The Zeroth Law of Ordering at Indian restaurants in North America says that if the person taking your order asks you if you want your dal makhani “mild, medium or spicy” you should give up hope and head for the exit. I have to confess that when the person taking my takeout order on the phone on Saturday mornign at 11 asked me this question I was tempted to hang up. But the boys had been promised tandoori chicken for weeks now, and I’d also committed to reviewing more North Indian restaurants in the Twin Cities metro this year—and so I said a little prayer to my many-armed gods and placed the rest of the order. This is how it went.
Namaste India Grill & Brewhouse (to use its full name) is located in Arden Hills in the north metro, not too far from where Lexington Ave going north hits the 694 freeway. On the other side of Lexington is Shoreview. I don’t know if there are any restaurants of interest in Shoreview but Namaste India had been recommended to me by a number of people on the excellent East Metro foodies group on Facebook and so it was to Arden Hills we drove. The restaurant is located in an inevitable large strip mall. Despite the “Brewhouse” in its name you shouldn’t expect any beer being brewed on the premises. What they mean is that they serve beer on tap and by the bottle. As to whether there is anything exceptional about this beer selection I cannot tell you; we were there only to pick up food.
The restaurant itself is small—though not tiny—and attractively done up with a minimum of kitsch. I was told they’ve been open for just about 2 years now. I do not believe there is any connection to Namaste Cafe in Minneapolis. They’re open for dining-in and also have two 4-tops right outside if that’s your preference. Even if we didn’t have plans to meet friends back at our house for lunch it would have been too hot last Saturday to sit outside but on a cooler day I could see doing it. They have a decent selection of street food—gol gappas, chaat etc.—and eating it while sitting outside would feel appropriate. Driving an hour with those kinds of dishes, however, is not a good idea and so we didn’t get any of them.
What did we get? The menu is largely composed of ye olde North Indian curry house staples. Other than the street food snacks section there’s an abbreviated South Indian section featuring dosas and the like but beyond that it’s mostly stuff that will be very familiar to American diners. This is mostly what we got.
We started with the Chicken 65 and two orders of kababs—the chicken tikka and the lamb seekh kababs. The former is one of the few nods to South India on the menu but was a bit of a disaster. It was in a gloppy, creamy sauce of some kind and tasted like no Chicken 65 I have ever had before. The kababs were not that much happier a story. Both the chicken tikka and the lamb seekhs themselves were actually not badly done. But for some reason they were served coated in what I can only describe as a ketchupy sauce and for some reason topped with broccoli, cauliflower etc. whose aroma clung to the meat. The kababs served as they should have been—not tossed in any sort of sauce with just mint chutney on the side—would have been much better. The kids’ tandoori chicken—which was a hit with the target audience—also had this extraneous vegetable involvement, by the way, though thankfully not the gloppy sauce. It was also neon red (much like the Chicken 65).
So far, so not-very promising. Things looked up when we got to the mains. The dal makhni (I asked for it mild, in case you’re wondering) was quite nice with quite a bit of smoky flavour. The palak paneer was acceptable: too much cream and not enough spinach flavour (as is the case almost everywhere) and just about passable paneer. The mushroom masala was better—I suspect the sauce is not unrelated to what goes into their butter chicken/tikka masala. I cannot confirm this suspicion because we did not get either of those dishes. Instead we got the tawa chicken—which had been highly recommended—and the gosht banjara (a spicy goat curry). Both of these dishes were very good indeed. I’d asked for these to be made hot but I wouldn’t say either was in fact very hot (they were both unnecessarily oily though; I tipped a lot of the oil out before reheating the food at home and it was still pretty oily).
All of the above was mopped up with decent naans and steamed rice. That leaves an order of goat biryani. The flavour of this was actually decent but for some reason it was extremely greasy. I’ve no idea what they’d done to achieve this effect but every grain of rice seemed to have a viscous texture.
To close, a bit of dessert. I always have low expectations of Indian sweets at Indian restaurants in the US and so we got just one order of gulab jamuns (4 pieces) and one of rasmalai (3 pieces) for everyone to get a taste. As it happens the gulab jamuns were acceptable—though almost certainly made from a packet mix—and the rasmalai was better still.
For a look at the restaurant, menu and food, launch the slideshow below. Scroll down to see what I thought of it on the whole and to see how much it cost.
So, as you can probably tell, the meal was a bit of an up and down experience. I really liked the tawa chicken and the gosht banjara and thought the dal makhni and mushroom masala were above average as well. The palak paneer was average but the rest of the savoury dishes—other than the tandoori chicken, which I did not taste—fell short. As to where the rest of the menu falls, I don’t know. I wouldn’t be opposed to stopping in again to try their street food selections—perhaps sitting outside—but other than that I don’t know that I am so motivated to return—especially considering we can get to Indian Masala, Godavari, Kumar’s and Kabob’s much more easily for food that is quite a bit better than anything we had here. On the other hand, if standard North Indian restaurant fare is what you are most interested in and you live in closer proximity then you may have a different view.
Price? Not counting a second order of tandoori chicken we got for the boys to enjoy the next day as well, all of this came to about $196 with tax and tip ($212 on the whole). We were seven adults and four small kids who probably added up to 1.5 adults between them. Make that 9 adults and we were at just about $22/head with enough leftovers for another 2-3 people. So let’s say an effective cost of about $18/head. Which is not bad, even though the portions are not over-large. If you’ve been there as well and have other dishes you would recommend please write in below.
What’s next on the restaurant front? Not sure but it might be Thai. Before that though I’ll have a look at another Indian grocery store in the metro—one located not too far from Namaste India, as it happens.