Stamford has its fair share of restaurants with many ethnic eateries to choose from. Of these, a few may offer vegetarian dishes on their menu, but it is not the foundation of their establishment. There is, however, one restaurant in Stamford that devotes itself entirely to Indian vegetarian cuisine: .
Navaratna serves authentic kosher vegetarian Indian cuisine and is certified by VAAD Hakashrus of Fairfield County, an association of local rabbis who provide certification for local food establishments.
Navaratna isn’t preoccupied with looks: the interior is basic with little in the way of creature comforts, expensive artwork or fancy décor, save for the partially-exposed brick walls which give it a rustic look and add a feel of restrained comfort. But what it lacks in over-the-top aesthetics, it makes up for in the sometimes savory, sometimes subdued, but always delicious flavors of the cuisine.
The open kitchen at the far end of the restaurant allows customers to watch the chefs do what they do best, and they do it well.
Navaratna’s menu is fairly bulky, giving customers plenty of offerings from which to choose. Several of the appetizers are eye catching, including the Aloo Bonda ($5.95), batter fried potato balls; Hara Bahara Kebab ($5.95), spinach, paneer (Indian cheese) and green chili; and Medu Vada ($6.95), lentil doughnuts with onion, ginger and green chili.
After much deliberation, I went with the Rasam soup ($4) as a starter. The waitress was quick to point out that the soup is very good at fixing what ails you. More specifically, it purportedly works wonders in clearing up a stuffy head and nose. Rasam is a spicy, home-style tamarind and tomato soup with seasonings and spices, as well as chili pepper that did, in fact, aid in better airflow and breathing.
The many and varied categories on the menu can make it difficult for a first-timer to traverse the myriad of dishes offered at Navaratna. In no particular order, they are: Aarambam (Appetizer), Salad, Mumbai Street Chaat Wala, Chaara (Soup), House Specials, Uttappam, Navaratna Dosa Delights, Rava Specials, South Indian Curry, Bread Corner, which includes five types of bread, Subji Khazana (North Indian Curry), Side Dishes, Rice Varieties, Indo Chinese and Desserts.
The Bhagara Baingan ($9.95) South Indian curry, baby eggplant cooked in tamarind, peanut and sesame seeds, sounded appetizing, as did the Navaratna Korma ($9.95), assorted vegetables cooked in a creamy almond sauce, but it was the Cheese Pondicherry ($9.95) that finally won me over. This spicy crepe filled with potato, onion masala and a smaller than anticipated — but tasty nonetheless — portion of mozzarella cheese arrived at the table in all of its colossal glory.
According to the menu, the crepe was to be rolled, but my unrolled version was quite intimidating in its size. Served with two dipping sauces, a tomato sauce and a coconut blend, as well as a small dish of sambar, a piquant vegetable, there was no clear starting point with the half moon-shaped crepe.
Once I figured out how to eat the Cheese Pondicherry, I found it to be subtly flavored and, aside from its imposing size, stripped of all pretenses. The mildness of the onion masala, potatoes and cheese melded together to form an understated interior of a dish that worked well with the crispiness of the crepe which, texturally, made the two seem diametrically opposed, yet it somehow managed to work.
Other crepe selections include Pondicherry Dosa ($8.95) as well as several varieties of Uttappam, thick rice crepes which can be made in five different ways: Plain ($6.95), Onion ($7.95), Tomato Chili ($7.95), Mixed Vegetables ($8.95) and Cheese ($8.95).
The dessert selection is moderate with seven tempting items to choose from. I settled on Gulab Jamun, two formed Indian cheese balls swimming in a tiny lake of honey syrup. By the time the dish made its way to the table, both cheese balls were saturated with the honey syrup. Texturally, it feels a bit odd to bite into, primarily because it doesn’t have the consistency of cheese, nor does it remotely resemble cheese. Rather, it’s more akin to fried hush puppy. The taste, however, is pleasantly sweet with each forkful.
While I didn’t have the opportunity to try everything that Navaratna had to offer, I have no doubt that the menu is filled with superstar standouts. This is what keeps loyal customers walking through the doors — or relaxing at the sidewalk café when weather permits — time after time.
Without appearing to put too much effort into it, Navaratna has slipped into my culinary consciousness and found a place in the vegetarian portion of my brain. The creative combination of ingredients culminates in robust dishes that seem too indulgent to be vegetarian, and because of that, won’t leave you craving a meat smorgasbord. The dishes range from mild to spicy and varying heat levels in between. The food at Navaratna is authentic, aromatic and full of the wonderful spices that India is known for.
133 Atlantic Street
Stamford, CT 06901