Sometimes I miss Swami.
I miss going to Mayura in Clifton and having him bring out samples of that night’s special and complimentary bhajias to the table. The congenial owner would always make the rounds, remembering not only everyone’s name, but the names of their relatives, friends and neighbors and the last time they were in.
Every time an Indian restaurant opens, I hope for that atmosphere — the authenticity and the personality. When Kanak India opened in Montgomery six months ago, I was excited. Owned by the same family that owns Ambar on Ludlow Avenue, I knew it would be good. Not surprisingly, it’s a lot like Ambar.
Which is fine, because we all love Ambar. The forest green carpet, the maroon walls, the dancing Shiva on the buffet and the photos of divine rituals — typical Indian décor. The food? Of course, it’s just as good as Ambar’s.
But both times I walked in to do this review, I was greeted with the enthusiasm and presence one might reserve for a funeral or a wedding for a marriage no one really thinks is going to last.
And that’s fine. After all, it’s about the food, right? But when you have several good Indian restaurants (Ambar, Amol, Baba) in Cincinnati, it’s nice to mix it up a bit and add a little flavor to a new one, something to differentiate it. How about a host? One with presence?
The first night we walked in, my friend and I noted that it looked a lot like many Indian restaurants, not unlike the reception hall of a shotgun wedding. We sat down and noticed that the booth I was sitting at was lower than his chair, which he milked for all it was worth all night. There were no Indian diners there on a Friday night, mostly Montgomery folk and a lot of families. The server said that Kanak is attracting quite a few locals and regulars.
We struggled with what to order and finally decided on the Vegetable Samosa ($3.25) because the Assorted Vegetable Platter was mainly assorted fried things (bhajias) and these tend to blend together into one grand fried soul.
Though a bit doughy and subtle on flavor — I could taste a bit of ginger — we liked the Samosas. For dinner, I ordered the NAVrattan Korma, a mix of vegetables, cashews and raisins in a tomato-cream sauce, heavier on the garlic and ginger than the garam masala. It tasted like Ambar’s. Slightly rich, but tasty.
My friend wasn’t as impressed with his Special Chicken Tikka Masala ($12.49). It wasn’t as flavorful as it could have been.
Because I felt I hadn’t tried all Kanak had to offer, I returned later for lunch. As fate would have it, I got into a car accident on my way there and sat through lunch with possible whiplash and a mild concussion. (The things CityBeat writers do to meet a deadline.)
I managed, however, to try quite a bit of the buffet and was blown away by the Chicken Makhani. With the typical tomato-yogurt sauce, it has heat that comes from cayenne pepper and a nice depth of flavor with chili powder, cumin, garam masala, lemon juice and more. Yum. But even better was the cabbage; I don’t even like cabbage, but I found the dish, with light turmeric and onion curry, heavenly. However, the Saag Choley was a little too salty for my taste.
I decided to comfort myself with a little Chai tea; it was worth the 10-minute wait. (I was halfway through the buffet before it came.) It was subtle with only light cardamom, which I appreciated.
All in all, I’d have to say Kanak is definitely the place to stop in to for a good Indian meal in Montgomery, but because I live closer to Clifton I think I’ll still go to Ambar instead.
Go: 10040B Montgomery Road
Hours: Lunch Buffet 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday- Sunday; Dinner 5-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday and noon-9 p.m. Sunday.
Entrée Prices: $5.99-$16.99
Payment: All major credit cards
Red Meat Alternatives: Plenty of vegetarian
Accessibility: Fully accessible