at the table. The sauces were all light and fresh-tasting, which was nice. However, for what we thought would be essentially three roasted or grilled dishes, the sauce submerged the lamb and coated the entire plate for the other dishes. Perhaps the sauce could have been served on the side for at least two of the dishes, with the lamb also spending less time in slow cooking so as to preserve the meat’s flavor. In a way, from how the dishes were presented it seemed like the sauces were intended to be the stars rather than the supporting cast.
Rounding out dinner was a dessert of rice pudding. The rice pudding was not as sweet as in other Indian restaurants, which matched well with our palates. It was also creamy, but not overly so – unlike other rice puddings, the grains of basmati rice were still discernible, giving the pudding a distinct textural component instead of being mush. Additions such as mango syrup, golden raisins, shredded coconut, and pomegranate seeds matched nicely with one another, adding sweetness, sourness, juiciness and crunch to the slightly smooth, slightly rough rice pudding. The dessert was a unique approach to an Indian classic, and in our eyes it succeeded.
Cost and Summary
Our meal came to $60 before tax and tip. It is certainly not a cheap meal, but in stepping out we both felt lighter and more alert than after most Indian food. It’s not a place that we would go to regularly, but it was a good experience.
Did Siddhartha’s complete its mission of tasty, healthier Indian food? It did, but we found that the drinks and dishes could use some fine-tuning, particularly on balancing flavors and textures. However, the ambience and service at Siddhartha’s makes it a special place to go – a great place to have a low-key, relaxing dining experience while exploring a new approach to Indian cooking.
Siddhartha’s Indian Kitchen
2066 Commercial Drive
Phone: (604) 215-7556
We could not try all of these dishes, but you can see how good they look.