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Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

The Spice of Life

Mayura’s varied flavors

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Indian restaurants continue to open in Milwaukee at a previously unheard-of pace. They have become nearly as common as Thai restaurants. At the very end of last year, another Indian eatery opened its doors: Mayura. Mayura is located on Farwell Avenue, in an area peppered with other ethnic restaurants.

The decor inside this recently constructed building is minimal but comfortable, with rich red-toned carpeting and buffet tables suitably screened from view. Much of the menu covers familiar territory, including the usual tandoori specialties, flatbreads, biryanis and a number of vegetarian dishes, along with the familiar plate of papadams to start the meal. But there are also some items that give Mayura a unique touch, such as the seafood samosas ($6.95). Usually samosas are filled with ground lamb, turkey or a potato and vegetable mixture. These have a spiced blend of fish and shrimp with a very different texture and flavor, which makes for a delicious starter. Another item well worth a try is the Jaipuri paratha ($3.95), a wheat bread with a thin foiling of potato, onion and methi—another name for fenugreek.

The lunch buffet is definitely above average—not because of the quantity of the items, but because the vegetarian and meat dishes are seasoned properly. Nothing is intensely spiced, but neither is it a pale and bland imitation. You’ll know you are eating a vindaloo because of its vinegary tang. You can also find items not on the dinner menu, such as ootappam. These small lentil cakes topped with minced tomato, pepper and onion are a novel delight.

Still, ordering from the dinner menu is the best way to enjoy the talents of Mayura’s kitchen. Chicken tikka masala ($12.95), a staple of Indian menus, rarely gets better than this. The curry spices are blended with yogurt, which mutes the heat of the spices while still maintaining vibrancy and depth of flavors. Other options include Goan vindaloos of chicken, goat and fish. Vindaloos are characterized by the use of vinegar and can be intensely hot and spicy. This menu also has a Goan fish curry ($13.95), boneless pieces of fish in a sauce that’s as red as a vindaloo. The spices are tempered a bit with the use of coconut milk and the serving is not large.

Indian restaurants do not seem to understand medium-rare cooking of meats. Fortunately, cooking in a clay tandoor oven produces meats that still retain succulence. A treat among Mayur’s tandoori dishes is the Mysore lamb chops ($17.95), cooked in a spice marinade that enhances rather than detracts from the flavor of lamb.

Vegetarians will also find solid choices, like the Kadahi chole ($10.95), chickpeas cooked in tomato, onion and an array of spices. A sterno heater is provided to keep this dish warm. For spicier items the perfect antidote is a dish of raita ($2), fine pieces of cucumber and mint in yogurt that is especially good with the lamb. The small wine list is no surprise. What is surprising is the fact that a few of the vintages are produced in India. A large bottle of Taj Mahal beer ($6.95) is a decent brew to accompany a curry. Desserts are rarely a strong point at Indian restaurants because they tend to be too sweet and too exotic for Western tastes. The mango ice cream ($4) is an ideal compromise, the delicate flavor of mango augmented with a few nuts and rose water.

Though the number of Indian restaurants continues to increase, places like Mayura should have little trouble competing. A bit of variety and careful preparation of dishes always works.

MAYURA INDIAN RESTAURANT
1958 N. Farwell Ave. (414) 271-8200 $$-$$$ Credit Cards: All major Smoke Free Handicap Access: Yes

Photo collage by Tate Bunker

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