Our personal endeavor at mastering a curry dish left me satisfied, but there is not much that compares to the authentic flavors of the real-deal. In a quick weekend jaunt up to Connecticut to celebrate my older sister's birthday (surprise!), the restaurant of choice was a quick, scenic drive from their home in Ridgefield (a town that boasts Bruce and Demi's former residence, and one look at the surrounding mansions will make you understand why) up to South Norwalk, an equally quaint space of shops and dining spots, all with that particular New England feel and that February bite in the winter air.
We arrived at Coromandel, the space instantly warm and inviting upon opening the front door, a soft rush of spices floating through the air, the rich, earthy-colored decor contrasted with the clean white lines of the tables, all standing ready to be covered inch-by-inch in delicious food.
Our waiter very aptly explained, for those who were perhaps trying Indian food for the first time, which my grandmother, at 80 years old, was, that Indian food is often not what you expect from the description you are given on the menu. You might think you know what you are getting, but the flavors and textures and appearances are usually quite surprising. (Most Indian places have a slew of vegetarian options, from appetizers, warm breads, and entrées.)
We began this celebratory meal with a shared plate of samosas, a traditional Indian street food that is typically vegetarian-based: a small pocket of mashed potatoes, peas, and spices, all surrounded in a soft-and-crispy shell. Holy YUM. Some samosas, depending on the restaurant and chef, can vary in terms of spiciness, but this particular variety was rather mild, the curry providing only a delicate flavor rather than an overwhelming heat.
Paired with a variety of small, simple salads, and a centerpiece of puffed saffron rice sprinkled with cinnamon, these pocket pastries were my favorite of the evening.
With the appetizers, our waiter also brought my mulligtawny soup, a dish I was very eager to try. Traditionally made with a chicken or lamb base, this was a soup I was not able to taste at any other restaurants as a vegetarian. However, since there are several variations of this tumeric-coconut soup (the name literally meaning "pepper water"), at Coromandel I was delighted to find a vegetable-based version of this meal-starter. Called a lentil and vegetable mulligtawny, again, this bright chartreuse bowl was not what I expected, as our waiter so accurately explained. A subtle sweetness, a kick of citrus and cilantro, and savory, hearty bites of rice, I have discovered a new favorite food in my life, that is for damn certain.
As the plates began to fill our table, now seeming smaller than when we first sat down together, we were also presented with several baskets of bread (speaking my language, I SEE): the first, a thin, crisp cracker-like bread called papadam, most often served with several chutney dipping sauces, all varying in levels of heat from sweet mango, cool mint, and spicy tomato.
Of course, no Indian meal would be deemed complete until it is accompanied with naan, a traditional Asian flatbread much shaped and textured like a pita, and available with a diverse range of both fillings and toppings. Our table voted in a basket of plain, equally good in its own rite, and garlic, which won my devotion immediately.
Finally, our main courses arrived. Though I had trouble deciding between several, I settled on bharvan lauki: zucchini shells stuffed with fresh spinach, dry fruits, homemade cheese, and dummed in delicate tomato gravy. Well, yes please. Never having tried this before, I was excited for something new to taste, and just a teensy-bit worried about the level of spice that would be presented to me. My tolerance, I must admit, is rather low. I was quite surprised, however, to find that though this dish did provide a slight punch (think baby fists), I was able to enjoy the sweet variety of flavor. The sauce was unexplainably delicious, the freshness of the ingredients purely evident, and the pockets of zucchini aromatic and beautifully paired with a side of cashew-basmati rice.
Overall, the pulling-off of our surprise, the hit meal at the restaurant, and being able to share the day with family, and my first trip to my sister's new home was an ultimate success. Though we tried to resist ordering dessert (after all, her husband had double chocolate cupcakes waiting at home), I was able to sample some interesting concoctions from my mother's plate. (She had decided to go with the buffet. Carrot pudding, anyone?) Despite our declination, our magical waiter returned with the check and a small tower of pistachio ice cream, birthday candle gleaming, to wish my sister a happy 27th birthday. Though I did make a mysterious disappearance to the restroom, we all swear we were not the ones to inform him of our celebration. Hm. I suppose that secret is Norwalk's to keep.