If the Indian restaurants of metro Atlanta (and the nation, and the world) would accept one word of advice from me, I would plead this: specialize. If you have cooks from India, utilize them. Encourage them to cook the dishes of their region with pride, and to teach them to the other cooks. Do not force them to churn out mind- and palate-numbing “crowd pleasers.” The crowd will ultimately be much more pleased to eat something specific and unfamiliar but alive to the mind and hands of the cooks. No more DOA versions of chicken tikka masala or saag paneer, please.
I wanted to like Moksha (1380 Old Roswell Road, Roswell, 678-205-5799, ), an Indian restaurant that opened last December on the edge of Alpharetta. I wanted to like it because its chef hails from Kerala, a state in India whose cuisine is an abiding obsession. I also wanted to like Moksha because it lives in a travesty of a location: It opened just as Old Roswell Road was closing for construction at the intersection of Mansell Road. (The restaurant kindly provides detour directions.) The converted house in which the restaurant resides sits literally at the edge of the construction and you have to drive around quite a ways to reach it. I wanted to encourage people mightily to seek it out.
And you can do several degrees worse in restaurant Indian food, but Moksha’s generalist attitude undermines its potential. The big ol’ menu rambles through the greatest hits of Northern and Southern Indian fare, and I tasted real care from the kitchen in only a couple dishes.
The meal started promisingly enough with bhel puri, a puffed rice snack (or chaat) with many variations—this one has a Western Indian slant to it with tomatoes, onions, sev (a fried noodle of sorts) and cilantro-based chutney. The trick to bhel puri is to eat it quickly, lest it get mushy. Ours was wilting even as it arrived at the table, so we gobbled fast, and it wasn’t too sweet, as many are.
Things got dicier from there. On the up side, goat biryani showed off the kitchen’s possible virtuosity—the rice dish, suffused with spices, had been baked so the flavors melded.
Adu ishtu, a lamb stew where the flavors of curry leaf and black peppercorn shine, comes from the Southwestern state of Tamil Nadu, and this dish, too, had some gumption. The one detractor? When we asked the very friendly non-Indian woman who took our order about the stew, she wrinkled her nose and said, “Oh, I won’t even attempt to say this.” Well, the owners should teach you how to say it …
On the not-so-hot side: sabji (more commonly spelled sabzi; it means “vegetable”) Manchurian, a Desi-Chinese number starring cauliflower, cabbage and carrots deep-fried in batter but then whomped with a sweet-n-sour sauce that rendered everything in its path soggy. Saag paneer, ordered just out of curiosity, was sheer baby food. I’m thinking saag just needs to make at home if you’re looking for any sense of fresh spinach. Tandoori chicken had been branded scarlet for its sin of being desiccated in texture and flavor.
Biggest bust: Kori gassi, a Kerala roast chicken dish whose sauce should thrum from freshly ground coconut, chiles and roasted coriander. This one tasted like a bland, Northern-style cream sauce with a vague flicker of spice. The fish curry, supposedly a signature, floundered in the same way.
Specialize, specialize, specialize. Are you bored with my Indian cuisine rants? I’ll desist … for a while.