South Indian comes to South Dayton
By Tom Baker
Just over a year ago, I learned that a new Indian restaurant was opening south of town. The news per se was not terribly exciting as there are a handful of Indian restaurants around Dayton. The key here was a unique and little seen offering – South Indian food. I’ve enjoyed South Indian cooking in places like Chicago and Toronto, and always longed for the day that someone would take the step into what I consider a gap in Dayton’s South Asian offerings.
Namaste brings to the table more variety in a typically North Indian oriented market. Namaste was opened in late 2009 by the Thakkars, a family with experience in the restaurant business. Focused on creating an Indian fast food experience, the menu offers both North and South Indian, a “Chaat corner,” Indian style wraps and an Indo-Chinese menu. They do not serve alcohol, but offer a wide range of beverages that includes lassis, chai, soft drinks, as well as Indian bottled beverages and coconut water.
Namaste is a small place, but offers a patio dining area for warmer weather. Taking into consideration both its close proximity to LexisNexis and the Dayton Mall, as well as its $5 lunch specials, I can imagine it does a brisk Monday-Friday lunch business. Staff are friendly and more than willing to explain the food, even to the extent that they’ll come into the dining room and touch tables. This is something to be expected in more formal settings, but on several occasions I’ve seen them out discussing ingredients and cooking methods. Service is walk-up ordering, followed by tableside delivery and expect to either share items as they arrive or wait until your dish comes – they’re delivered as they’re prepared.
Initially, Namaste served most everything on disposables, which has started to transition into more dishes and metal cutlery. The Chaats, appetizers originating from Indian street food stalls, are good and at under $6 – a cheap way to introduce yourself to the cuisine. Usually featuring potatoes, chutneys, yogurt, onions and spices, you get a little bit of the many flavors for which Indian cuisine is known. Our last chaat here was served with pre-fried samosas at room temperature, resulting in tough bits of wrapper. It was tasty, but fresh samosa would have been better.
Let’s talk about the South Indian food. Southern Indian cuisine is characterized for the most part by vegetarian and seafood dishes, many of which are spicier than their northern counterparts. Namaste offers a handful of the more common dishes from this region – dosa, uttapam and sambar. Dosas are large rice crepes folded over ingredients such as seasoned potato and onion in the Masala Dosa. Uttapam uses the same rice-based batter in the form of a large pancake with vegetables, chilies and other seasonings cooked right into the dish. Both are accompanied by coconut chutney and the spicy, smoky Sambar. This lentil, vegetable and chili soup is perfect for dipping both the dosa and the uttapam. These dishes are well worth a visit if you’re looking to try something new and were as good as those I’ve tried in larger cities.
Namaste’s offerings such as Malai Kofta, Saag Paneer, Curry, Biryani, Naan, and Paratha – more common North Indian dishes – are for the most part consistently good. Our Catfish Curry was aromatic and pleasant and curry is a good way to get introduced if you’re new to this cuisine. The Garlic Naan is well seasoned and the Paratha elicited votes for the buttered wheat bread with breakfast. The Koftas have been inconsistent – one visit featured fantastic Koftas in their creamy sauce of tomato, raisin and cashew. However, on another, the balls appeared to have been frozen and were very dry. The interesting Indo-Chinese dish, Chili Paneer, was a challenge to our palates – not bad, but imagine General Tso’s cheese – a dish of breaded and fried cheese with a sweet and spicy sauce. It was simply too far outside of our comfort zone and didn’t make the trip home. Namaste also offers many common desserts such as Gulab Jamun, but make sure to try the laddu, an occasionally available dessert of chickpea flour, raisins, cardamom and cashews, usually reserved for weddings and other special occasions.
Overall, Namaste provides a more unique and varied Indian dining experience, in a much more casual environment than restaurants like Amar, Jeet and the recently closed Kohinoor Palace. There are ample options for vegetarians and vegans, the folks running the place are friendly and accommodating, and with most entrees at or under $10, the prices are right. Namaste is a solid option if you’re south of town, especially if you’re willing to try something new.
Namaste India is located at 9632 Springboro Pike, just across from LexisNexis and is open seven days a week. (937) 433-0101.
Reach DCP food critic Tom Baker at TomBaker@daytoncitypaper.com.