When I read the Californian’s piece a few Thursdays ago about a new Indian place in town, I couldn’t get myself over to Avatar fast enough. The article said that Bhupender Singh was the chef/owner. Though the author failed to offer any background for him, I knew that Chef Singh had established Mountain View’s Amber India as the top Indian dinner house in the Bay Area and was the founder/owner of Ambrosia in Monterey and Aptos. This was very exciting news indeed! Mom and I checked it out that same afternoon. Avatar Indian Grill had been open for four weeks at that point. It’s located in Creekbridge Village shopping center in the opposite corner from Safeway.
Chef Singh was cooking, taking orders, and carrying bags of take-out food to customers’ cars. His staff had a hard time keeping up with him! I had a chance to ask him why he chose to expand to Salinas. He said his other restaurants had many customers in town who asked him to open here. This is the first Indian place in Salinas, and he thought that a fast-casual place with lower prices and counter service would be less risky than a dinner house. Word-of-mouth has built up his clientele quickly, and this looks to be the right model. Pricing for complete meals is competitive with a Mexican combo plate. Here’s the opening menu,
We tried the “meal deal”, $7.45, which offers a choice of two dishes plus rice. Brown basmati rice or salad greens can be substituted for no extra charge. The Lamb saag, cubes of boneless halal lamb in ginger-spiced pureed greens, was made with fresh spinach. The seasonings did not really penetrate the lamb.
While the lamb saag was good enough, what really shined was the Fish curry. Juicy fillets of basa bathed in a mildly piquant and well-balanced yellow curry sauce was just plain scrumptious.
The butter naan, $1.55, was picture perfect. I’d confirmed ahead of time that it would be served whole and not sliced automatically. It pulled apart beautifully. Soft and puffy with singed highlights and a crisp bottom, the naan’s brushed with butter and finished with chopped cilantro and mustard seeds.
Here’s a look at the underside,
The Butter chicken, coarsely shredded moist dark meat in a butter-laden creamy tomato curry sauce, is one of the best versions around. I preferred its luxurious saucing and deeper flavor to the Chicken tikka masala, made here with chunks of dry-ish white meat tandoori chicken in a more straight-forward and simpler cream of tomato soup-like base. The Palak paneer, a blend of spiced pureed spinach with housemade fresh cheese cut into cubes and seared, has been excellent too and a good choice for a family member restricted to pureed soft foods.
Yellow dal was too sweet for my taste and I wouldn’t order it again. Also disappointing was the Paratha, $1.99, a whole wheat flatbread that lacked the requisite layering. Keema naan, $1.99, was pretty good with a thin layer of cumin-spiced ground lamb baked in the middle. The mint chutney on the self-serve condiment bar is terrific.
Beverage-wise, the Mango lassi, $2.95, has been as good as it gets, made with thick and creamy yogurt and Alfonso mango pulp. A local spin is the Strawberry lassi, $2.95, that tends to thin out and separate on sitting but has good flavor. I bet the strawberry will be even better once we’re further into berry season.
High quality fresh food, fair prices, great value, what more could you ask for. Delivery service will start soon. Avatar Indian Grill is a very exciting newcomer to the Salinas chow scene. Please post your favorites here when you have a chance to try it.
Avatar Indian Grill
1568 Constitution Blvd.
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