Feedbag - Midtown's Desi Spice needs more of its namesake


It's a Saturday night, and Desi Spice is crowded. People are even sitting outside, 98 percent humidity be damned. Inside, a fan circulates balmy air around the tiny dining room, where wilted-looking Midtowners are sucking down bottles of Kingfisher and dipping bites of naan bread into cooling raita. It's a post-movie crowd, most likely, since Desi Spice occupies an upstairs corner of Midtown Promenade, just steps from the movie theater. In contrast to the barely contained mayhem downstairs at Apres Diem, Desi Spice is downright sedate. A Bollywood flick plays on the TV in the corner, the volume turned up high enough to provide a little background music but not overwhelm conversation.

Our young dinner companions, my brother-in-law and his cute blond date, haven't tried Indian food before, and they eye the menu suspiciously, wondering what they've gotten themselves into. It doesn't take much to ease them in: A round of iced chais and puffy fried samosas and they're hooked. Who doesn't love a samosa, after all? They're delicious here, stuffed with big hunks of carrot, cauliflower and potato, and deep-fried until golden brown and crisp.

Chicken pakoras (fritters) have taken on the scarlet hue of the tandoori oven (or food coloring), but the brash color doesn't compensate for a disappointing blandness. Pistachio-green dipping sauce, sweet and minty, does little to give them a lift, and the color contrast is ... festive. Speaking of colors not found in nature, chicken tikka masala is also Kool-Aid red. Though less creamy than versions I've had before, it's still beguilingly sweet and aromatic.

Next up is sizzling tandoori chicken, presented to the table fajita-style on a hot cast-iron skillet. By now, the newbies are getting into it, happily digging into pieces of smoky, pink-tinged chicken.

Mild in both appearance and flavor, lamb pasanda features tender chunks of meat stewed with almonds and dried fruit. Saag paneer, usually a crowd pleaser, is a bit too heavy for my taste — I'd prefer more spinach and less heavy cream, not to mention a healthy dose of spice. In fact, nothing we tried at Desi Spice had much heat to it. The final dish to arrive at the table was a simple, golden-hued vegetable curry. Yet again, pretty to look at, but not much oomph.

For the occasion of introducing novices to Indian cuisine, Desi Spice is perfect. Nothing too weird, nothing too spicy. Thing is, though, that's what I like about ethnic food. There's a thrill to not knowing whether that first bite is going to freak you out or give you spasms of ecstasy. Oh well. The Indian food newbies are officially broken in now. Buford Highway, here we come.

Katrina relief dinner

Rathbun's Restaurant will host a dinner to aid New Orleans victims of Hurricane Katrina on Sun., Sept. 11, from 5:30-9 p.m. The "Taste Around" style dinner will feature different cooking stations from Atlanta's top chefs. Reserved tables of six can be purchased for $1,500 or $250 per seat. Standing reception tickets can be purchased for $150 per person. Call Rathbun's at 404-524-8280. 112 Krog St., Suite R. www.rathbunsrestaurant.com.

Fall Festivities

In anticipation of the second annual Harvest Midtown festival Thurs., Oct. 8, Eno owner Doug Strickland invites revelers for a pre-festival bash featuring art, food, fashion and wine Sun., Sept. 11. The afternoon will feature an informal fashion and trunk show hosted by Midtown-based LUI-B, live jazz by Squat and art by galerie MC and TEW Galleries. Tickets are $25 per person, and proceeds benefit the Piedmont Park Conservancy. 800 Peachtree St. 404-685-3191. www.eno-atlanta.com.

Sample the South

Canoe celebrates its 10th anniversary with a lineup of guest chefs from around the South on four consecutive Thursday nights. First up Sept. 15 is Scott Boswell from Stella! in New Orleans. He's followed by Hugh Acheson of the Five and Ten in Athens on Sept. 22; Chris Hastings of Hot and Hot Fish Club in Birmingham on Sept. 29; and Michael Kramer of McCrady's in Charleston on Oct. 6. Each chef will create his own four-course, prix-fixe menu (Canoe's regular menu will also be available). 4199 Paces Ferry Road. 404-432-2663. www.canoeatl.com.

Steak Your Claim

Morton's downtown is running a juicy special between now and the end of September. Two prix-fixe meals are offered: one for steak fans, the other for lobster aficionados. $69 per person gets you either a Morton's filet mignon with sauce Béarnaise, one 7- to 8-Ounce Australian lobster tail, salad and steamed asparagus; or two lobster tails with drawn butter, salad and steamed asparagus. Decisions, decisions. 303 Peachtree Center Ave. 404-577-4366. www.mortons.com.

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