BLOOMINGTON - The proprietor came to our table and bowed slightly. "Please," said Anand Tummala, co-owner of Flavors of India, a new place on Prospect Road.
Tummala has set a casual atmosphere, in that India MTV played on a television in the restaurant, but he is showing some India-style high-end respect through his humble hospitality.
"Please" started about every conversation and each ended with him backing away from the table and then hustling off to see to our requirements.
Flavors of India fits a spot in a strip center formerly occupied by Foodways, which emphasized its snacks in addition to entrees. The address is 503 N. Prospect. Schnucks is across the street.
Flavors of India again restores the Twin Cities to four Indian eateries. Its closest competitor is Puran Indian Restaurant in that both are full service, sit-down places (although Flavors does a lunch buffet). Puran is a little more formal in atmosphere and sticks to northern Indian dishes. Flavors serves northern and southern and has a good mix of the gravy dishes and non-gravy dishes, known as dry dishes.
The lunch buffet is weighted toward the gravy dishes, which go over rice.
Both Flavors of India and Puran make it easy for the Westerner.
Tummala speaks perfect English, and his menu gives brief explanations of dishes in English. It may seem obvious, but I always felt a little lost at Foodways in terms of what I should order - and even what I just ordered.
A poster of the iconic Iwo Jima flag-raising photo is an overt signal to the Western audience that they are most welcome at Flavors. Other decor includes posters of Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, the cricket great Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar and Michael Jordan.
I first tried Flavors of India on April 1, the week after it opened, with my friend Vinod serving as a good guide through the Indian menu. I returned a couple weeks later, needing to relive the experience.
My favorite dish to date is the Chicken 65.
Note: All Indian food is spicy. Indians are gifted in the use of spices. Spicy doesn't mean hot.
Note II: Chicken 65 is eye-watering hot, even in the medium version served to us that April night. The name of the dish is much-discussed, without definite conclusion. It is a hot-pepper recipe not unlike American buffalo wings, but it is served boneless, like the oxymoronic boneless wings of the U.S.A.
At Flavors, it is $4.95 for an appetizer and it was so wonderful that I took home an order to go, for the next day, while Vinod took an order home for his wife.
This is one of the benchmarks of an Indian restaurant, and Flavors of India passed it.
For a main course, I had tandoori chicken ($12.95 for a full order). The name speaks to the cooking style - a fast, high-heat cooking in a clay tandoor oven, which gives a char effect to the outer portion of the chicken. It has lots of flavor, a red appearance but it is lower in spice punch than Chicken 65. Yogurt is the main ingredient in its marinade.
Note that chicken legs and thighs, not premium breasts, generally are associated with tandoori chicken, as is the case here.
Vinod went with lamb kebab. It was just a tad dry and our breads were a tad overdone (we had the naan and paratha).
But both of us were pleased with dinner, especially when finished off with a cheese, milk and pistachio dessert called ras malai and the thick, milk-laced Madras coffee.
Flavors of India
503 N. Prospect, Suite 104, Bloomington
Lunch buffet hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Dinner: 5 to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday; 5 to 10 Friday through Sunday.
More on the menu
An eight-page menu has a variety of appetizers, south specials, Indian Chinese, breads and desserts. It offers ample selection of gravy and non-gravy dishes and lengthy options for vegetarians.
Offerings include fountain soda but also some Asian specialties like Madras coffee and Mango Lassi. The restaurant doesn't serve alcoholic beverages.
Some Indians scoop their food by hand. Westerners copying this style should always make a point of using the right hand.