South Orange Blossom Trail is becoming quite the avenue of Indian restaurants. It seems over the course of a few miles there are all sorts of places serving the various styles of India.
And, if my experiences are indicative, with varying degrees of competence. But I knew I was going to like India Kitchen as soon as I ordered my food, before it had even arrived. It wasn’t something the server did, it’s what she didn’t do: she didn’t ask me how spicy I wanted my food.
Indian food does have a reputation for being spicy, but not all dishes are. And not all spicy dishes are hellfire hot. They have varying degrees that are dictated by the appropriate amount of spicing for each individual dish. Nothing rankles me more (at least nothing in an Indian restaurant -- plenty else rankles me in a general sense) than being asked after each dish is ordered how spicy I want it. Even a dish like a korma, which is a mild gravy. Why ask if someone wants his korma spicy? You want spicy, order something else.
Yes, yes, I know that some people are sensitive to spicy foods. Again, ask a server for a dish that has a lower heat factor, but don’t order something that is supposed to be hot and ask for it to be muted -- and then complain when it isn’t very good. It would be like going to a French restaurant and ordering steak au poivre and asking the chef to prepare it without pepper.
That said, you’re likely to find many dishes on India Kitchen’s menu that are spicy. The restaurant specializes in Chettinad cuisine from that region of the Tamil Nadu state in South India. It’s regional cuisine is considered among the country’s spiciest. But this isn’t food that is hot for the sake of being hot. You can go to a bar that specializes in Buffalo wings if that’s what you’re interested in. The spiciness of the food here is part of a multitude of seasonings and layers of flavors. And it’s also, for the record, not unbearably hot. I measure a cuisine’s spiciness by how much my scalp sweats when I eat it. The food here was only one-damp-napkin hot.
And it was good. I had the mutton thali, a platter with tastes of several dishes, including biriyani, kurma (a region spelling of korma), mutton bone soup, masalai, poriyal, pickles, raita and papadam, all served with fluffy basmati rice.
The most unusual thing about this mutton platter was that it was goat. I first got a hint of this when I encountered the chunks of bone one usually chomps on when eating, say, a curried goat dish in a Caribbean restaurant. When I verified that it was indeed goat instead of lamb in the various dishes, I was told that no one in India eats lamb, they all eat goat. That’s news to me (and probably to a lot of Indian people, as well).
Still, good is good, and you’ll have to decide if it’s more important for your dishes to contain an old lamb or an old goat. Actually, my favorite item on the thali (named for the round silver platter the dishes are served on) had no meat at all. It was the dhal, a porridgelike soup made with pureed lentils. (Also one of the mildest things on the thali.) By the way, there is a goodly amount of vegetarian offerings on the menu.
Service was accommodating and friendly. In fact, several people passed my table during the course of my meal and welcomed me or asked if everything was OK (and this was one of those rare times when I could be absolutely certain they had no idea a restaurant critic was present).
The dining space is spartan and brightly lighted, but it’s tidy and comfortable.
India Kitchen is at 6215 S. Orange Blossom Trail (or Trial, as it says on the takeout menu), Orlando. It’s open for lunch and dinner daily, with the de rigueur buffet served for lunchtime. This link will take you to India Kitchen’s Web site. The phone number is 407-438-4985.