There’s a running joke in Manhattan’s East Village about the Sixth Street curry houses there. Lined up, one restaurant after another–Banjara, Bombay, Goa, Tajmahal–rumor has it the dozens of restaurants in Little India share a single ghee-soaked kitchen. Having visited the tandoori ghetto for a late-night nosh more times than I’d like to admit, I can assure that there is a certain, well, sameness, to it all.
In fact, one wonders sometimes if just about every Indian restaurant in the States doesn’t share the same kitchen. After making my way across the country from Indian buffet to Indian buffet there’s only so much dried-out tandoori and creamed-spinach something-or-other one can eat without wondering, “Wait, didn’t I just eat this?”
Pamposh in Santa Rosa’s Mission Plaza– despite being alarmingly close to a McDonald’s, breaks the mold.
The first sign that things might be different were the two tables of diners sitting next to us who–how shall I put this?–looked like they knew the territory. So when a well-fed auntie asked for a bib to cover her ample chest as she dug into the vindaloo, I thought: we’re at the right place.
Pamposh doesn’t force-heat greenhorns into a taste-bud-searing meal masking bad food with sheer firepower. All dishes (except the lamb vindaloo) are served mild, unless the diner asks for medium (which is reasonably spicy) or hot (you’re on your own). The vindaloo is served hot, unless a mild version is requested.
Diners always get an amuse-bouche of crisp spiced crackers and a tomato-avocado chutney. A mango lassi ($4) is a great way to start your palate off–cool, creamy yogurt and mango mixed into a frothy, foamy mocktail.
Don’t missaloo tikki (potato patties spiced with herbs and onions), mixed vegetable pakora (fried vegetable fritters) and chicken pakora. The fritters are a standout winner, crisp and crunchy without the usual gut-busting grease and batter.
Naan, a clay-baked flatbread, is a staple of Indian dining and a virtual requirement for sopping up all the various sauces. We decided to try the onion kulcha ($3), a naan stuffed with onions and fresh cilantro, which went perfectly with our pan-fried curries. The bread is a warm and chewy circle of wonderment you rip apart to reveal onions and herbs inside. Thin and slightly doughy, it is the perfect foil to stealthy sauces that threaten to return themselves uneaten to the kitchen. Dip, swirl, scoop–it’s all perfectly kosher.
Pamposh offers a number of veggie-friendly dishes, including dal makhani, made of slow-cooked lentils, and sag paneer ($9.95), a homemade cheese cooked with spinach and a creamy tomato sauce. The cheese is firm, almost tofulike, and has a mild taste that complements the acidity of the tomatoes and takes on the flavors of coriander and cumin.
I’ve never been a fan of simple tandooris–meat cooked traditionally in a clay tandoori oven — because it’s usually dry as dust. Arriving on sizzling platters that infuse the restaurant with the smell of garlic and lamb, they’re well worth ordering at Pamposh.
Chicken in apricot sauce always makes it to my table. Mixed with coconut milk, it is a creamy tonic both hot and soothing, with whole pieces of apricot and fragrant coconut flavor. Lamb vindaloo ($13.95) is a dish familiar to Indian diners, fragranced with the darker, more mysterious spices of cinnamon, cloves and cardamom. But what’s I absolutely never miss is the chicken tikka masala. It’s a blend of tandoori chicken with a creamed curry sauce that makes the eyes tear with pleasure.
Don’t forget to order at least one dish of the Pamposh rice for each person, which is a light basmati rice with sweet peas and roasted cashews. Additionally, the mango chutney is a necessary flavor agent to any Indian dish.
Pamposh Restaurant 52 Mission Circle, Ste. 10, Santa Rosa. 707.538.3367.
Portions of this article first appeared in the North Bay Bohemian when I wrote the review in 2007. The place still rocks my world.