With a ringing success at Indika on lower Westheimer, Anita Jaisinghani needed another restaurant the way most people with children need another child. And taking on Pondicherri at West Ave., the new place open breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week, that’s approximately when you’ll find Anita there: breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week.
While Anita insists she tries to leave her innovative, fine-dining side at Indika and concentrate on “Indian food seen from street level” at Pondicherri, she’s creative enough that surprises happen all the same. Her saag paneer samosas (pictured), for instance, leave behind the “creamed spinach” of most Indian restaurant saag paneer for a more elemental filling of spinach and that namesake Indian cheese. Just as Greeks sometimes promote their moussaka as “Greek lasagna,” these samosas are clearly “Indian spanokopita.”
Yes, be still my heart, this is a burger and fries in an Indian restaurant. But where the beef would normally be, there’s a savory blend of ground lamb and mint. And as for the mayo, ketchup or mustard, Pondicherri fills in with Texas cheddar, onion masala and tamarind date chutney. The fries get an Indian-spiced batter blanket as well. We are absolutely not in Kansas anymore.
Like all serious American (or British) lovers of Indian food, I crave standard-issue chicken tikka masala to distraction. Like all the serious Indian chefs I’ve known, Anita seems hellbent not to offer me any. There are, however, several versions of “curry” here, thank goodness: butter chicken cooked and served on the bone, Rajasthani lamb stew, fish masala and the pictured shrimp and cauliflower curry.
Between serving breakfast and needing desserts beyond the strange-tasting authentic ones from India, Anita has found herself baking at Pondicherri – baking a lot. Some of the best things to come out of these adventures by a former pastry chef are the muffins and cookies offered (even to folks on the run) on the counter by the front door. Happily, the same person who won’t give me my chicken tikka masala is not the least bit afraid of blueberries or chocolate chips.