Dining Out: A sweet sanctuary for Indian food fans at Mia’s Indian Cuisine

Vegetable korma at Mia's Indian Cuisine (Peter Hum, Ottawa Citizen)

Mellow, likable food in keeping with newcomer chef’s story

Mia’s Indian Cuisine
917 Richmond Rd., 613-695-3333, miasindiancuisine.com
Open: Monday 4 to 10 p.m., Tuesday to Friday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Prices: most dishes from $10.95 to $15.95
Accessibility: small curb outside front door

When Samsu Mia and his four grown children opened Mia’s Indian Cuisine in the spring of 2012, the west-end Ottawa restaurant seemed like something of a happy ending as well as a new beginning.

Almost a decade earlier, in July 2003, the Bangladesh native famously found sanctuary in the First Unitarian Congregation of Ottawa on Cleary Avenue. Earlier, the former domestic worker at the Bangladesh High Commission had sought refugee status in Canada, but was denied and did not want to be deported to his homeland.

As documented in more than a few Citizen stories, Mia lived for 17 months in the church, working on his English, and cooking, cooking, cooking. In December 2004, the federal immigration minister of the day gave him permission to stay in Canada.

With help from the church, Mia was able to bring his wife and children to join him in Ottawa in 2005 — a decade after he came to Canada without them and after he had last seen them.

And as if the Mias did not already have enough people rooting for them in the neighbourhood, when they opened their restaurant at Woodroffe and Richmond roads, just a few hundred metres from the church, they replaced a Kentucky Fried Chicken location. Goodbye fast food franchise, hello family-run eatery and newcomers’ success story.

In the last few weeks, I’ve eaten a good range of the food at Mia’s and found it as likable as the tale of its chef/owner and his children who work with him in the restaurant after so many years of separation. (Sadly, Mia’s wife died after she came to Canada.)

What I’ve sampled — in the Mias’ welcoming dining room and later at home — made me wonder if Mia and his son Mostofa, who cooks in the restaurant after graduating from Algonquin College’s culinary program mean to serve food that’s comforting rather than challenging to non-Indian palates.

Indeed, I have to say that my favourite Indian food is more complex and bracing than what I’ve eaten at Mia’s, which, while never unpleasant, tended to be more mild, simple and even sweet. That said, I know that the more mellow fare from Mia and his son Mostafa, who has its fans — not everyone is a chili junkie keen on vindaloo challenges.

Not having been to any KFC in decades, I can’t say what the Mia’s space once looked like. But they must have improved the ambience. Their 32-seat, ochre-walled dining room is warm and unpretentious.

My colleague Kelly Egan wrote in 2004 that Mia’s “samosas, which he made by the thousands while living at the church” and sold to the congregation to raise money for his family back home, were “wonderful.”

Last weekend, Mia’s 2013 pastry appetizers ($4.95 for two), fell just short of such high praise, but were more than satisfactory. They were plump and generously filled with softened vegetables, not at all greasy, and accompanied by a tart tamarind sauce and a simple salad dressed with a curry vinaigrette.

Naan bread ($2.95), right out of the oven, puffy and blistered, was even more impressive. The young bread-eating monster at our table could scarcely restrain himself.

A bowl of dal soup ($3.95) was not bad, if a little too runny and gentle in flavour. On the other hand, a mango lassi ($2.90) was extremely thick and more sugary than it needed to be.

The less adventurous, vegetable-loving eaters in our party liked the vegetable korma ($12.95) for its variety and creaminess, the sag paneer’s balance of flavourful spinach and firm cheese ($12.95), and the aloo gobi ($10.95) dish’s blend of properly toothsome and nicely seasoned cauliflower, potatoes and green peppers.

Eggplant barta ($11.95) struck me as a little bland. I like that dish when it’s smokier and more seasoned.

I was happier with the tender lamb in a punchy, more assertively spiced rogan josh preparation ($15.95). Ordered spicy, it was tasty and vivid, but nowhere near overwhelming. Ditto for a lamb madras ($14.95) that I had on another occasion.

The decidedly sweet chicken kasmery ($13.95), lived up to the menu description that called it “very mild” and a “kid’s favourite.”

As the Mia family is Muslim, the restaurant’s meats are halal.

Fish tikka masalla ($14.95), cooked in the tandoori oven, was spot-on texturally and might have been delicious had there not been quite so much salt in its preparation.

The only dessert I’ve sampled was rice pudding ($4.95), which was too sweet.

Service was kind, attentive and speedy — we were in and out in little more than an hour. All portions were generous and next-day lunches of leftovers were a treat.

Put it all together, and it’s hard not to like Mia’s. Of course, it’s a dream come true for its owner. But it’s also a kind of culinary refuge for the nearby community, a case of a chef giving back to the neighbourhood that welcomed him and his family.

And that’s arguably more important than whether the food’s a little under-spiced or overly sweet.

phum@ottawacitizen.com
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