Monday, February 1, 2016

21 Spices Restaurant- A welcome addition to Naples' Culinary Scene.

Note: I do not have my usual photos up of the individual dishes, as Blogger screws them up. Shame on Blogger.

The best Indian restaurant in SW Florida is 21 Spices by Chef Asif, hands down!  I've eaten  there thrice in the last month, (only their first month of existence) and it just gets better and better. Whether you  live in N. fort Myers or Everglades City, the drive is well worth the evening's dining.

Enter the restaurant from its generous parking lot just off Tamiami Trail East and Sugden/Avalon, East of Town Center Mall, and you find yourself whisked to a scene that would be a tasteful set of Scheherazade.  Overhead  lamps provide a too gentle light to a muted palette of off white walls and columns, black and white chairs and  grey banquet seating. There's an elegant full bar off to the right, a mini stage for musicians to the far left, and the spacious dining room with a peek into the kitchen in front of you, capped with black, grey and white glass tiles.  Racked and chilled wines are open for your inspection- these are serious wines, not an amateur's collection. 

 You are quickly greeted, escorted to your table, and given a choice of  chilled tap or bottled water, and a dish of colorful  dal lentil flour crisps, accompanied by a trio of chutney and sauces. My favorite is the tropical chutney's diced mango, pineapple, raisins, cilantro and a note of chili.  The tamarind sauce has layers of rich flavor, and the Spring-fresh cream-based mint sauce has a touch of cilantro. Lighting is low at the tables on the outer rim, and adding a few candles did help to make the menu almost readable. Must be my aging eyes? Not a real problem, as some at several tables used the flashlight app on their cell phones to peruse the menu and have a glimpse at the true colors of their meal.

Janet, our server on my second  visit was knowledgeable and attentive, listening to our preferences, and making quite helpful suggestions.  Gregory, our server on my third visit, is a hoot! He's sharp, funny, uber professional, and we would have had him join our table if the restaurant wasn't packed! We started with a highly recommended bottle of Whispering Angel Rose form Provence.  Alternatively, you may want to have a cocktail or a beer, there's plenty of choices.

The Shahi baby lamb chops ($12) are a tiny trio of succulent goodness that we savored  medium rare. The New Zealand baby chops  are wonderfully seasoned with a mixture that includes of English mustard and mint,  and are roasted to perfection. Highly Recommended.

Palakwala chaat  ($8) is a dish I'd have overlooked, were one of my dining companions not such a chaat aficionado. Baby lettuce is dipped in a mixture of yogurt, tamarind and dates, then briefly fried  in a gluten free bean flour till light and crunchy. This was pronounced to be a superb chaat by my Indian food maven!  Highly recommended.
Lamb Biryani was good on flavor, however the lamb was overcooked, and the quantity of meat was underwhelming.

Ghehra Paani  diver scallops ($14)  are a lovely trio of properly cooked large scallops in a tasty yet mild brown sauce with black lentils, topped with red tomato jus and yellow pepper coulis.  Recommended.

Progressive chicken  65 was a well received surprise ($8), a goodly portion of small chunks of  still crisp boneless  diced chicken, cooked in a red sauce of ginger, curry leaves, yogurt, chilies onion and bell peppers. Highly Recommended. 

Mazedaar  samosa ($8) brings a taste trip of nicely fried samosas, filled wiht spiced potato and green peas, with a drizzle of tamarind -date chutney. I don't get why Chef Asif likes a round number of three, when most diners are in pairs or quartets.  Maybe triplets frequent  21 Spices? Whatever. These addictive bites are Highly Recommended.

Vegetarian? Nizam's kofte ($18) has addictive vegetable and cheese dumplings simmered in a rich saffron sauce, with a dash of lemon and coriander is your new best friend forever!  The small meatball-sized dumpling have such an enticing texture and quality that can make dining companions fight over them...or order another serving. Highly Recommended.

Entrees are varied, and include Jhinga prawns, Lucknowi grouper, tandoori Pacific shrimp, chicken tikka masala, Madras chicken, 21 spices lamb chops and a variety of biryanis Prices range from $22 to 30. Judiging by the packed dining room on all three visits; patrons consider the pricing quite reasonable for the quality.

The entrees come with a choice of delicate aromatic basmati  rice or naan. Very simple, if you order a dish which has a prominent sauce, get the rice to really soak up the sauce-that's the rice's forte. We additionally opted to add an order of dry fruit and nuts naan ($7). It's a well crafted naan,  forged in a proper tandoori  oven till just crisp and focally blackened.   The puffy garlic naan  really appeals to my ersatz Italian ancestry with  a wash of oil and  garlic. Both additional naans are recommended.

Lamb rogan josh ($22)  is a Northern Indian/Kashmiri  favorite, with lamb simmered in a brown onion and tomato reduction.  It was ok, with the lamb on the well done side.

Saffron coconut chicken curry ($18) is mildly (ok, for Neapolitans tender palates," moderate")  spiced with chilis, and certainly milder than a vindaloo. It's a generous portion of  bite-sized chicken,  bathed in a creamy sauce of saffron, tahini, coconut, almond cream, and mint, then topped with crispy onions. Recommended. 

Madras chicken ($18 ) is a mildly spiced dish, with ample succulent chicken  in an anise, curry leaf, coconut milk and mustard red sauce.  Though described as spicy, it's mild to me. Recommended.

Chicken tikka masala ($18), that oh so British national dish, is a star with Chef Asif. Tandoori chicken breast chunks are simmered in a mild creamy tomato sauce. Looking over the various chicken dishes we've had, it's clear that there's little similarity in the spicing between the dishes.  Recommended.

Tthe Kohinoor  of the Ocean  ($30) a tandoori grilled quartet of small lobster tail, salmon, a medium-sized scallop, another fish and  shrimp,  basted in yogurt, chili, curry cilantro and mint. The portion is sized for a small to moderate diner; the seafood was tender. The salmon and scallop were good, both just shy of being overcooked. Lets face it , when the difference is a matter of seconds of cooking time, your dish will probably be spot on.  Recommended. 

Have a big appetite? The lamb shank is your match on both the quantity of meat and the flavors. Best part? The onion strings that have such concentrated flavor! Recommended.

We were amply fed, and very happy with our service and cuisine. I (and my expanding waistline) can't resist dessert, looking down the list with saffron ginger kulfi (ice cream), coconut laddoo milk balls dipped in chocolate, and rose flavored rice pudding.

 We chose the gold leaf shahi tukda's India fried toast ($8) , on a bed of rich custard, topped with pistachio ice cream, a strawberry slice, and a few strands of 24 karat gold  leaf.  There were no complaints about this mildly sweet dish. Recommended.

The saffron ginger kulfi  ($6) got polar  reviews-one guest clearly didn't like it-her one and only spoonful had  a strong scent that could have cleared her sinuses so she picked at the pistachios-the server took it off our bill. And another guest finished  her kulfi and was ok with it. I had a taste, and felt it to be "meh."

Those with a decided sweet tooth (or set of sweet teeth?) should select the gulab jamun ($8) , which I can inadequately  describe as a dense  fried fritter-like sugared milk solid ball , saturated with saffron-cardamon rose syrup. It's so rich a dish that several can share it-it's my favorite of the desert selections. Recommended.  

The rose flavored rice pudding ($6)  was good, with gently cooked basmati rice in milk with rose syrup, topped with cashews and raisins.
We left each time, more than happily filled with delicious food, and the hours in the elegant dining room passed  unnoticed- a sign of both delicious food and enjoyable dining companions.  A sign by the door noted to newcomers that the restaurant was full (as on the previous two weeks) and could not take an y walk ins. Not bad for a spot that' barely open for but a month, and located out on the East Trail, no less! Any competition? Nope, Naples Passage to India, or Fort Myers' India Palace do not come close on decor, flavor or price. This is THE Indian restaurant to savor, and it's one of my top restaurants of all the cuisines offered in the two counties.

 We'll be back to try more.

4270 Tamiami Trail East, #21, Naples, 919=8830

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