Naan on Nine Mile

Mar 5, 2003 at 12:00 am

West Nine Mile in Ferndale has added Indian to the mix of cuisines that stretches from Woodward to Livernois and from Japan to Italy to Ethiopia. Star of India, relocated from Troy, may not be the brightest Indian star in the area, but if you live nearby and long for cheap and exotic eats one night, you will be quite happy.

The ancient cuisine of India, 5,000 years old, has come full circle, now in vogue for its vegetable-based dishes, with sauces made of pureed vegetables or yogurt or both. Onion, cumin, garlic, turmeric, coriander, chili powder, mustard, fenugreek, cardamon and ginger combine in sublime and seductive scents. Does any other cuisine use spices as eloquently?

I loved two varieties of korma that we ordered, one with chicken, the other with shrimp. The creamy sauce is yogurt-based, with a mild blend of spices punctuated by yellow raisins and slivers of almonds. I didn’t mind one bit that there was more sauce than protein; it was delicious on top of basmati rice.

An entrée of chicken with mushrooms (identified only in English) was based on a sauce of onions pureed with garlic, ginger, cardamon and other spices, cooked into a thick gravy. It was also delicious over rice. When we asked about the ingredients, the manager invited us to come back one day and peek into the kitchen to see how it is made. Maybe we will.

The taciturn menu descriptions do not give enough information about what you are ordering, but most indicate how much heat to expect. Korma is “mild,” madras is “fairly hot” and vindaloo is “very hot.” The vindaloo description is accurate. Aloo means potato, and there are chunks of potato in the sauce, along with lamb, but the sauce was so fiery that the co-diner reported a restless night.

If I worked nearby, I would be tempted to head to Star of India at lunchtime for a loaf of naan. It is $1.95 plain, $2.95 with spices and $3.95 stuffed with ground lamb or tikka chicken. The dough for naan is flattened with the fingers until it is about the size of a dinner plate, then sprinkled with just enough water to make it stick to the side of a tandoori (clay) oven. It immediately blisters and is done in minutes; it comes to the table filled with steam. We ordered ours with garlic one evening, and on another enjoyed peshwari naan, where the bread is sliced open in the kitchen and filled with a bits of coconut, almonds and raisins.

An appetizer special includes samosas, bhajee and eggplant (all fried) and a wafer of papadam. Papadam is made with lentil flour in a frying pan, kind of like a crepe, but crisp. Samosas are filled with ground lamb and peas, packed into a flaky pastry — another treat that would tempt at lunchtime. Onion bhajee is a fritter based on lentils. The eggplant had too much batter, but it was awfully good. A side order of mango chutney was generous, but sticky sweet. We didn’t care for the raita; it’s usually a refreshing condiment of yogurt and cucumber, but here the yogurt was faintly sweet.

Star of India does not offer the variety of some other area Indian restaurants, and I was disappointed that the meat, chicken and seafood entrées did not include more vegetables, although there are a dozen vegetarian selections. After the appetizers, eggplant doesn’t appear on the menu again, and there is too little cauliflower — another staple of Indian cooking.

Most of the desserts, while homemade, fail to shine. The mango ice cream was icy, not creamy. More interesting, but also icy, was khulfi, an “ice cream” flavored with cardamon. The co-diner said gulab jamon, cheese balls in a thick sugar syrup, reminded him of marzipan, if you can imagine marzipan without the almonds.

Elissa Karg dines for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].