Friday, September 16, 2011

Sutra Modern Indian in Yaletown

Sutra Modern Indian on Urbanspoon

There is a restaurant in Boulder, Colorado called "Bombay Bistro", which has had the distinction of being the #1 restaurant there at a time when there were close to 100 more restaurants in the area. Internet reviews being the shifting tides as they are, at the time of writing this review, they were third, behind Tangier Moroccan Cuisine and Brasserie Ten Ten.

Bombay Bistro is a family affair, run by Paul and Pari, a husband-and-wife team who had the good fortune of building the restaurant just the way they liked it, from an empty plot of land. They were from India, and from a family of maybe 50 that has between them 10 Indian restaurants. This husband-wife team, however, does things differently from the rest of the family, and their newest restaurant in Yaletown, Sutra Modern Indian (862 Richards) -- just 3 weeks old when I had dinner there -- is different from probably any other Indian restaurant you've been to.

Unlike most Indian restaurants, there isn't the ubiquitous dinner buffet. The cozy lounge-like ambiance inside is entirely from their inspiration and experience. It is open only for dinner and closed Mondays, in part because they want quality time with their 3-year old. On Mondays they shut their mind to everything restaurant related and take a well-deserved break from it. Six other days a week, they work hard at getting this restaurant off the ground.
Interestingly, the owner says in a few years the space they are currently in will get mowed down into a public park.

Sutra Modern Indian (also on Facebook) feels like a lounge but is a sit-down restaurant. There are two rows of seating in a small building that doesn't feel crammed at all. Red walls, many pillows. Our dinner was at 5.30pm and it was very quiet in there, with just one other couple. Things picked up a bit slowly, but it's all residential across the street, construction on the street itself. The overall location is far away from the main Yaletown restaurant frenzy where you have maybe a score of establishments all competing with each other near Hamilton and Davie -- and where no Indian restaurant that immediately jumps to mind. It's a quieter neighbourhood, and it's a quiet space inside even with road construction all along that stretch of Richards Street.

At 3 weeks old, the owners are on the floor, training staff at the tables and in the kitchen. They are very attentive and treat you like good friends they are anxious to impress. The owners are still training the staff both in the kitchen and at the tables, so we were actually waited on by the owner/chef himself, and he went into the kitchen to oversee the cooking.

The menu is food on the front, interesting alcoholic concoctions on the the back (but you can ask for a simple mango lassi), no desserts listed so remember to make room for it and ask.

The gluten-free appy-while-you-wait was a long plate of several onion bhaji's (instead of, say, a basket of naan and , made by the the owner/chef's mother. Savoury to the point of being a bit too salty, but very delicious. Instead of larger patties of onion mix, these were smaller, spikier, crispier. The dipping sauce seemed watery, but had the spiciness without any real heat to it -- a fair compromise for North American palates generally not used to any real heat at all. You weren't therefore accidentally stuck with too much, but generally still had the option of soaking your fritter to get more.

There is a "duck paratha" (duck confit, red curry, corn roti) on the appetizers menu ("partake" on the menu) that was basically on the way out. Apparently, once diners found out that it was duck fried in its own fat, they got all health conscious and skipped it. Since it was almost gone, I ordered it immediately. I was told that they might actually not have the duck for it anymore, and if not, it would be substituted with a chicken-and-prawn filling -- which was what ended up coming to the table. There was a very generous portion of filling for the small round rotis about four inches in diameter. Not over-sauced so that I could taste both chicken and prawn.

The corn roti makes the dish (and almost everything on the menu) gluten free. It is harder to make and not readily available in Vancouver, and therefore an interesting choice that makes this restaurant stand apart. As rotis go (and not being gluten-intolerant, happily), I must admit I didn't like it. It was a harder roti, tougher to roll. On the up side, it is firm enough to scoop stuff or have stuff piled onto it.

My dining companion ordered paneer and saag, which came with about a bowl's worth of yellow rice and two corn rotis. The paneer was a single slab that looked and tasted very much like tofu. I can't really say much about this dish as I'm basically biased against spinach and paneer. The portion makes for a medium dinner, and there was approximately 50% more saag and paneer as there was rice, plus a small amount of yogurt. Which was curious because there wasn't anything hot/spicy at all.

We also ordered spicy masala wings (tandoori chicken wings, fenugreek tomato, garlic wings) which came out to approximately $1 per wing; and the intriguing sounding red wine sausage samosas.

There were three fairly big samosas, each slightly bigger than a tennis ball. The sausage was disassembled from whatever sausage skin it had once been stuffed into, and was basically ground beef. It was tasty enough, but there wasn't any clear red wine flavour.

For dessert, I had a beautiful plate of chocolate deep fried in samosa skins, with a thick, sweet, berry sauce. Yup, you don't get that at just any Indian restaurant and I jumped on it as soon as I heard it. There was a very generous amount of sauce for approximately five pieces of dessert.

The bill came out to $50.98 after tax -- no alcohol, just the mango lassi for my dining companion.

Overall, considering the restaurant is just 3 weeks old, it seems off to a good start with Indian food presented in a not-your-typical-indian-restaurant way. If you're not afraid of a possibly inexperienced kitchen and still-in-training waitstaff, now is definitely the time to go as you can very likely get to meet the very friendly owners. Sutra Modern Indian is a posh restaurant in a quiet neighbourhood, serving elegant plates with warm and inviting service.

Other interesting items I'd like to go back to try would be star scallops anise and coconut & ginger crusted mahi.

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