Monday, February 15, 2010

Indian cuisine... Good and better.

I had planned to avoid the Valentines Day crush and so was going to schedule a nice romantic supper for 2 at the Sitar Restaurant, but on Monday evening... the 15th. Now this would have worked, as I was finishing at 2000hrs and didn't necessarily mind a later supper, if it meant having it in peace and quiet. This idea did not fly with my other half, however. Too late in the day for an actual meal, apparently...

So, it was decided on the fly that we would beat the odds and show up just as the restaurant opened that evening, which would be around 1700hrs. Now The Sitar, which is located at 417 Rideau Street in Ottawa, is by far my significant other's favourite restaurant. Now, if I have learned ANYTHING from our 12 1/2 years together, it is this:
- Black socks (or any socks...) do not necessarily look okay when worn with sandals; and
- Indian food is her very favourite food in the world.
So like I said, The Sitar is her favourite of all Indian restaurants. It is this, because of several reasons, not the least of which being the wonderful quality of the food served there. Their menu items are authentically Indian, they are fresh and they constitute the best Indian food to be found anywhere in Ottawa. The variety available is actually surprising. My spouse has been frequenting this restaurant for the last 13 years now. Myself...? The last 10 years. So when I read critiques on this restaurant, written by people who "just happened to be passing through town from Toronto", I tend to take what they have to say not with a grain of salt, but with a bagfull. Like you could critique any restaurant based on a single, hasty visit.

At any rate, we arrived very soon after opening and there was a single couple seated when we arrived. We had managed to snag an ideal parking spot right outside the front door. Truly, it was our evening. We sat at our usual table for two, right by the fish tank. I was somewhat taken aback to note that the two huge oscar fish that normally inhabited the tank, were now gone. So were the white, irridescent scaled smaller fish, with the barbels and crowns that looked as though they had suffered a John F. Kennedy head-shot, as seen on the Zapruder film. They had been replaced by three much smaller oscar fish. In the background, Indian music played softly, unobtrusively.

We took our seats and were soon served a papadum along with our water. My spouse put in her order for a glass of their white house wine and I ordered a coffee. We had been sitting probably 15 minutes, when the owner came to our table. He greeted us effusively, stating that it had been some time since he had last had the pleasure of seeing us. We informed him that we had moved some time ago and did not stray into town too often. My wife went on to state that she had been missing their fare, which she regularly describes as "her favourite food in the whole world". He thanked her for the compliment and took our order. He informed my wife that his wife would be along shortly. She was happy to hear this as she truly enjoyed talking with her and probably above all, really enjoyed seeing what she would be wearing on any particular day.
The owner's wife was truly from the old country and she dressed the part to the nines. She always wore the most beautiful saris and accessories. Her jewelry pieces were normally nothing less than stunning. She was elegant, soft-spoken and gracious. She floated over to our table, much to my wife's delight. She looked wonderful dressed in a fiery red, gold and black print. She also had a pair of the most ornate earrings I have ever seen. My spouse and her share a sort of mutual-admiration society thing, where my wife will effuse over our hostess' latest costume and accessories. She in turn, will carry on over how gracious and complimentary my wife is.
We have eaten at various other Indian food restaurants true enough and they were all good, mind you. But they just couldn't compare with The Sitar. I will be the very first to admit that if you're in a hurry, The Sitar might not be for you. Once your order is placed, you can reasonably expect your meal in about a half-hour. If you are waiting for the bill once you've finished your meal, by all means go see them at the cash, if you're pressed for time. I often will, if I feel like leaving. It's just that simple. Their being on a different timetable than I am, does not constitute "bad service". I far prefer this to a restaurant where the staff 'hover' around your table like so many fruit flies, just waiting to rush you out so the next paying customer may be seated in your still-warm booth.

The Rangoli in Orleans...? Wonderful food. The service is great, the staff, very pleasant. But the vibe is not the same, even though you will often find Indians thronging there for a 'real taste of home'. For my honey's taste, it's too 'westernized'. We discussed this as we sat waiting for our order. If you were going to operate an ethnic eatery, wouldn't you want to convey to your customers, the complete experience? Or would you simply settle for serving Indian dishes against a thoroughly North-American backdrop? Clearly, some people (us included) seem to prefer the former of the two.

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