Draper » The more Indian food I eat, the more I realize how little I know about Indian food. A country a bit more than one-third the size of the U.S., India is home to over a billion people who eat all kinds of food. Yet the Indian food most commonly found in Utah is from Northern India.
Food cooked in a tandoor, a clay oven, such as naan, samosas and dishes with paneer (cheese) - these are all characteristic of India's northern cuisine. I tend to order higher-caloric dishes that contain ghee (clarified butter), cheese or coconut milk. What would a well-rounded Indian meal look like?
I hope it looks like the lunch buffet at three-year-old Aroma Fine Indian Cuisine.
There were vegetarian samosas, triangle-shaped turnovers filled with potatoes and green peas; chick peas cooked with butter, onions, garlic, ginger and tomatoes (channa masala); lentils cooked in the same manner as the chick peas (daal makhani); tandoori chicken that had been marinated in yogurt and spices then cooked in the tandoor; chicken curry with onions, garlic, ginger, tomatoes and spices; kofta curry with ground beef and halved hard-cooked eggs; basmati rice; naan; and rice pudding (kheer) for dessert.
Naan and samosas were made to order to keep them as fresh as possible, and the buffet costs a reasonable $8.99 for adults and $5.99 for kids.
The overall heat level was a bit too hot for my tastebuds. I'm no chili wimp, but if the heat overwhelms the flavor of the food and doesn't dissipate after about five minutes, the item is too hot for me.
I should have ordered my own mango lassi ($4.99) instead of stealing a sip every now and again from my son. Aroma's version rocks. Homemade yogurt, fresh mango pulp and ice; it's pure refreshment. Instead, I chose a St. Pauli Girl Dark to cool things down. In general, if I had to choose between wine or beer I'd go for a King Fisher or Taj Mahal beer ($3.50-$8) before I'd order one of the 14 wines offered. Heat plus alcohol means more heat. No thanks.
Another visit, this time for dinner, was less satisfying.
Vegetarian pakoras ($4.99), a tangle of onions, spinach and potatoes dredged in chick-pea batter and deep fried, could have used more crunch while the mealy texture of shammi kabob ($6.99), patties of finely ground beef and lentils dredged in chick-pea batter and deep fried, didn't offer the greatest mouthfeel. Butter chicken ($14.99), with moist slices of breast meat in a creamy sauce, was much better.
Our request for a medium-spice level on other dishes that included saag paneer, aloo gobi and lamb coconut korma were beyond what my tastebuds could comfortably handle.
I always wish there was more paneer than saag in saag paneer ($14.99), a curry of cooked greens including spinach and mustard greens dotted with cubes of cheese, akin to firm tofu in texture. This rendition was no exception.
At Aroma, aloo gobi's ($10.99) ingredients of potatoes, cauliflower, onions, tomatoes and spices are cooked down until they're barely indiscernible; I prefer versions where the cauliflower and potato are still intact. The heady mixture of garlic, ginger, tomatoes, onions, cashews, golden raisins and coconut milk that forms coconut korma ($15.99) couldn't save the chunks of mealy lamb that had been over-braised.
Aroma makes nine varieties of breads to accompany its dishes, including plain ($1.99), garlic ($3.99) and paneer ($3.99) naan, which arrive puffy and lightly blond. I'm less familiar with the roti and two types of paratha, unleavened whole wheat breads that are also on the menu.
Dessert is another foray into the unknown, with sweets such as rasgulla ($3.99), small spongy balls made from milk solids that are soaked in sugar syrup that have a touch of acidity and squeak between the teeth, and gulab jamun ($3.99), fried granular dough balls soaked in sweet syrup. Both may be textural challenges for some westerners. We had no trouble finishing off tangy mango ice cream ($4.99), made with fresh mango pulp and rice pudding (kheer, $3.99), that was creamy and refreshing one day but overly viscous and plain-tasting on another.
In a sea of chain restaurants, it is great to see that restaurateurs like Aroma, who are thinking outside of the box, are thriving.
In a sea of suburban chain restaurants, locally-owned Aroma stands out, by serving respectable northern Indian food using mainly organic ingredients.
Location » 715 E. 12300 South, Draper; 801-576-0707
Hours » Monday to Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; 5 to 9:30 p.m.
Children's menu » No
Prices » $$
Liquor » Beer, wine
Corkage » $5-$7
Reservations » Accepted
Takeout » Yes
Wheelchair access » Yes
Outdoor dining » Yes
On-site parking » Yes
Credit cards » All major