Inheriting a bustling place, aromatic Indian cuisine did not disappoint – Indianapolis Monthly
Back in September 2020, the Fletcher Place icon Rook has closed its doors for good, becoming one of the first victims of the pandemic in restaurants. For members of Indy’s food ecosystem, seeing this flagship property remain vacant, a glass shell along the Cultural Trail, was a constant reminder of dark times. But Vinita Singh, owner of Northside Smee’s Place Bar & Grill, had never eaten at Rook. She didn’t know her pioneering Filipino chef, Carlos Salazar, or the restaurant’s epicureans. She’s a working mom. She lives in Zionsville. When her broker called to tell her about this large property available on Virginia Avenue, she had no interest in the location. It was too far from home. He told her to go see him anyway, and she did. “The next morning,” Singh said, “I told him to get the papers ready. “
Singh, who holds an MA in Hospitality Management from the State of Michigan and spent the early years of his career working with two of the restaurant industry’s most prolific chain empires, Brinker International and Darden Restaurants, n He didn’t just move furniture before reopening the airy 3,600 square foot location like Aroma Indian Cuisine and Bar at the end of March. “It’s such a beautiful property,” she says, her eyes scanning the high open ceilings and glass walls that give the place an art gallery vibe. “I have the impression that this is a masterpiece. If I made any changes, I would just destroy it.
Beneath those same oversized red hanging lampshades that marked Rook’s aftermarket aesthetic, diners can now pour a succulent paneer saag onto their plates and dip fatty, flaky samosas in a tamarind chutney. The pastry pyramids are topped with tender baked potatoes and peas with cashews, and they give off a delicious puff of steam when you break a buttered wedge. Aroma serves a popular Indian dish called malai kofta which features small fried dumplings of potatoes and paneer (a mild cheese similar to ricotta) over a velvety, slightly spicy tomato sauce. It plays crunchy against creamy, starchy against spiciness, spectacular textures and flavors that translate into comfort food.
Singh insisted on having malai kofta on his menu, describing it as a beloved Indian dish that most restaurants go wrong, even those in India. I’ll take her at her word. Because all I know about traditional subcontinent food, you can put it in one of those little white ramekins stacked at the end of an Indian lunch buffet. I’ve only heard of tandoori chicken, aloo gobi, et al., Circling those scented steam tables, mindlessly loading my $ 10 plate with all-you-can-eat ginger lentils and tikka masala, filling in some hot naan leaves which I brushed in creamy raita, and always coming back for more red tinted chicken. I have a weakness for Indian cuisine: its rich and complex flavors, its subtle touch of warmth and its sexy scent of cumin. When I taste butter chicken, I hear Celine Dion.
The aroma works at a higher level, however, offering elaborate dishes like lamb shanks swimming in a decadent brown sauce, tandoori fish baked in an Indian clay oven, and light but tasty minced chicken skewers. A starter of kurkuri bhindi – incredibly crisp ribbons of fried okra – has a stealthy, tingling heat that’s hard to stop. And the chicken malai kebab, marinated in cream and yogurt before igniting, remains miraculously juicy, flavored with ginger and garlic.
Pepper Chicken cooked in a heady combination of mustard seeds and curry leaves, and makes a delicious pepper stew. Eat it with spoonfuls of basmati rice with hazelnuts. Goat Bhuna Ghee features melt-in-the-mouth chunks of slow-simmered meat in a sticky onion sauce made even more decadent with Indian clarified butter. (Take my advice and free the bone pieces with the back of your spoon before shoveling a bite of this flavorful and highly concentrated roast.)
To reduce the richness, the waiters offer fresh and sweet lassis, fruity mixed yogurt drinks topped with diced candied fruit called tutti frutti. And desserts include stunning rice pudding presented inside a hollowed-out orange, dumplings fried in rose syrup, and homemade pistachio or mango ice cream.
When customers who have first-hand experience of authentic Indian food come to eat, they thank Singh for opening such a restaurant that honors food and serves hard-to-find regional dishes that haven’t been westernized to death. It means a lot, but she also hopes diners less familiar with legitimate Indian cuisine will come to expect this caliber of preparation and presentation from other local curry houses. Executive chef Kamal Papanai, who came to Indianapolis from Chicago and worked in five-star hotels in India and the United States before that, has put together a menu of scrumptious curries, aromatic masalas, and rich goat-based dishes. but tender and a whole section of vegetarian dishes. inputs.
A new craft cocktail program will likely launch later this month that will include flights of hard-to-find Aroma bourbons and scotches. In the meantime, you can hardly go wrong with a chilled bottle of Flying Horse Royal Lager, crunchy, subtly malty, and the perfect soft leaf for those intense flavors. Singh has other ideas in mind. She could possibly hang art on the walls and do something exciting on the restaurant terrace, like adding a small stage to present live performances. For someone who didn’t want to venture this far from their northern suburban stomping ground a year ago, she’s starting to understand.
It’s a shame that almost all the traffic going through Aroma’s door on my first visit (as I sat in a nearly empty dining room, stuffing myself with butter naan and flavored tandoori chicken until paprika and turmeric bone) consisted of rushed couriers scrambling to pick up their DoorDash and Uber Eats deliveries.
I guess this is a legacy of the pandemic that could linger for some time. Aroma’s smooth opening happened around the same time people were just starting to re-enter the world, albeit with a healthy fear of shared public spaces. I just feel bad for someone who has to eat their butter chicken sprinkled with goat cheese in a take out container. Hopefully, as things slowly return to normal (or at least a new normal), we can step out of our Styrofoam shells and enjoy a place as beautiful and inviting as this worthy addition to Virginia’s gourmet row. Avenue. 501 Virginia Ave., 317-602-7117, aromaindy.com
Mon. – Fri. 11 am-10pm, Sat-Sun 11 am-10:30pm
Carefully prepared Pan-Indian dishes, ranging from street favorites to sumptuous traditional dishes.
Start with a plate of homemade samosas and tandoori chicken that will make you doubt every tandoori chicken that has come before it. Get an order of founder Vinita Singh’s favorite bhuna ghee goat and a mango lassi topped with mango mousse.