Located in the far northwest corner of the city, Curries and Chutneys brings a welcome taste of the exotic to an area dominated by chains and fast food franchises. With a steady increase in the Indian population over the past few years, the city has seen a commensurate growth in the numbers of Indian restaurants of good to very good quality, serving traditional fare from all around the nation, generally with slight concessions to perceived Midwestern taste. As far as I know, this is the first restaurant to offer a speedy take-way, street-inspired menu which combines fresh ingredients, properly prepared, with an agreeably spicy lift.
The difficulty in rating an establishment such as Curries and Chutneys is that it sets out to achieve no more than it does. This is not haute cuisine, or even date night cuisine. Rather, it represents a healthy, spicy alternative to the artery-clogging dross that surrounds it, keeping production values high and prices where they need to be, inviting repeat visits for those who live or work in the area. But it's not exactly a destination, so I wouldn't suggest making a special effort to visit unless you happen to be in the area.
Clean and simply furnished, Curries and Chutneys offers cafeteria-style service with a selection of fountain drinks, but no alcohol. If you're in a hurry, the best way to order is by the plate ($6), consisting of rice, either steamed or fried, two curries from an assortment of six vegetarian and six meat, one appetizer, two chutneys and a couple of pieces of flatbread. Portions aren't huge, in keeping with the healthy tone of the establishment, but those with less of an appetite can still choose a smaller bowl for $4.99.
Of the appetizers I recently sampled, the cabbage pakora, slightly crunchy, devoid of grease and properly seasoned, was the standout, followed closely by the fluffy aloo bonda - soft potato dumplings in a light and moderately spiced sauce. Spice is handled particularly well here. A couple of dishes, especially the very lightly sauced (almost dry, but deliberately so) Ceylon chicken, contained crunchy chunks of fenugreek and cardamom, providing most welcome and explosive little bursts of flavor. There's an excellent chickpea masala and some delicious creamy lentil dishes. Freshly made chutneys are quite fine, packing a raw punch of heat, crunch and acidity. The mango and the chili are particularly impressive, the former requiring a fair bit of chewing to get to the really intense flavor.
Of particular interest, and probably the one dish which will keep me coming back, is the Dosa. It's a sort of rolled-up crèpe, a foot long, topped with cheese, potato or egg, served with a side of chutney and sambar, a vegetable stew of moderate heat made from pigeon peas. More crisp than a French crèpe, and perfectly suited to being eaten like a sandwich, it could become the next big thing for lunch (it's already a popular street food across the south of India). But that may take a while.