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Tasting the Flavors of India

November 27, 2013

Today we cook. Tomorrow we feast. On Friday, some will enjoy leftover turkey sandwiches. Others will just want to get the heck out of the house and never look back at Thanksgiving dinner until next year.

It’s no wonder that people shop so aggressively on Friday. They are hopped up on carbs and have gone stir crazy from spending an entire day with relatives.

This Friday, there is a brand new restaurant opening in Albany. It’s an Indian place, and there are a few things on the extensive menu that are pretty special. Last week, Flavors of India hosted a preview party for the media.

While I wasn’t able to go, Ellie Burhans stepped in and stepped up to cover the story for the FLB. She filed the following report:

When I attended the grand opening of Flavors of India, I got the distinct impression that it was just different. I’ve spent the entire weekend trying to put my finger on what that was specifically so that I could share it.

There’s an easy and short answer that involves neighborhood pride and family, but it goes much deeper than that.

I’m not an Albany native; my hometown has little community pride. When I relocated here, Central Avenue was… Well, it wasn’t my first choice to explore. While Lark St. and the Center Square neighborhoods felt like chic Manhattan communities, with quirky shops and interesting restaurants and bars, going past the Fuze Box left you somewhere in an endless wasteland of bodegas. The Central BID has worked diligently to change that. It’s proud of its 77 restaurants from several different nations. It’s the home of some really great places to eat.

The new Flavors of India is an inviting space, done up in warm colors. Above every table is a lovely copper lamp that shines soft light on the table. It’s an open space, inviting and yet at the same time each table setting seems intimate. Unlike many local Indian restaurants, these settings are on linen table cloths; this is decorated like a fine dining experience. There is big wrap around bench seating for larger parties, and the back room could easily be used for a large party.

It looks and feels as if you’ve found a great hole in the wall some place in Brooklyn*. And that’s no surprise. For the most part, the family’s son designed the interior and wanted to get the feel of Chicago or Manhattan. He wanted it to be a place you could go out for a nice dinner. Down to the glass patterns in the woodwork, it’s obvious that someone put a lot of thought into planning. I wouldn’t think twice about inviting out of town guests to Flavors of India.

After the ribbon ceremony, we were invited inside to eat. But the grand opening wasn’t about showcasing a new and different style of cooking. It was more a celebration of family. We were served food inspired by a mother’s recipes.

Each bite was a flashback. I ate my way through an Indian kitchen thanks to the wife of my father’s co-worker. She would pack Tupperware full of matar paneer, vindaloo, and korma chicken. I would study smearing chutney on naan; I can’t think about calculating chemical equations without thinking of pakoras.

It’s hard to write about food. That’s why food critics come under lots of criticism. When they think they have a duty to the community to portray a restaurant one way or another, starred or not, there’s a lot that gets lost. And as I ate my way through the generous lunch buffet, I was constantly aware of one critical thing. Everything was balanced.

So many times when I order Indian food, it’s just heat and spice. But at Flavors of India, there was a clean brightness to the chicken in the tikka masala. The fresh and piping hot samosa were spicy, but I could taste the potatoes and peas. The palak paneer wasn’t goopy – you could taste the spinach and cheese as well as the ginger – and even sitting there, it wasn’t let to grow mushy under the buffet lights. I was eating the food that you prepare for your friends and family when they come to visit.

And that makes sense, doesn’t it? When you throw a football party, you make a chili that everyone can enjoy, not just something chock full of pepper. The dishes I ate reflected a mother’s love, the food she’d cook for her family and friends when they came home.

There is also Indo-Chinese food on the menu, which was briefly available at Tandoori on Wolf Road before it closed down. It’s like Americanized Chinese food except with an Indian flair. While eaters in Albany might not associate these dishes with Indian food, back in India it’s quite popular.

And yes, there is baby goat on the menu. It’s sourced from New York City from butchers that follow Sikh guidelines. They’re trying to find a more local source, but right now NYC is the most cost effective.

The location was chosen because that’s where home is, in a neighborhood working hard to be more than a string of bodegas and check cashing sites. The people invited to share this special moment weren’t bankers and politicians (though Jerry Jennings did assist in the ribbon cutting), but the people who owned the business next door.

There are many narratives here: family, unique food offerings, and the rebuilding of a community. I’m going to venture that what makes Flavors of India so special is that each element is as balanced as the curry. Without one, it just wouldn’t be the same. And it’s pretty darn good just the way it is.

Flavors of India, 244 Washington Avenue, Albany 12210
(518) 512-4766

* My sister often takes me to these places in Brooklyn that seem like shabby store fronts and I’m always really anxious about going in. There was one bar that was just a dilapidated wooden door on an empty street in Gowanus. Inside were these really cool butcher block tables, and a antique tiffany lamps. There was a back room I never would have imagined existing with very high quality pool tables. And that’s the case here. You walk into Flavors of India through a store front that doesn’t seem out of place for that neighborhood and inside are copper lamps, real linen napkins and tablecloths (without glass protecting them), leather benches and intricate glass work in the support beams.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. daviddoughan permalink
    November 27, 2013 11:35 am

    Ellie . ..did you happen to try any of the Indo-Chinese food? Just curious how it is.

  2. Divyesh permalink
    October 27, 2014 6:10 pm

    Worst Indian food I ever had. Chicken chilly appetizer was more like curry dish did not expect it that way. When you step intp the restaurant it seems decent but that is just because of the good interior (do not get fooled by it). Food is the worst part, and when it comes to service it is even more worst. I believe cook of this restaurant is one of the owner and he should really go to an average Indian restaurant and taste the food just to get an idea of where his food stands on the scale of poor to average.

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