Namaste India

By | February 5, 2007

Namaste India
3101 Banksville Rd
Pittsburgh, PA 15216
(412) 563-1901
M: 5-10; Tues-Fri: 11:30-2:30, 5-10; Sat-Sun: Noon-3, 5-10

As we get through Week 7 of the Indian Food-A-Thon, I’d like to reiterate how lucky I feel we are in Pittsburgh to have such a large number of Indian restaurants at our disposal. Unfortunately, not all of them are good, but characterizing restaurants as such is part of the purpose of our review. What we are finding so far is a three-tier split among the restaurants. It isn’t quite The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, but maybe more like The Shiznit, The Aight, and The Fugly. There are some that stand out, like Bombay Grill and Taj Mahal: they are The Shiznit. The Fugly are most definitely Prince and Star of India. They were just nasty almost across the entire list of test dishes. The rest – well, they are somewhere in the middle. The Aight category of restaurants is markedly inconsistent in the quality of their offerings, as we find that some dishes are especially good, while others are forgettable. Namaste India falls pretty squarely into this Aight category. Really, a couple of things were quite nice, but it just didn’t quite make it over the hump of mediocrity.

First of all, Namaste India is part of that strange brand of Indian that is mixed with Chinese cuisine. They have a few Chinese specialties on the menu, like fried rice and fried noodles. It seems strange at first but apparently isn’t all that uncommon. For instance, there is a neighborhood in New Jersey with a very large native Indian population, and they have a few Chinese-Indian restaurants, which could be where this comes from. It reminds me of the Kosher-Chinese restaurants in the predominantly Jewish neighborhood of Squirrel Hill. Those restaurants aren’t especially good examples of Chinese, but at least they serve a function as Kosher. Indian restaurants don’t have the same constraints upon them, so it isn’t at all clear what to expect (though an educated guess would be ‘probably not very good’).

Back in Week 5 of the Indian Food-A-Thon we went to Tamarind: Savoring India, and they had a small amount of Chinese offerings as well. We ordered the Gobi Manchurian, which was this luscious mixture of deep fried cauliflower puffs and spicy Manchurian sauce. At Namaste India, they had the same Gobi Manchurian on the menu – it was such a big hit last time that we had to get it! Only thing is – it was nothing like what we had at Tamarind! Titled ‘salt-packed cauliflower’ by Tom S., we could barely stand to eat it. To tell you the truth, I felt a little weird, physically, for a couple hours after eating that junk. It’s called the Indian Sweats, and it only happens after a mega-dose of MSG. Don’t get that stuff at Namaste India, man! If you want to try Gobi Manchurian, definitely go to Tamarind: Savoring India.

None of the Chinese dishes we got at Namaste were worthwhile, so I’d just skip ‘em if I were you. As for the Indian dishes, Namaste’s stronger suit is vegetarian, but the ratings were actually pretty variable. There wasn’t real agreement on anything except the Tamarind and Mint Sauces, which were delightful especially in comparison to what we’ve been served the past few weeks. I actually really liked the Mint Sauce, which had a more complex flavor than in recent weeks and was spicy and chunky! The Tamarind was still a little runny, but it had a really nice sweet flavor. The pappadams they were served with were mostly liked, though they had a different texture than all the others we’ve had. Likened to Baked Lays by Scott P., they were thin and crispy and had a light, airy texture. They weren’t super-flavorful, but at least the flavor they had was a pleasant one.

In addition to a weird Chinese menu, there was also a section of Southern India specialties. Me-thinks that Namaste is spreading itself a bit too thin! The dosai was almost burnt, and the potato filling was undercooked. The chutney and rasam that accompanies the dosai and uthappam were not very good either. However, the onion uthappam itself was actually surprisingly nice! It had a crisp exterior, and plenty of onions and other goodies inside. I think it was better than at Tamarind. We also ordered Dhai Vada again, which is that lentil doughnut in yogurt sauce. This time, the doughnut was warm and mushy. The soft texture of the doughnut was OK I guess, but it having been recently cooked made the yogurt all warm, which is less than ideal. Overall, the Dhai Vada wasn’t terrible, but I think I personally like a bit drier doughnut with a much cooler yogurt dip for a refreshing treat.

Heading back in the Northern direction, the ratings were quite variable. There was NO Saag Paneer on the menu, if you can believe it, so we got Mattar Paneer instead. The peas were only OK, with Steve S. even calling them canned! Rachel F.S. just commented “nope.” More importantly, the cheese was a bit too firm and dry. Most importantly, there wasn’t enough cheese to go around, which meant some panelists got none! Less than 10 cheese chunks? Come on! The Veggie Biryani was tasty enough, but not very biryani-like (i.e. – no piles of raisins, nuts, and veggies, though I did see a few slices of zuke mixed in). The Plain Rice was a little too wet and boring. The Daal was only so-so in the eyes of the Core 5, but everyone else at the table seemed to really like it. Probably the thing people liked best was the Channa Masala, which if nothing else had a little somethin’ somethin’ going on. And at least everything was SPICY, galldarnit! After 3 straight weeks of under-spiced nonsense, we finally got some honest-to-goodness heat going in these dishes! Unfortunately, there was a little too much saltiness in a lot of the dishes as well, so the rendered decision about Namaste India is that it is inconsistent. Maybe I would come back here for the uthappam, which I really did find to be quite delicious, but otherwise I’d hesitate.

Tamarind and Mint Sauces
Veggie dishes
Nan was OK!

Chicken Tikka Masala if you don’t like mystery chicken bits
The Chinese stuff!

If you are on your way to Namaste India coming from 279, beware that there is another Indian restaurant along the way: Maharaja, in the Days Inn. We haven’t gone there yet, but I heard that it’s not too good. Just keep going, and Namaste India is in the Banksville Plaza on your left after just another mile.

Check out this week’s graphs:
Week 7 - Core5
Week 7 - All