Wednesday, November 21, 2001

Indian artistry

Posted By on Wed, Nov 21, 2001 at 12:00 AM

Friends learned of Rangoli when the owner, a member of their Spanish class, brought samosas for the entire class. “We were so hungry and they were so good!” they told us.

We joined our friends and another couple for dinner and sampled a wide range of items. We liked many things, and fretted that we might not be able to remember our favorites. Not to worry, pointed out one in our party — everything was so good, it would be fine to keep exploring the menu on subsequent visits.

You can begin with a choice of appetizer assortments, one vegetarian ($8) and the other not ($9). The samosas are flaky pastry wrapped around a filling either of minced lamb or mildly spiced potatoes and peas. Pakora is a batter-dipped and fried treatment for vegetables, cheese or chicken. A dosa is a crepe of rice and lentil flour which is painted onto a hot skillet. The dramatic presentation looks like a great curving dome, with a filling of vegetables and/or hot wheat cereal. You break off pieces of the brittle dosa and use it to scoop up the filling.

Entrées at Rangoli come in small copper bowls. Among our favorites: nargisi aloo ($10), a potato scooped out and stuffed with a mix of nuts, vegetables and cottage cheese, then cooked in a tomato-cream sauce; chicken tikka masala ($12), where chunks of breast meat are roasted in a tandoor oven, then cooked in a thick and luscious sauce; chettinadu pepper chicken ($10), chicken cooked with fiery peppers in a coconut curry (you need a strong stomach for this one). Paneer tikka ($11) is a roasted form of marinated cheese, served with a thick tomato-cream sauce on the side.

If you’re new to Indian food, there are several combination dishes you can try, or come for the lunch buffet. You can’t beat the $8 price.

On another evening I ordered the vegetarian thali ($13), a straight-rimmed platter that contains 10 smaller dishes, a kind of sampler. The three entrées were interesting: one was chickpeas mixed with a smaller bean, richly seasoned; another was green beans cooked with coconut, no sauce; the last contained two tiny eggplants, half the size of my thumb, in a rich yogurt-based sauce.

I asked Amit Makhecha, who owns the restaurant with his wife, Varsha, and sister-in-law Rashmi Rughani, why he is studying Spanish. He said that he wants to be able to communicate with the Mexican immigrants working in the restaurant. Makhecha met his wife while attending Michigan Tech, but their meeting seemed preordained: Their grandfathers had been classmates in India.

Located in a small strip mall near Oakland University, inside the walls are decorated with rangoli, a type of geometric folk art. Note the oil painting when you walk in, showing Indian women creating rangoli. On both visits, our server tried to dissuade me from ordering Masala soda, finally bringing me a sample to prove his point. He was right. There are a number of interesting drinks, as well as wine and beer. We were the last ones to leave one evening, but the staff remained gracious. My only complaint was that the dirty dishes from our multicourse dinner lingered with us.

Elissa Karg dines for Metro Times. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com.

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