Monday, March 15, 2010

My New Favorite Indian Restaurant

I adore -- absolutely adore! -- Indian food!!!  It's a complete sensual indulgence, from the rich colors to the gorgeous aromas, from the tactile experience of eating many items with your hands rather than with silverware to the vibrant tastes dancing on your tongue.

I've eaten at every Indian restaurant in Ann Arbor, I think, and it's been pretty difficult to pick one over another: Jeremy and I went to Temptations for my birthday this past year, and he finally fell in love with Indian food there (after much debate over the years) ... my very dear friend Jayne, who has lived in India and Sri Lanka for periods of her life, prefers Madras Masala, which offers a very fine and extensive buffet for indecisive people like me who love to try everything ... Raja Rani also provides an excellent buffet, in the charming old house with a porch that's perfect for summer lunches ... and Shalimar holds a special place in my heart because Tom and I ate dinner there on our first date, which had begun with breakfast at The Broken Egg, meandered into tea at Sweetwaters (the one on Washington) later that afternoon, and continued through dinner and late into the night as he kissed me while snow fell around us.  I'm always happy to eat Indian food, to cook Indian food, to shop at Indian markets, and to immerse myself in one of my favorite cuisines.

So when Tom's very dear friend Alan invited us to meet Heidi, the wonderful woman who has captured his heart and for whom he'll soon sadly be leaving Ann Arbor (trust me -- she's worth it!), I was thrilled when he recommended Neehee's -- which serves vegetarian street food -- despite the schlep to Canton when we have so many fabulous options here in our own little burg.  A new place on the radar was not a problem, especially since we also needed to visit that wretched circle of hell IKEA to get picture frames for some of Tom's digital photographs; one place was just down Ford Road from the other.

We met Alan and Heidi in the parking lot, having arrived just moments after they had.  She was wonderful -- with a radiant smile despite the cold drizzle, and after having visited with many people throughout the weekend -- and Alan is clearly very smitten with her.  They both seem to be adventurous eaters, which I always like to see -- picky eaters, as I mentioned in my very first post here, are the bane of my existence.  Although Alan had eaten at the Farmington Neehee's and could make some recommendations, he seemed as overwhelmed by the extensive -- well over 100 items! -- menu as Tom and Heidi and I did.  Everything sounded good, the photos posted on the walls of various items (with descriptions) looked amazing, and the aroma of freshly cooked food was tantalizing as we perused our many, many options.

Tom and I had been thinking of potatoes or perhaps spinach as we drove to the restaurant, so it wasn't too difficult (well, it was difficult but not wrenching!) to settle upon splitting the Masala Dosa -- a gigantic, crispy and yet pliable, lentil and rice crepe with a luscious spiced potato-onion filling.  It came with two chutneys as accompaniment, one coral-colored (presumably tomato-based) and the other a pale green (possibly a coconut variation, from my after-the-fact research online); both were delicious and spicy without being too hot.  And it also came with a soup which contained a variety of vegetables; we had no idea what it was, though I now know it was sambhar -- a broth made with tamarind -- which I also might have found out if I'd read the fine print on the menu.  We debated whether to ask, but frankly were too immersed in relishing our food to be able to move from our table.  I used it in a fashion similar to the "jus" of a sandwich served "au jus" ... in other words, I happily dipped my dosa in it.  Please forgive me my ignorance, but I just simply was engrossed in what I was eating!  Remember, I'm not a reporter seeking investigative details; I am merely a near-omnivore seeking to share my varied and blissful dining experiences.

We also split the Aloo Tikki Chole, some fabulous spiced potato pancakes (aloo tikki) smothered in a gravy with chickpeas (chole) and beautiful red onions, with crispy vermicelli on top.  It was absolutely divine -- spicy but not too hot, and readily complementing bits of the dosa (crepe) which I used to pick up portions of the dish.  We had originally thought we'd start with just a few things, reserving the option of going back up to the counter to order more -- with service being so quick that it would hardly be worth going back to the table to wait.  But the quantities of food for astoundingly fair prices ($4.99 for a crepe twice as big as the plate, accompanied by soup and chutneys and the fabulously generous serving of potato filling!) more than filled us up.  We did finish our lunch, but dinner was not going to be necessary.

Alan had initially recommended the Bhel Puri (pictured at the top of the page), which we all shared; it's a salad-like snack made with puffed rice, chutney, tomatoes, and onions.  It's crispy, it's very fresh-tasting, and it's a unique combination of ingredients that just really seems to work in unison.  He and Heidi had also ordered the Special Chaat (sorry, I forgot to take a picture of it!), which were like Indian nachos: crisp triangles topped with chutney and potatoes and onions and cheese, which were tremendously good!

Neehee's is in a strip mall on Ford Road just west of Canton Center Road, and conveniently located right next to a fabulous Indian market that I need to visit again and devote some time to perusing.  The seating capacity is 15, and take-out is absolutely an option.  The service is quick and efficient; and the trays, paper plates and plasticware not only make the self-bussing easy, but they clearly demonstrate that the focus -- in terms of time, labor and money -- is devoted to the fabulous, fabulous food.  What the place lacks in ambience it more than makes up for in amazing dishes that I will likely dream about as I doze off in a little bit (being so enthused about writing this to share the information that I'm up even past my own ridiculously late bedtime) ... :)

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