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Subcontinent Savvy

Rasoi Indian Restaurant
Robert Scheer

Indian 500: Rasoi manager Bharat Patel sports a splendid, ready-to-roll tandoori mahi-mahi, one of the myriad high-powered North Indian dishes offered by Mission Street's newest culinary sensation.

Skilled kitchen fires Westside's latest culinary hit

By Christina Waters

SC'S WESTSIDE JUST ADDED another notch to its culinary belt with the debut of Rasoi on Mission Street. Proudly billing itself a "Voyage to Indian Cuisine," the brightly decorated new restaurant goes far to make good on its sensuous promise. The former life of what was originally a Baskin-Robbins ice cream parlor is barely detectable in the sleek white walls and table linens, a ceiling festooned with brilliant magenta tapestries, and banks of greenery. Most deliciously, Rasoi is spiced with the complex aromas of Indian cooking.

Copper tureens line up at lunch filled with heady curries, basmati rice, a tandoori and a trio of creative vegetable specialties--the $6.99 buffet is quite a deal. At dinnertime, the menu goes far to seduce taste buds with bold and skillfully prepared staples focusing on Northern Indian cuisine. From pliant, garlic-studded nan bread to fiery sauces and fragrant vegetable stews, almost every dish we sampled the past two weeks charmed our expectations--and often knocked our socks off.

"You won't find those mixed vegetables anywhere else," the cook told us as we opened up one of the tureens. "Except in Madras." We had to agree as we savored a medley of black-eyed peas and spinach, some high-wattage potatoes and tomatoes laced with peppers, and a glorious collage of broccoli, carrots, lima beans and at least seven identifiable curry spices cooked so that each vegetable retained complete integrity. For under $7 each, we piled our plates with basmati rice and then added a very unshy tandoori chicken and a tongue-tingling yogurt laced with mint and jalapeño, as well as some molassesy chutney, mango pickles and tart, salty preserved lemons. The yellow lentil dahl--intense with parsley, fennel seeds, fenugreek and turmeric--was sheer poetry.

Dinners allow you to range more widely through the very fine cook's repertoire. With the help of our charming waiter, Mr. Eric, we started with what sounded like the most unusual dish on the menu--something called bhel puri ($3), an appetizer of crunchy puffed rice (!), tomatoes, potatoes and a thick sauce of date and tamarind chutney dusted with cilantro. It was incredible--the most interesting contrasts of flavor and texture we could remember experiencing.

The Sierra Nevada Pale Ale we'd brought with us--call ahead to see when the beer/wine license will be in effect--served us well throughout the meal, starting with the succulent potato-and-pea samosas ($3). An entree of tandoori prawns ($11.95) turned out to be a showpiece dish served on a sizzling platter and piled high with lemons, carrots, julienne of cabbage and huge chunks of onion. The prawns had been rubbed with spices--cloves, fennel, fenugreek, turmeric, chiles--and then quickly grilled to seal in moisture. We loved them, as we did an order of the wonderful palak paneer ($7), a glorious stew of spinach and potatoes that is one of India's great comfort dishes.

Another dish, gobi mehtab ($6.75), proved a nice but unremarkable variation on the theme of fresh cauliflower, potatoes and a tomato-based curry sauce.

We enjoyed our tandoori chicken ($9.95), though we thought it just a bit on the dry side. Not the world's most religious tandoori aficionado, I did find myself pleased with the lunchtime version, which offered a lot more in the way of succulence and aggressive spicing.

The prawn dish--and the amazing puffed rice appetizer--took up most of our allegiance during dinner. Just playing with all the lovely condiments--the interplay of incendiary chiles, cooling yogurts, tart chutneys and soft breads is one of the strengths of this remarkable cuisine--was worth our entire meal. Any one of the dishes we ordered could be varied and revisited over and over again, simply by adding or combining the condiments.

Rasoi is a natural wonder for vegetarians and a genuine journey to the East for people who love to spice up their lives.

Rasoi Indian Restaurant

Address: 1218 Mission St., Santa Cruz
Phone: 425-1020
Cuisine: North Indian
Hours: Lunch 11:30am­2:30pm daily, dinner 5:30­10pm daily
Chef: Shailesh Vyas
Ambiance: *** Colorful, crisp, warm
Service: *** Helpful and friendly
Cuisine: *** Excellent classics, especially creative with tandoori and slow-cooked vegetable specialties
Overall: Rasoi is a welcome addition to SC's emerging restaurant Gold Coast.
****Great, ***Excellent, **Good, *Okay

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From the June 26-July 2, 1997 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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