After a very, let’s call it efficient run through Central Park, I was starved when I arrived at Seva, a cozy Indian restaurant on 30th Ave in Astoria, Queens. It was a night when I knew I was going to do my best food reporting work. I made a quick point and shoot decision while looking at the menu posted to the window outside before I went in: Lamb Vindaloo *VERY SPICY.
The air inside rang with conversation and had the same fragrant aroma that billows into the hallway below my apartment from the Indian landlord’s apartment downstairs. The red-brick dining room was cozy and dark, and I could feel the sultry air in my nostrils swirling, like the first sip of wine.
The waiter asked us if we were ready to order, a bit prematurely.
“That is very spicy,” the waiter said, emphasizing the warning and eyeing me with the same wavering look I get from bartenders about to ask for my ID.
Vindaloo is the spiciest Indian curry to most white people, made with simmered tomatoes, lots of vinegar, and red chilies, which because I’m from Texas are one of my favorite ingredients.
“I know.” I said smugly, glancing above the frames of my Warby Parkers.
Once, I was on a date at a Thai restaurant and I poured a bit of hot chili paste on my panang curry, to make it hotter. I noticed my date wasn’t eating his green curry, and hadn’t touched the small plastic dish of chili paste I’d recommended.
“Are you going to eat that?” I asked, referring to the chili paste. He said no. Mine.
I had a professor tell me I might get a date in 20 years, because I love garlic and the like so much my breath will never recover.
When the dish came, it was served in a glorious silver bowl alongside a pot of long-grain basmati rice. I took a bite, expecting it to burn and sear my retinas. There’s still always a fear associate with Indian food, because the recipes vary so slightly from cook to cook that there’s always some element of uncertainty. You’re jumping off a familiar cliff, but it’s still a hot, fiery, volcanic cliff.
I was relieved – not that I was scared – that the dish was hot and spicy and tomatoey and vinegary just as I remembered it from previous occasions, the sauce not too ketchupy. The lamb was substantial and flavorful but could have been more tender, but that’s probably just a result of a relatively lean muscle meat being simmered for hours. I might have added a bit more salt.
I think that part of the reason I can handle spice is that on several occasions I have been so hungry that I would eat absolutely anything, and those occasions have often lined up with Indian takeout.
Tonight, I noticed that the waiter was very attentive to refilling my eight ounce cup of chilled water.
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