Dining Out

The Golden India restaurant on McArthur Avenue in Vanier satisfied a recent quest for tasty fare. Pictured here is the Tandoori Chicken. (Photo: Chris Mikula)

The Golden India restaurant on McArthur Avenue in Vanier satisfied a recent quest for tasty fare. Pictured here is the Tandoori Chicken. (Photo: Chris Mikula)

Golden India

Address: 408 McCarthur Ave, 613-842-9153, restaurantgoldenindia.com

Hours: seven days a week, lunch buffet 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., dinner 5 to 10 p.m.

Prices: Lunch buffet $11.99, à la carte main dishes, $11.99 to $14.99

Access: no stairs

The heat-loving eater in our party was licking his chops in anticipation.

Golden India, I told my co-worker, promised to outdo other Indian restaurants on the spice scale. The eatery, which opened in late 2011 in a modest Vanier strip mall, serves not only vindaloo curries (the fiery dishes at which other Indian menus usually draw the line) but two preparations that are hotter still, dubbed Bangalore Pal and Ceylon and made with “special green chilis.”

The Golden India restaurant on McArthur Avenue in Vanier satisfied a recent quest for tasty fare. Pictured here is the Chana Bhiona. (Photo: Chris Mikula)

He was stoked. I had taken a preemptive hit of yogurt to line my stomach. Two other spicy-food aficionados, including one who had travelled in India, jumped in the car too. Heading east on the Queensway, we were a veritable heat-seeking missile.

We had reason other than scorching curries to look forward to lunch. Golden India was one of four Ottawa eateries that cracked last year’s Urbanspoon list of Canada’s most popular new restaurants. On that website, the crowd-sourced comments are pretty much rave after rave — not for incendiary fare per se, but for mild and mellow dishes too.

We arrived to find two very well-stocked steam tables, but alas, the lunch buffet offered no Bangalore Pal or Ceylon curries.

The restaurant’s only customers at the time, we immediately heaped our plates with choices such as beef dhansak (tender meat in a sauce that nicely balanced heat and sourness), baigan bharta (a mash of luscious, well-spiced eggplant), and comforting dal that tasted of turmeric.

Flavourful cauliflower bhaji and bhoona chicken, mild but no less tasty for it, also made us happy. If there was one quibble, it was that the spinach in the sag lamb was overly salty on its own — but with forkfuls of the falling-apart meat, it went down just fine.

For all of us, lunch was quite a bit better than satisfactory. Of the Indian buffets I’ve tried over the years, Golden India’s might rank in the top three.

After my meals there, I found out that an experienced hand was turning out the food at Golden India. Its chef and owner, Sailesh Deb, cooked at the Light of India on Bank Street for 27 years.

Deb has decorated his restaurant of 40 or so seats — a former Fat Albert’s location, it turns out — in a simple style, adorning its ochre walls with artwork depicting the Taj Mahal, Mahatma Gandhi and the like.

During a subsequent dinner visit, my fellow eaters and I branched out. We found the food that we ordered a little more uneven than what had been served at the buffet, even as the service was more attentive and personable.

Golden India’s hospitable touches included red carnations in vases on every table, tea-candle-powered hot plates to keep dishes warm, continually refilled water glasses and complimentary bowls of sliced pineapple and grapes to end the meal.

Long before dessert came, deep-fried appetizers (potato-filled samosas and some chickpea fritters), were fresh and ungreasy, both served with a mango sauce. Vegetable dishes generally seemed assembled with care. The spinach in sag paneer had some structure to it, as did strips of homemade cheese. Basmati rice came nicely studded with not just peas, but also bits of fig and slices of fried plantain.

Butter chicken, it struck a few of us, hit its sweet notes a little hard. The tandoori platter’s various items — shrimp, chicken tikka, lamb tikka, sheek kebab, a portion of chicken — were tender, although I would have liked some of the meats more if they had been more vibrantly seasoned.

That complaint did not apply to the beef vindaloo, the most powerful dish that my dinner mates allowed me to order. It delivered sharp, long-lasting hits of heat after its initial taste of tomato. My first, too-big mouthful left me panting and seeking relief in a mango lassi.

When I asked our server, who had until then been pretty matter-of-fact in her dealings with us, about Golden India’s hottest dishes, she smiled and laughed. They were too much for her, she said. But the restaurant does have customers who delight in its most searing curries, she said, describing with a giggle the happy ordeals of profusely sweating patrons.

I resolved to bring my spice-loving co-worker a tub of the hottest Golden India Ceylon lamb curry. At home, I tried not more than a teaspoon of the dish, chased down by some drinkable yogurt. It didn’t register as hotter than the vindaloo, but after I transferred the food into a freezer-friendly container and rinsed the takeout tub, the fumes practically made my eyes water.

But in a good way, some might say. When the curry thaws, we’ll see if it satisfies my colleague the chili-head’s quest for fire.

phum@ottawacitizen.com

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