Yes, the owners of Curri know how to spell “curry.” But they wanted to use an “I” because it represents India, and it's a way to stand out.
The independently-owned Indian restaurant, which opened in late March in a strip mall near 74th and Pacific Streets, stands out in other ways, too.
Unlike some Indian spots in town that offer mostly northern Indian cuisine, Curri boasts a menu as vast and diverse as the Indian subcontinent, with lots of southern Indian choices. There's an array of appetizers, a boatload of bread and biryanis and a whole section devoted to dosas. The menu includes 77 varied items.
The spacious dining room, which seats about 80, means there's no lengthy wait for a table like at my favorite Indian place, a midtown mom-and-pop joint where cozy means cramped.
Curri's central location also sets it apart. As much as I love Indian food, I'd rather not drive across town for it. Curri is a convenient option for Indian food fans who don't live downtown or way out in west O. Midtown dwellers can be there in ten minutes or fewer.
The seafood dishes, something that's not always an option at Indian eateries, had me the most excited during the first of two visits.
Seafood is represented in both appetizers and main courses. Entrees include fish tikka, barbecued fish with Indian herbs and spices; tandoori tiger shrimp, marinated jumbo prawns roasted in a tandoor oven; and chapala pulusu, fish with tamarind sauce.
My dining partner and I started with the kadai shrimp masala. Named for the kadai — the deep, round, wok-like vessel that it's cooked in, the well-balanced and moderately spiced dish featured eight large pan-grilled prawns in a thick, zesty sauce.
This dish had an undercurrent of heat and an addictive savory flavor from a medley of spices: cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cardamom and bay leaves, among others. Joining the succulent shrimp were chunks of red and green bell pepper and matchsticks of fresh ginger.
Curri has 14 vegetarian entrees on its menu, and dosas, appetizers and tandoor dishes also are vegetarian-friendly.
We tried the meatless tadka dal. It features lentils in a golden-colored gravy with a thinner, souplike consistency than other dal dishes I've had.
Mellow but still flavorful, the dish gets a rich silkiness from a buttery sauce, while cumin, mustard seeds, ginger, garlic and fresh tomatoes lent a vibrant quality. Topped with fresh cilantro, it's a comforting dish that we enjoyed spooning over fragrant basmati rice.
We also split an order of cashew rolls and vegetable pakoras.
MORE FOOD REVIEWS
The vegetable pakoras are a solid, satisfying starter. Slivers of onion, peppers, cabbage and spinach are coated in a chickpea-flour batter seasoned with chili powder, salt, turmeric and other spices. They're deep-fried until golden brown.
Heaped on a plate, they were a hot, crispy tangle of deliciousness that paired perfectly with a glass of light, refreshing Kingfisher beer. My only quibble with the pakoras is that the vegetables tend to get lost in the batter because of the way they're cut, julienned into strips so thin they're almost undetectable.
The cashew rolls are four plump ovals consisting of a mashed potato-cashew paste filling, lightly coated in a spiced batter studded with cashews, then fried until golden brown.
Soft and creamy inside, they're served with a deep-green mint chutney that had a slight kick and a dark-brown tamarind chutney that was sweet with a hint of sour.
The bulk of the dishes at Curri are family recipes from its manager of operations, Manideepa Nugooru. Her husband, Varma Dhanalakoti, co-owns the restaurant with Ray Krause. Varma and Manideepa hail from Hyderabad in southern India.
Biryani — a flavorful, rice-based, one-dish meal made with meat, vegetables or eggs, along with saffron and other spices — is one of Hyderabad's most famous dishes and one of the specialties at Curri. The restaurant offers versions with chicken, goat, lamb, eggs and vegetables. The egg biryani is on my list of items to try next time.
Our server at dinner was friendly and attentive. He was timely with water refills, the second course and the check. If he faced a question he couldn't answer, he quickly asked the kitchen staff.
Curri's decor and ambiance — black cloth napkins, votive candles, sleek pendant lighting and contemporary white dinnerware — is more upscale-casual than traditional and exotic.
It's not that I didn't like the ambiance at Curri, I just thought it lacked personality. The vibe is more modern than traditional, and without glancing at a menu, you wouldn't know its an Indian restaurant.
A second lunchtime visit for the buffet had some service blunders: Our server forgot to bring our naan and didn't take our drink orders or bring water until we asked.
Manager Jahmal Jones told me later he was shorthanded that day because an employee was sick.
Nevertheless, Curri's lunch buffet is a budget-friendly way to experience the restaurant's extensive offerings.
You can sample an ever-changing selection of starters, entrees, rice and desserts for $9.95, which includes freshly baked naan brought to your table.
By the time our bread arrived, we were nearly done with our meal. Though late, the naan was delicious. Straight out of the clay tandoor oven, the hot, buttery flatbread was nicely charred with a toasty, nutty flavor.
My favorite dishes from the lunch buffet were the mushroom saag, which included spinach and mushrooms with hints of ginger and garlic; butter chicken, chunks of chicken in a rich, creamy peach-colored sauce; and dal makhani, a thick, hearty dish of black lentils, butter, ginger and tomatoes.
The day's dessert options included gulab jamun. Stuffed from lunch, I took just one of the ping pong-ball sized sweets — a fried dough ball in rosewater syrup. It's the sort of treat that's comforting and, in small doses, a nice way to end a meal.
While the decor and atmosphere at Curri won't transport you to exotic India, the sprawling menu of family recipes and aromatic spices that perfume the air just might.