samosa.jpgThink curry with a spray tan and Pradas looking for it’s breakout role and you’ve got the idea behind Neela’s Contemporary Indian Cooking in Napa.

Not your everyday tikka or aspiring saag, former LA chef Neela Paniz (who inspired Southern California diners with her restaurant Bombay Cafe and subsequent cookbook), brings the flavors of her homeland to a higher consciousness.

The spanking-new restaurant in downtown Napa is all about clean lines,
balanced spices, fresh ingredients and an fusion of contemporary
California cuisine with Indian classics — tandoor, curries and
vegetable dish that are both familiar and exotic.

Unlike many local restaurants, Neela’s gets inspiration from both the
rich Moghul meat and milk-based curries of the north (Makhni Tikka,
$16) as well as spicy, mostly vegetarian dishes from the south (Eggplant
$9). Plus a whole lot in-between, like a deconstructed Mattar
($12) — farm cheese with tomato coulis and fresh peas or crispy
okra strands seasoned with dried green mango powder

okra.jpgCan’t miss menu faves: prawn and mango samosa, delicate tilapia in
coconut milk curry (Meen Moili, $20), tandoor chicken and mint rolls and housemade naan
with sesame. At lunch, don’t miss “katoris”, traditional steel lunch
bowls with rice, naan, veggies and chutney. Instead of settling on a
single type of naan, indulge in a bread basket with chapati, onion and
garlic naan for the table ($8). Entree portions are small, and we mean tiny…but surprisingly filling. You’ll likely balk until you fill up, then end up with a backpack-sized doggy bag.

bowlcurry.jpgDesserts range from cayenne chocolate cake to a lush Gajjar Ka Halwa
($8) — a usually treacly mix of carrots and raisins — that is instead
richly infused with cardamom, milk and the natural sweetness of
carrots. All with a well-matched wine list from California and beyond — this is Napa, darlings.

Neela’s Contemporary Indian Cooking, 975 Clinton St., Napa, (707) 226-9988.

Price Check: Dinner for two with two glasses of wine will run you around $70.
(Considerably less if you forgo appetizers and dessert or stick to
vegetarian entrees)