Issue December 7, 2005

Kashmir keeps its Indian fare hot and serious

One book on Indian food (appropriately entitled “The Food of India”) notes that it’s a country where the people speak 18 major (and 1,600 minor) languages and practice seven major religions. The always indispensable “Oxford Companion to Food” (which should be on every foodie’s shelf or holiday wish list) expands on that by observing that “the 17 states that were created within the country after it achieved independence were based on existing linguistic and cultural reasons. What this means … is that the foods in these 17 states differ as much as the foods in the various countries of Europe.”

So of course in America, when we think of Indian food, we think of one thing: curry. Which is to say, we imagine the intermingled aromas of coriander, cumin, cinnamon, cloves, cardomon and so forth.

Those aromas fill the air at Kashmir Indian Restaurant, nestled in a rambling old house in the heart of the Highlands across from the Mid-City Mall.

Location is everything, I hear, and for lots of folks, it remains remarkable that Kashmir has lasted now for more than five years in that location, which previously had been home to a series of doomed places featuring several different sorts of cuisine. But last it has, and for some folks it’s a weekly staple. And why not? One can certainly do worse than spicy, brightly colored food served in hearty portions at moderate prices. And though the flavors sometimes seem one-dimensionally blunt and the service is more business-like than personal, there are nevertheless plenty of flavors to explore, and heck, I’d rather have my food delivered hot by a serious-minded fellow than lukewarm by someone pretending to be my best friend. And at Kashmir, the prevailing culture seems to emphasize the hot and serious.

Hot and serious is an apt descriptor of the onion curry that accompanied a vegetarian appetizer platter ($5.25) Mary and I recently shared with our friends Dona and Trent. While Dona and Mary talked work (and Trent and I talked poker strategies), we plowed through paper-thin papadam (crisp, peppery, paper-thin bread made of lentil flour), pakoras (a pebbly fried assemblage veggies embedded in a chickpea batter) and samosas (fried wraps shaped like oversized Hershey kisses containing peas and tender potatoes) — all this accompanied by a satisfyingly fiery crimson chutney and a deep red tamarind sauce with a slender sweetness.

From a long list of entrees (which run in the $5-$8 range at lunch and $8-$13 during dinner hours), Dona selected chicken tikka masala ($9.50), chunks of chicken breast marinated and simmered in a sweet, spicy yogurt-based sauce with a festive orange look. Trent’s vegetarian aloo palak ($7.95, not surprisingly, there are plenty of vegetarian options at Kashmir) was perhaps the most subtle dish we tried. Perhaps because there were no meaty flavors to dominate, this nuanced mélange of pureed spinach and potatoes in a creamy, aromatic sauce offered a fine, layered mix of flavors that rose above most of the other dishes (which just might suggest that the vegetarian path is a good one to follow at Kashmir).

Mary’s chicken biryani ($11.99), served without raisins per her request, brought a heaping platter of basmati rice intermingled with chunks of chicken, fresh, bright peas and nuts. My lamb saag ($10.99) brought chunks of tender lamb in a hearty, if not exactly scintillating, bath of pureed spinach.

On another visit, a tandoori dish, seekh kebab ($12.99), was more successful. In presentation, tandoori dishes look and sound very much like fajitas: roasted in a clay oven heated by charcoal, they’re brought to the table with a satisfying sizzle, lamb or chicken surrounded by shards of peppers and onions. The seekh kebab consists of a finely ground lamb sausage with a fine, satisfying texture (it reminded me of the lost, lamented lamb sausages I used to buy at the old Kurz Meat Shop in the Douglass Loop, and I can offer no higher praise than that).

Dona, Trent, Mary and I finished our meal with kulfi ($2), an excellent ice cream with the grainy texture of ground pistachios, almonds and cashews.
Kashmir does offer wines, though it’s hard to imagine a wine that could stand up to the conventional Indian spices. For those who must drink wine, the list includes plenty of options by the glass or bottle, most at fair prices. A Schmitt Sohne Riesling can be had for $3.25/$13. George Duboeuf Beaujolais Villages runs $4.95/$18.

For me it was beer: a 22-ounce bottle of Taj Mahal ($5.50), but Guinness, Red Stripe and some other Indian options are available as well. And lassi, the Indian yogurt shake, is available in sweet and sour variations for $2.50.
Kashmir is located at 1285 Bardstown Road. Hours are Monday-Friday 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.; Sunday-Thursday 5-10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 5-10:30 p.m. A lunch buffet ($7) is served Saturday-Tuesday 12-3 p.m. The restaurant appears to be accessible for people using wheelchairs. There is no smoking. Call 473-8765 for more info.