By Denise Ortuno Neil
Abundant flavors a wait at the quaint and cozy India Oven in Cathedral City, where traditional cuisine of India meets the Coachella Valley. When I recently wrote my review about Tony’s Burgers, and mentioned the Indian restaurant that was part of the eclectic cluster of eateries in the same shopping center, India Oven is what I was talking about. For over 10 years, the tiny restaurant with amazing food owned by restaurateur, Vijay Kaushal, has been delighting those in the know, resulting in a loyal following.
My “tiny” description of India Oven is by no means an exaggeration, as they only have nine tables. But the minimal seating adds generously to their cozy ambience. Upon entering, there is no mistaking that you are in an Indian restaurant, as the smell of curry hits your nose with pinpoint precision, it’s absolutely wonderful, almost comforting. The hues of alluring red in the décor palate, along with the piped in melodic Indian music, sets the stage for a memorable dining experience.
On my visit to India Oven, I called beforehand to make reservations, even in the summer it seemed prudent. Come to find out, reservations are highly suggested, and as Kaushal said, “Reservations are important, in season there is usually a line, with up to a 45 minute wait.” So yes, when you plan to go to India Oven, make a reservation. Seems that they fill up more in the latter part of the evening in the summer, so our desired time of 6:00, wasn’t hard to award.
I love to try new places, but for some reason, I was extra giddy about being at India Oven. It just felt like it was going to be extra special, and it was. Although my boyfriend was more familiar with dishes from India than I was, we still needed some guidance from our server. I always find it beneficial to ask for help from servers, they are the connection between you and the menu. Our server Aida was fantastic!
We started with an Assorted Platter for an appetizer. The platter came with Vegetable Pakoras (fritters), Samosas (light dough filled with potatoes, peas and spices), and Paneer Pakoras (cheese fritters with lentil batter), accompanied with a mint or tamarind sauce option.
The flavorful Samosas were our favorite out of the three, with the Paneer Pakoras coming in second (anything with cheese always gets my vote). For our dinner selection, Aida suggested that I try one of the Chefs Specialties of Murgh Makhani which incorporates pulled Tandoori Chicken in a special butter gravy.
My boyfriend went for the classic Lamb Vindaloo, which is Lamb meat cooked with potatoes in highly spiced gravy with diced tomatoes and chili peppers. We rounded our selections out with an order of Garlic Naan. I must mention that when you select a main dish at India Oven, they will ask you what level of heat you would like, mild, medium or spicy. Now, there are some restaurants where the levels aren’t true to the levels, when medium is actually a mild and so on. But at India Oven, they are true to the levels. I ordered a medium, thinking that they would be lax on the level. They were not lax at all, and medium was just that….let’s just say I wouldn’t want to go to the spicy level, not if I would want to really enjoy tasting anything. I am more than happy with cruising at medium.
Our main dishes came out in lovely metal bowls, with a side of Basmati Rice for us to share. I dived eagerly into my little bowl, and yum, yum, yummed all the way. My Murgh Makhani was delicious with a capitol Icious! The sauce was rich and buttery, beautifully draping the chicken, with just the right amount of heat for me. I couldn’t get enough. My boyfriend’s Lamb Vindaloo had a distinct taste, with the flavor of Lamb really coming through the complex spices. It was slightly more full bodied and aggressive than my dish. Both were excellent! The Garlic Naan that we ordered served as a supporting role to our dinner. Although the Garlic Naan was awesome, I think that with the strong nature of our selected dishes, plain Naan would have been a better choice, as it wouldn’t have competed with the other strong characteristics of the dishes makeup.
There were so many other menu items that we wanted to try, such as the Saag (fresh cooked spinach in aromatic spices), Lamb Curry (Lamb prepared in traditional curry spices), and a myriad of others. But I guess that it just means that we need to go there again, and again. I have no problem with that!
India Oven is opened Tuesday through Sunday, and daily in season. They serve lunch from 11:30 to 3pm and dinner from 5pm to 9pm, 9:30pm on Saturdays and Sunday. Their prices are reasonable, and they do offer wine and beer as well as other beverages. Takeout orders are also available.
Dining at India Oven is a flavor adventure in traditional cuisine of India, wrapped up in quaint and cozy environment, all right here in the Coachella Valley. For reservations call 760-770-3918 and for more information visit www.india-oven.com.