Like a comfy cardigan on a chilly fall day, some restaurants deliver precisely what you want exactly when you want it.
So if you have a hankering for a taste of the exotic, and you find yourself in downtown Concord, step into the House of India for old-world comfort food that will feel just like slipping into that favorite sweater of yours.
We found ourselves wandering around the capitol city with just such a yearning, and set out to see if this stalwart eatery was still there. It had been years since our last visit, and sure enough, there it was on Pleasant Street just off the city's main drag, beckoning us just as in older days. Indeed, a good fortune on a balmy summer evening.
Not much has changed at House of India, testament to a successfully long run amid eateries that come and go. Newspaper clippings from a decade ago adorned the walls, along with elephants and Indian artwork. Silk flowers were on every table, which were sparkling with glass tops over Indian tapestries. The aroma from the kitchen enveloped our senses, and we happily settled in.
Indian restaurants, it seems, are few and far between in New Hampshire, but this one stands loyally by.
We started with some bread and an appetizer, and two frothy, cold blended drinks.
We were slightly disappointed with the Garlic Nan ($3.95), one of several varieties of the signature Indian-style baked bread on the menu. It was short on garlic and cilantro (despite the menu's assurance that it was "topped with lots of chopped garlic and fresh cilantro.") Also a bit overcooked, nearly crispy, the nan gained new life when our entrees arrived and we dipped it into the plentiful sauce with our meals.
The rest of the meal was quite good, so we overlooked the non-perfect nan.
Meat Samosas ($4.95) from the appetizer list served us two crisp pastry turnovers wrapped around a stuffing of ground lamb and chicken and green peas. With tamarind sauce, the dryness of the turnover and filling is enhanced, and it whets your appetite for more exotic tastes.
The meat of the meal
Boti Lamb Masala ($13.95) and Shrimp Curry ($13.95) were our choices, and each appeared simmering in a semi-spicy, aromatic red sauce particular to each dish.
The lamb was in tender, long slices, marinated (the menu said) for 24 hours in yogurt and spices, then baked on skewers in a clay oven before marrying the masala sauce, which was dark red and almost explosive with flavor. A delicious combination of spicy-but-not-hot sauce and tender lamb chunks, served over Indian Basmati rice.
A word about the rice: It is special. Very long grain and very moist, with a host of mild and smoky Indian spices and herbs. Again, not hot spicy, just flavorful spicy, and so moist that not one grain sticks to another — a light and fluffy touch from the chef that enhances the meal with its most basic ingredient. Very nicely done; easily overlooked.
Shrimp Curry featured two handsful of medium shrimp, well cooked and swimming in a platter full of red curry sauce loaded with onion, garlic, ginger and fresh tomatoes, with an extra sprinkling of Indian spice and cilantro atop the dish.
An outstanding and most flavorful entree, served with plenty of House of India special rice, and just on the edge of spicy-hot without stepping into dangerous territory.
While both of our entrees are highly recommended, we must add an equally strong vote for the perfect beverage to accompany an Indian meal. House of India, like most Indian restaurants, offers a variety of frothy yogurt shakes and milk shakes, and they are the pure and proper accompaniment to hearty Indian food. They are must-haves, especially during the summer.
We tried a mango yogurt shake and a coconut milk shake ($3.95 each), and these mugs of frosty goodness were a tasty, sweet, cold and most refreshing counterpart to the exotic, spice-laden food. A sip here and a sip there turns the page on the chapters of the meal, but there are plenty of chapters (portions are large) so the tale is large and fulfilling. Most enjoyable.
We loved our meal at the House of India, just like we did 10 years ago, and we hope it graces Concord's culinary scene for years to come.