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When you go to events that include dinner with a vegetarian, you see that he often ends up with the same meal as us carnivores, only with the entree excluded or even scraped off to the side. Or he gets some weak veggie lasagna or a portabella mushroom burger. Our former colleague is Indian, and he often told me that when it comes to meals, "vegetarian" doesn't have to mean "boring."
To prove it, he invited our office crew of eight or so to his house for dinner. He, his wife and their daughter prepared six classic Indian entrees and even printed tent cards that explained each.
Every dish was creative, flavorful, interesting, bold and anything but boring. No one missed the meat in the least.
Indian food has been available in Little Rock since 1993, when Sami Lal opened Star of India, and there are a few other options today. The latest is The Indian Feast in the bustling River Market food hall, where it offers excellent Indian food to the downtown working and touristy masses.
The restaurant was born out of the uber-successful India Fest, which will present its third culture- and food-focused festival April 30 in the River Market pavilions and First Security Amphitheater. The crowds that overwhelmed the food booths at the inaugural India Fest must have sufficiently proven locals' interest in Indian food, because a couple of that festival's organizers are behind The Indian Feast.
And just like India Fest, The Indian Feast does Indian food right. Each day the chef prepares five entrees — always some with meat, usually chicken or lamb, and always at least two vegetarian choices.
The daily special includes two entrees, a large serving of fluffy long-grain basmati rice and a large piece of grilled, perfectly chewy naan (Indian bread) for $8.95. Be warned: If you carry out your meal, your arms are likely to get tired before you reach your destination. It's that much food.
This past Saturday the five choices were Chicken Tikka Masala, Chicken Kadahi, Paneer Tikka Masala, Chana Masala and Saag Paneer. As there were two of us, we were able to sample four of the five, passing only on the Saag Paneer, as neither of us loves spinach.
As we feasted, we came to the same conclusion we do every time we have Indian food — it's boldly flavored, not the least bit boring and, in all these cases, pretty rib-sticking. There's a certain sameness to the spicing and the preparation, but we're cool with that.
All dishes at The Indian Feast have plenty of spices, but that doesn't mean they're necessarily hot. Both chicken dishes featured succulent hunks of meat in a spicy, but not hot, cream sauce.
The Paneer Tikka Masala features plenty of cubes of paneer, a fresh white cheese common in southern Asia, particularly India and Bangladesh. The Indian Feast's version includes lots of English peas, also in a spicy, creamy sauce.
Chana is the Indian word for chickpeas, and Chana Masala features a sauce that includes tomato, onion, garlic and red pepper. Again boldly flavored, not boring and plenty hearty as a main course.
The Indian Feast, by nature of its location, has the chance to expose many people to the wonders of Indian food. We can't see how anyone with culinary curiosity and taste buds that enjoy some diverse stimulation wouldn't quickly become a fan.
The India Feast
Ottenheimer Hall in the River Market
400 President Clinton Ave.
If you go to theindianfeast.com and click on the menu tab, you'll see 17 entrees, six appetizers, five kinds of naan and four desserts. But that's not what you'll find at the restaurant, at least not at this point. Five of those entrees are offered daily, so if you want to know which those are, call ahead.
10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
No alcohol, but you can get mango juice. Credit cards accepted.