Haveli delves into delectable curries of northern India

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By Bill Livick, Special to The Gazette
Thursday, July 3, 2014

FITCHBURG—The only thing we didn't like about Haveli Indian Restaurant was the season.

We visited the recently opened Fitchburg restaurant last week and weren't surprised at the outstanding flavors and good service. In the past, we had visited the owners' Taste of India Restaurant on Monroe Street several times and had never been disappointed. Our experience at Haveli was similar.

The only drawback is that at this time of year, we tend to crave fresh, locally grown produce. That's one thing you won't find in most Indian restaurants.

Curry dishes, dal, naan, chutneys—all the culinary touches that mark a classic North Indian menu are there, and a lot more. Indian restaurants are celebrated for their extensive offerings, foods often cooked in a tandoor oven and seasoned with such spices as garam masala, garlic, ginger, cumin, cayenne pepper and turmeric.

If you're looking for a salad, you'll probably be out of luck at an Indian restaurant. But if you find yourself at Haveli in summertime, you should make the most of the opportunity.

Haveli opened in the front section of the former Jimmy's American Tavern, which before that was Fitch's Chophouse, Kickshaw and a host of other restaurants. The dining room has a clean, sunny feel with bold colors and friendly service. The kitchen offers  rich, aromatic dishes.

Brothers Devinder Singh Badwal and Sital Singh opened Haveli in early April in a 2,500-square-foot section of the storefront at 5957 Mc-Kee Road.

Manager Rinku Badwal, the nephew of one of the owners, said they believe the smaller space will work well.

“We're pretty confident about this restaurant,” Badwal said. “The previous restaurants have operated in, like, 10,000 square feet, and that's a great big restaurant. This will be more manageable.”

Sital Singh is head chef at Haveli, which has seating for about 80 diners. It specializes in food from North India, which means lots of curry.

Badwal described the recipes as less spicy than traditional Indian food.

“It's Americanized because our customers are totally American,” he said.

He noted that Haveli's menu is not as extensive as those found in many Indian restaurants; the food is limited to dishes from just one part of India.

“Everything is curry,” he explained. “There is not the coconut milk and not all the same spices that they use in the south of India.”

Our meal began with the customary offering of papadam—a crispy, spicy wafer—with several chutneys.

A veggie platter ($6.95) included several deep-fried items: cheese pakora, a vegetable samosa (a turnover stuffed with potatoes and green peas), aloo tikki (chopped potatoes, green peas, gram flour balls), and a vegetable pakora (veggies deep fried in chickpea batter).

Of those, my companion and I favored the samosa. Still, all were tasty and far less greasy than most of the deep-fried foods we've eaten.

Naan, the oven-baked flatbread, is ubiquitous throughout the Indian subcontinent. The appetizer keema naan ($3.50) is flatbread stuffed with spiced ground lamb, and it's practically an entrée itself.

Dal is often translated as “lentils,” but it actually refers to a split (without the shell) version of a number of lentils, peas, chickpeas and kidney beans.

The kitchen's chicken dal ($12.50) is a deliciously spicy blend of yellow lentils and curry in a thick sauce, similar to stew. The meat is cubed, tender and cooked to perfection—and served with a side of white basmati rice.

Even tastier is the tandoori mixed grill ($15.95): Chicken tandoori, chicken kebobs, shrimp, lamb and veggies such as onion, green pepper, tomato and spinach are blended into an enormous plate of food that easily could satisfy two people. Served with a side of rice and raita (a mint yogurt/cucumber sauce), this is simply a heavenly dish.

For dessert, we sampled the kitchen's kulfi ($3.95), Indian ice cream with saffron, almonds and other nuts. It's not as sweet as the ice cream we're used to in the States, but it's every bit as appealing.

The parking lot at the Fitchburg strip mall offers lots of space, and service at Haveli is friendly and good.

The restaurant might not be a first choice in summer, but it would be near the top any other time of the year.

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