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Where: Spice of India Restaurant
Address: 8398 Market St., Youngstown
Hours: Every day, buffet is open from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Dinner hours are 4:30 to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 4:30 to 9 p.m. Sunday. Closed each day between 2:30 and 4:30 p.m.
By Rebeccca Nieminen Sloan
Fresh, authentic Indian food and first-rate customer service make Spice of India Restaurant a rare gem on the list of Mahoning Valley dining experiences.
Owner Raj Ingle and Manager Sonia Bhatia go out of their way to make sure customers leave with pleased palates and an appreciation of what real Indian cuisine is all about.
“We cater to our customers. We will go out of our way to make things special,” Bhatia said after a tour of the restaurant’s kitchen, which features a rare tandoori oven.
A tandoori oven is a large clay pot that stands about waist-high and has a hole at the top. The insides of the oven curve inward, and the extremely high temperatures cook food to a crisp without compromising moisture.
“These kinds of ovens are very rare here in America and very expensive,” Bhatia explained. “You can only get them overseas.”
The tandoori oven speaks to the authenticity of the restaurant’s dishes.
“We specialize in authentic cuisine from northern India,” Bhatia explained. “Northern India is famous for savory dishes while southern India is known for spicier food with a stronger taste.”
Although some people might shy away from Indian food because of its trademark spiciness, this need not be a concern at Spice of India.
The restaurant offers patrons the option of choosing the “spice level” of their food. Levels range from 1 to 6, with 1 being most mild and 6 being extremely hot.
“We will cook the dish to your choosing,” Bhatia said.
For diners who are new to Indian food, Bhatia recommends the Chicken Tikka. This dish features boneless marinated chicken chunks that are slathered in a creamy, aromatic blend of curry, chilis, onions and peppers.
The chicken chunks are tender and juicy, and Bhatia said Americans who are not accustomed to Indian food will appreciate the dish because it isn’t too hot and because chicken is a familiar item to them.
“The Chicken Tikka is what I always recommend for anyone who has never had Indian food before,” Bhatia said.
For diners who already know and appreciate Indian food, the Goat Biryani is a nice choice. This dish features basmati rice cooked with goat that is seasoned with saffron. Although goat can sometimes taste too strong and gamey, the saffron and other spices skillfully tame any potentially unlikable flavors.
The menu also features many traditional lamb specialties and several seafood options.
The Lamb Vindaloo offers lamb simmered with potatoes in a tangy hot sauce, and the Shrimp Masala includes shrimp marinated in yogurt and pan fried with rich tomatoes and curry.
Spice of India makes its own yogurt every other day, and every-body who visits the restaurant should sample a Mango Lassi.
This sweet, creamy chilled beverage is made from mango pulp, yogurt, rosewater and sugar and provides a cool, refreshing contrast to anything spicy that touches the tongue.
Another must-have is the Nan-a Tandoori Bread. There are 10 varieties to choose from. The yummy Kashmiri Nan is stuffed with sweet coconut, cherries and raisins; the zesty Spice Nan is stuffed with green chilies; and the Paneer Nan is stuffed with homemade ground cheese.
All of these savory flatbreads are cooked to perfection in the tandoori oven.
Spice of India also offers a large selection of vegetarian specialties and is popular for its buffet, which is offered daily from 11 a.m. until 2:30 p.m.
The buffet features 13 to 16 items and two desserts.
The restaurant, located at 8398 Market St., has been open for about a year. The atmosphere is casual and slightly exotic with Indian music playing softly on the sound system and several large flat screen TVs, some broadcasting Indian television shows. One thing the restaurant does not have is a bar.
Ingle said he makes buying local produce and fresh, high-quality meat a top priority.
“The higher grade you buy, the better the food will taste, and the more the customers will like it,” he said.
Spice of India also caters. Orders $50 or over do not include a delivery charge.
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