Dining Out: To sample southern India, simply plan a trip to Midvale
Midvale - Indian cuisine, like what Americans have recently discovered about Italian cuisine, is intensely regional. And what we know of Indian food has been prominently of the Northern variety.
India is a huge country, after all. Thanks to a thriving South Asian community (from many regions) and a growing local interest in different foods, places like Royal India and Tandoor can succeed and even coax curious diners to culinarily venture south of New Delhi into places like Andhra Pradesh and Kerala.
It's appropriate then that one of the newer Indian restaurants, Ganesh, takes its name after the elephant-headed god of success and the benevolent remover of obstacles.
Take one particular Friday night: The cavernous dining room is full of people and the heady, intoxicating scents of cumin, garlic, cardamom and coriander. The multicolored faces of diners in the room nosh plates of crunchy pakoras (lentil flour fritters) ($3.50-$4.99), samosas stuffed with ground lamb ($4.99) and curries popular and obscure. Bollywood remixes from the sound system match the vivid colors of the room's dcor.
The place is hopping. The conversation, lively. This Midvale eatery, surrounded by a strip mall, seems to be doing well. And the fact that it attracts ex-pats and locals is even better.
The beauty about neighborhood eateries, particularly "ethnic" ones, is that they offer some serious flavor without compromising cash - something students, families and everyone in between can appreciate nowadays.
For those who like buffets, Ganesh offers a selection of items prepared fresh that morning during lunch service ($8.99 weekdays; $9.99 weekends). The buffet island is closed during dinner hours, when Ganesh should be particularly revered.
Order dishes a la carte or in the southern Indian style of thali. For an extra buck or two you get any entree with rice, lentil-creamy sambar soup, a vegetable curry of the day, tangy raita yogurt sauce, bread and dessert. Filled with familiar favorites like chicken tikka masala ($9.99 a la carte; $12.99 thali) and, mysteriously, chicken Caesar salad ($3.50), the menu also can be intimidating. But ask questions and you will get answers from the accommodating waitstaff.
With that knowledge you can sample lovely curried potatoes - usually in a samosa - in a crepe called a dosa ($6.99). The rice and lentil flour creation comes out huge, crisp and folded into thirds. If you're sharing, re-distribute the fragrant bits of stuffing evenly with a fork, cut and serve. Alone, it's a filling lunch with sips of the sambar and drizzles of the accompanying pinkish tomato condiment and spicy coconut-shallot sauce. For the even more curious, order the Ganesh special combo ($7.99) with a dosa, fluffy idli (steamed rice cakes) and a savory donut called vada.
To be sure, a menu this large has its shortcomings. The fish in a seafood coconut korma ($11.99; $14.99) was tough. Malai kofta ($8.99; $11.99) promised vegetables and balls of fresh cheese - paneer - that tasted more like deep-fried, balls of tough stuffing. I've yet to encounter a tandoor chicken in this town that isn't dried out. And I still haven't found an Indian restaurant with an interesting wine list. You're better off with a Taj Mahal beer ($6.75) to cut the spice. Non-drinkers have mango juice ($2.50) and yogurt-spiked lassi ($3.50).
But at this price point and the abundance of delicious options, these are more an afterthought than a problem. Price here is no obstacle to having a good meal.
This is a place where vegetarians and omnivores can co-dine peacefully. Lamb biryani ($13.99) is a lesson in the subtle combination of spices such as cinnamon and black cardamom pods. Then there's goat curry ($12.99; $14.99). That's right. Goat. This underappreciated meat is the basis of much comfort food around the world. Die-hards know that goat's flavor is different from that of lamb - deeper, gamier and suited to the spice-sultry, terra cotta-hued sauce. It's simmered, bones and all, until the meat is tender, coaxing out every bit of flavor.
On the other end of the food chain, aloo gobi ($8.99; $11.99) and saag paneer ($8.99; $11.99) are reliable. But there's more fun in a silky smooth dal makhani slightly tangy with tomatoes ($8.99; $11.99) and the bindi masala ($8.99; $11.99) that trumps okra's slimy stereotype. These two are best sopped up with naan ($1.50), hot and blistered from the oven.
Varied and lovely flavors, made from scratch. Plus a bill that won't send you into shock. That's a blessing indeed.
Get curried away at lunch or dinner
Overall rating »
Food » Mood » Service » Noise » 2 bells
In a nutshell: Affordable culinary jaunts into Northern and Southern India. Dosas are delicious, not to mention many of the vegetarian curries. Meat lovers shouldn't miss the goat curry.
Where » 777 E. Fort Union Blvd., Midvale; 801-569-3800
Hours » Monday, 5 to 10 p.m.; Tuesday to Sunday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., 5 to 10 p.m.
Web site » ganeshindiancuisine.com
Children's menu » No
Prices » $
Liquor » Beer and wine
Corkage » $5
Reservations » No
Takeout » Yes
Wheelchair access » Yes
Outdoor dining » No
On-site parking » Yes
Credit cards » All major