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If You *%$# With Me I’m Gonna Dash My Curry

October 1, 2007

The title of this post is taken from a rap by M.I.A., my favorite artist right now. 

 I’ve ridden the kiddie roller coaster that is Asheville Indian restaurants.  I once wrote a Dear John letter to Mother India, previously located in a grimy building way down Hendersonville Road.  The letter was the back page of a zine I co-authored five years ago.  I’ll try to dig it up for you.  I cruelly dumped Mother India after I was courted hard by the bright new shiny India Garden on Tunnel Road.  Apparently, I wasn’t the only one, because Mother India closed within the year.  So there I was, happily discovering vegetable korma and the Garden plate for two at India Garden, staring at garish, gold-framed paintings of what can only be described as someone’s anime nightmare set in India, when along came Mela

Let the record show:  I will never ever be pro-Mela on principle.  I loved Vicent’s Ear.  I mean, I didn’t patronize Vicent’s Ear unless a friend’s band was playing, but let’s just say I appreciated it from afar.  How could you not fall for the romantic combination of a nasty bartender, $2 PBR tallboys, and dirty courtyard crammed with surly, tattooed, disaffected youth?  Not to mention the most excellent espresso in town.  Alas, the tourism beast must be fed and therefore, we now have Mela.  Mela is beautiful.  Upon heaving open the ancient, gargantuan vintage Indian wooden door, you immediately realize no one actually eats at Mela.  They nosh. 

On what do they nosh?  I think the vegetable korma here is terrific.  The lamb dishes are formidable.  They offer a wide array of naan options including an inventive goat cheese and spinach stuffed version.  The pakoras are delightfully crisp.  The drink options beckon to this wayward diner like a bangled dancer throwing veils and she shimmies down the tiled floor.  Spiked mango lassi, oh my!  The service:  more focused on appearances than quality.    Mostly, though, I come here for the lunch buffett.  Truly, the options are hit or miss.  On a good day:  saag paneer, curried lentils and beans, vegetable korma, veggie pakoras, and tamarind rice.  On a bad day:  soupy flourescent yellow stuff, two potato options, fried broccoli,  and any other flavored rice option besides tamarind.  I know they have a lemon rice and a couple of others I disapprove of on the basis of the rice flavor outshining the sauces dolloped on top.  The curry chicken is always pretty good, but at this point I’m bored to tears of this being their only meat option for lunch. 

So mostly you will still find me at India Garden.  The snazzily dressed (and mostly very attractive) male waitstaff greet me like an old friend, and maintain complete efficiency throughout the meal.  I think their sauces are more complex and more authentic, at least according to me and my friend who lived in India for a year.  I also love to order the Garden Special.  They let you order it for one and split it between two people.  I’m a total sucker for anything like a tasting menu, and India Garden offers three of them.  I have excellent luck with their Lamb Roghan Josh, a close second to my obvious favorite at any Indian eatery, the vegetable korma.

Where can one find Southern Indian cuisine, you ask?  I’m afraid you won’t like the answer.  There is a restaurant in Winston-Salem I have never tried, but I have heard marvelous things about it for years.  I don’t know if Nawab specializes in Southern Indian, but I’ve heard they offer it, so I suggest you begin there. 

15 Comments leave one →
  1. October 1, 2007 6:46 pm

    I was deeply in love with India Garden until Mela came along. Mela is just so much more convenient, particularly if it’s Saturday night and I just wanna be downtown!

    Yes, how about some Rhogan Josh on the lunch buffet? Please?

  2. October 1, 2007 10:09 pm

    Thanks a lot for the article. Good to hear more opinions. Mela is more convenient for me as well, but I think I need to give India Garden another try. Now if I can just get more of my friends to eat Indian food… hard to find people to go sometimes.

    I got spoiled on easy access to Southern Indian food for 10 years at Touch of India in Columbia, SC. Does anyone in Asheville make a dosa?

  3. the dj permalink
    October 2, 2007 9:42 am

    God I miss Vincent’s Ear

  4. Catma permalink
    October 3, 2007 9:53 am

    Do dosa’s in A-ville, but perhaps in Winston, as She Who Eats suggests- as South Indian restaurants are very few and far between. Charlotte is sprinkled with a fair amount of amazing Indian food, varying in degrees between outstanding service & outstanding food. I will forward this post onto a friend of mine in CLT who is passionate on the topic and hopefully we could get some specifics on the topic of dosas, which I am also interested in.
    A dosa stand from 10 pm to 3 AM downtown would be a gold mine. Even switch it to 10 am to 3 pm- or have I forgotten where I am?
    A couple of words on Mela & India Garden- I have been fully swept into a coma of ecstasy or mild disappointment at each of these establishments. The best thing I ever had at Mela was a special that was something like a mushroom matar paneer. The quality of the mushrooms and freshness of the sauce was like a delicacy. I was able to use the garlic naan as a complementing scooping utensil rather than gluttenously lick the buttery garlic off like the junky I am. With one exception, the service is a different nomenclature altogether from India Garden. Service (at a restaurant of this caliber) in India usually goes hand in hand with all-to attentive servers waiting for the water line to go below 85% full before a refill, complete with a rearrangement of plates, your personal belongings and napkins at regular intervals. India Garden’s staff rides a refreshing balance of friendly, available and efficient. IG also has the plus of being in a strip mall, something most Indian food in the US seekers have grown begrudgingly accustomed to as some badge of authenticity. It also seems that the flavors have been simmering longer here, literally- in the pot, and sometimes maybe too long. It needn’t be said, if you are looking for the fresher more distinguishable flavors, Mela seems to be catering more to the ‘it has the slightest aftertaste of …’ crowd. Both have great naan, as long as it is served fresh.
    Thank you Mela, for being downtown.
    Thank you India Garden, for being in a strip mall.
    This just proves it takes writing about Indian food to get some people to read a blog.

  5. Catma permalink
    October 3, 2007 9:54 am

    oops… i met No dosas, not Do dosas

  6. October 3, 2007 10:10 am

    Yikes, I feel so pitifully local. I’m ashamed to admit, I have never eaten a dosa. So Harry et al, if you find one, please point me there. I will drive anywhere within the tri-state area to try one, that I can guarantee.

    Catma: I totally concur with the stripmall sentiment. Whether it’s a metropolis or a suburb, the one in the stripmall will be the more authentic, less trendy option. Some kind of gastronomical law, I’m sure.

  7. October 3, 2007 11:59 am

    i will try India Garden. but Mela rocks, consistently, and imho, Vincent’s Ear was no great loss.

    back in the day when Sonny Sparacino’s and Sonny’s Bistro was in the courtyard, that was cool.

    Sonny Sparacino’s was the best Italian restaurant in town at the time (mid ’80s).

    And the Bistro was arguably Asheville’s first “listening room.” In the late ’80s and early ’90s, Widespread played there, Flat Duo Jets played there. Even River Phoenix played there.

  8. October 3, 2007 10:17 pm

    If you really want good dosa and good Southern Indian food, go to Columbia, SC to Touch of India off Broad River Rd. It is in an old, almost abandoned, strip mall. It’s been there for about 17 years and is more than a bit run down. The locals who know it love it with a passion. For good reason too… the food is downright addictive. The Sunday lunch buffet can be a very busy time but is almost always worth every minute of your time. You need to be patient with the service at times and just have to accept that sometimes you just aren’t going to get what you want. I ate there for 10 years and often consider trips back to Columbia just to have lunch.

    If you ever make it, be sure to ask for the owner, Devi. She is quite the interesting character and a good friend of mine. She or her son usually run the place and her husband… an interesting character himself… is often working as well. There is also Touch of India Express in downtown Columbia, so Devi might be there instead at lunch.

    If you go… tell them Ted sent you. You might even get Devi to show you how she makes the dosa.

  9. October 4, 2007 1:16 am

    and if you do go… bring me something back!

  10. Neena permalink
    October 15, 2007 8:12 pm

    Actually, Mela is not located in the Vincent’s Ear space. That space is behind Mela, and is still vacant. The space Mela is in was formerly a Christian soup kitchen called “The Body,” the loss of which on Lexington does not seem to be much lamented (esp. as it is now conveniently located on Asheland near Patton). So maybe your principles will allow you to enjoy Mela after all, if you don’t get too hung up on preferring strip malls.

  11. October 15, 2007 8:59 pm

    I had lunch at Mela this past Sunday and it was simply incredible. They seemed to have a South India influence (at least from my limited knowledge) for the day with uppadam and sambar which made me very happy. The saag and chicken curry were also very good. Certainly firing on all cylinders. I’ll be back every Sunday if they can keep that up.

  12. October 17, 2007 9:51 am

    Yeah, but The Body cum Mela was still all about relocating homeless people and other “undesirable” types away from the touristy areas of downtown. Anyway I ate there three times this month for the lunch buffet and found it rather disappointing all three times. The sauces were weak and drippy, the vegetarian options tasted overcooked and all had a sour flavor I personally didn’t enjoy, and it was unpleasantly crowded. I still love it for dinner, and past times the lunch buffet has been really good, but since people will flock there regardless of the quality of the lunch buffet, they have probably realized they can get away with serving sub-par options. Bottom Line: I appreciate Mela and I’m glad it’s there, but I also appreciate India Garden and I’m glad it’s there. Asheville deserves two Indian options, and truly I would prefer more. Can we all live with this??

  13. Neena permalink
    October 18, 2007 9:21 am

    I also appreciate India Garden. It’s just that it galls me a little — knowing the owners of Mela as I do — that this rumor persists that the opening of Mela and the closing of Vincent’s Ear had anything whatsoever to do with each other. Anoop tried to open an Indian restaurant in other locations downtown but building owners wanted nothing to do with him — because of his ethnicity? Who knows? So it was fortunate for Asheville, I think, that he was able to find a home on Lexington. Neighborhoods change. I’m personally happier with a good Indian restaurant on Lexington than with a soup kitchen whose roof was falling in especially when the soup kitchen was able to relocate somewhere close by. So let’s all stop tarring Mela with some kind of bad gentrification vibe. It’s an affordable restaurant with food that I enjoy and an owner who treats people well. India Garden is also a nice place, and we’re all better off in Asheville having choices.

  14. Neena permalink
    October 19, 2007 2:16 pm

    P.S. I just had lunch at Mela and they are now offering dosas at the lunch buffet on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays! so no need to travel to South Carolina for your dosa fix.

  15. November 12, 2007 10:40 pm

    I finally had a dosa at Mela yesterday. They were incredibly busy for a late Sunday lunch, so I got mine to go.

    I had the masala dosa. Overall, it was very good. The filling was very well done and tasted exactly as I expected. It was served with sambar and coconut chutney as usual. The dosa itself, however, was just a little chewy and should have been crispier. Getting it to go could have contributed that as the dosa was wrapped and had to have steamed itself to some extent on my short trip home.

    However, I don’t think it was the real cause. The week before, I was checking out dosas served at a table next to me. I thought at the time that they did not look quite as thin and crispy as they should. Making dosas takes lots of practice. Hopefully the chefs are simply in the process of refining their technique.

    I’m certainly looking forward to trying their other two dosas.

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