I like Indian food. Not that I know much about it all, though Im learning. Mom made lamb curry when we were kids, but this only ever happened when she was using up leftovers from a roast leg of lamb. Think chunks of lamb with curry spiked gravy. Served over brown rice, the only redeemable part of the meal my memories can conjure are Moms fun, black and turquoise compartmentalized condiment tray that had a lazy susan mechanism so you could spin the thing around and watch the chopped roasted peanuts, diced bananas, chutney, yogurt, raisins and hot sauce spin around like a kaleidoscope. But thinking about actually having to eat it puts a lump in my throat. So, I have a lot to overcome.
Id been trying to visit Star of India in Petaluma for months, but every time I went by (on Sundays, usually) they were closed. But one Sunday, they were actually open, so I headed in for a quick early dinner. I finally settled on the samosas to start, then baigan bartha, the spicy eggplant dish, a side of rice (peloo?) and a lassi. The samosas were big globes rather than the flat triangular packets Ive had elsewhere. They were quite crisp outside which I found, because of the size somewhat of an obstacle to getting into the thing. Good flavor, not as good the few other examples Ive had, and actually I think I like them better cold the next day. I know that must be sacrilege to someone. I love eating samosas for breakfast, especially when drizzled with that cilantro, mint and chile sauce. Dont know what its called, but Ive been known to eat the stuff plain by the spoonful.
Id ordered the bartha spicy, and while it was flavorful and had good heat, it wasnt spicy enough for me. I got full really quickly, and the waitress was very concerned that the food was too spicy. I tried to explain my eyes being bigger than my stomach (without much luck) and got it all wrapped up to go. I ate the bartha for lunch the next two days, and as the flavors melded the spiciness increased nicely.
It was on my second visit for lunch that I learned how much of a bargain this place could be. The menu is more limited at lunch, confined to just two pages. I started with chicken pakkora. I ignored the accompanying tamarind sauce and coated them with the spicy cilantro mint sauce. Sort of a McNugget for grown ups. I think I paid about $7 for my entrée of spinach with homemade cottage cheese. It came with a cup of what must have been mulligawtawny soup (filling but uninteresting), warm, fresh naan (crispy and chewy and soft all at the same time), rice, a small serving of a spicy dish of kidney and garbanzo beans (mmm, Indian chili!), and a handful of lettuce. I ate off the leftovers for days. The spinach wasnt as good in my mind as the bartha had been, but I think I may just prefer the eggplant dishes. The spinach didnt have the spicy heat that I like, but it was flavorful.
The place was pretty busy with employees from the nearby tech firms, and among them several expats from India and the UK. On my first visit the waitresses were rather sulky and sullen but gradually warmed a little bit.
The quality of the food was good, fresh, well made. One of these days Ill actually get past the vegetarian dishes and try the curries in hopes of obliterating memories of curry spiked gravies forever.
Star of India
299 No. McDowell, Petaluma
(next to Longs Drugs in the same shopping center as Ross, the Vietnamese place & Kmart)