Caveat: You know how when you first get something that you've wanted for a long time, your initial opinion of that thing usually starts out extremely high? But then once the initial thrill factor wears off, your opinion of that thing levels out? Well, I'd been wanting to try Indian food for a long time, and so when I finally did, recently, at Korma Sutra in Westport, well… I died. But, read on to see why, even after several visits, my opinion of Korma is still somewhere up around Cloud 9…
Second caveat: I’m going to resist the temptation of filling this review with lusty adjectives, playing off the restaurant’s provocative name; but I will tell you that after eating particularly spicy dishes at Korma Sutra, my wife and I each have had alarmingly lascivious dreams. I kid you not. After multiple such experiences, we’re entirely convinced there is something substantive (and worth checking out for yourself) behind the restaurant’s suggestive tagline: “sensuous cuisine of India.”
If you’re like I was until recently, and are inexperienced with Indian food, let me give you a shortcut to sheer
bliss: Tikka Masala. Tikka Saag. Naan. These words are now etched in my mind in the same way that sausage, brisket and cheese have always been; mention any one of them and my mind and stomach immediately scream, “YES – WHERE? – LOTS,” in that order, in unison. Now that I’m salivating, let me explain why:
Go to Korma Sutra and try Chicken Tikka Masala – it’s a classic in Indian restaurants and rarely disappoints. At Korma Sutra, it’s perfect. Large chunks of tender chicken come in a beautiful, heavy copper bowl, smothered in a rich, creamy tomato and red curry sauce that has an almost caramel-like essence when it first hits the palette, that gives way to the curry’s tangy sweetness. Spooned over a bed of long grain rice, it’s as hot as you could ever want (spicy means SPICY), and satisfies like your favorite comfort foods (think of the warm fuzzies you get after a great helping of jambalaya).
Speaking of rice, the rice at Korma sutra is presented in beautiful silver-domed dishes that stand 3 inches off the table. Laced with bits of orange zest, the rice could be appetizer, entrée and dessert alone. It has just the right sticky-factor, and a delicious sweet essence that compliments the tomato curry sauce beautifully. It’s tremendous. Know how they stopped throwing rice at weddings because the birds would eat it and then blow up? Every time I walk out of Korma Sutra, I’m thinking regretfully of those birds and wondering how long I have before my gut explodes. Keep your distance.
Tikki Saag looks like sewer sludge. It really does – but believe me, sewer sludge was not the inspiration for this dish. Take all the good things about Tikka Masala – the spiciness, the texture, the comfort food factor – and give it a dark green tint and more earthy flavor (spinach is the main ingredient if you aren’t counting the butter). That’s Tikki Saag. Chicken tikki saag is the object of my affection here, to be more precise. The chicken is almost superfluous in the meal, since the sauce is so rich, but there’s something about that added bit of protein that takes it from a 10 to an 11.
Naan. It is your friend. Your new Indian friend. It’s listed as an appetizer in the menu, but I’m telling you about it last for the following reason: at Korma Sutra, they give you so much of the stuff in one order, you’ll inevitably have a large chunk of it left when you’ve filled up and decided you’re taking the rest of your meal home in a doggie bag. But that’s when the temptation of the Naan hits you. There it sits, still warm. Still soft, with that tiny bit of charred crust from its contact with the tandoori oven’s hardened clay surface. It has all the wonderful qualities of a great brick oven pizza crust, but it’s so good, you don’t need any of the pizza toppings. And you can’t resist it. As your stomach waves a white flag, frantically sending your brain signals that you’re about to make a bad decision, your short term memory and salivary glands kick in and flood your consciousness with thoughts of food-born happiness. You tear off a chunk the size of your hand, swab the bottom of the Chicken Tikka Masala bowl out with it and in two enormous bites, stuff the softened pillow of breaven (bread + heaven) into your gullet. A gluttonous smile reaches ear to ear and as you look across the table, you can tell your companion is beginning to think you’ve turned into Seinfeld’s Newman.
Quick notes on décor and service: the walls were most likely painted by hand, by the owners and are pretty gaudy. Like pink? Hope so. The carpet, silverware, accoutrements… all feel a little cheap. The service may not be super friendly, but it’s usually quite prompt and if you have questions about the menu (say, if you’re a first-timer at an Indian restaurant), they’ll most likely do a good job helping you figure out what’s what, providing recommendations, etc. These things in mind, I find the combination of poor atmosphere and decent service is found often in restaurants with some of the best food around, so I hope you don’t hang your opinion solely on those less-important factors.
Now that I’ve experienced Korma Sutra on several different nights and have tasted several of its menu’s dishes, you ask whether my opinion has leveled out to something more modest and practical. I answer: no. Go there and experience the sensuous cuisine of India for yourself, and try not to be repulsed when you see me diving face-first into my order. I think the silverware is slowing me down.
Rating - 2 Napkins