Sitar of India – Downtown, Charleston, WV
Sitar of India is one of those Charleston gems if you love ethnic cuisine. You can’t get anything like Sitar anywhere else in town unless you are invited to a meal at the India Center. Sitar has been open for more than ten years and recently changed hands within the same family. …
Lunch specials… I ordered Peas Pilao/pullao, a vegetarian dish, which is similar to Biryani. The difference is that all the ingredients are cooked together in a Pilao whereas in a Biryani the key ingredients a cooked separately from the rice. This is a very filling meal and still a bargain at $5.99, but it used to be $3.99, oh well. The menu describes this dish as a “Aromatic basmati rice cooked with fresh green peas and lightly spiced.” Lightly spiced is an understatement. If you ask for medium is will be spicy and good. Your brow will have little beads of sweat when you are done eating. If you order hot the hair on your head will stand on end right before your head explodes. The endorphin rush is almost worth the pain. Almost. It is serve with raita, which is a yogurt sauce to cool it down a bit. If you are like me you will need a full order on Nan/Naan to take the heat away. Nan is a unleavened bread baked in the tandoori clay oven and they brush it with ghee. This is like crack cocaine to a carb addict.
I have eaten at Sitar for several years. It is very consistent and enjoyable. I have tried too many things on the menu to count and they are all good. The surly reference in the title is directed at a server who used to work under the previous ownership. He was a good server, but quiet and very “matter of fact.” If Sitar had a dining room that offered a little more intimate and private feel they would get a perfect rating, but for now it is a FOUR FORK experience.
Sitar of India inspired me to try some Indian cooking of my own. I live in Teays Valley so it’s not very convenient to come back to Charleston in the evenings or on the weekends to enjoy their fine Indian cuisine. I love the unique flavors in Indian food so much I ordered a couple cookbooks by Madhur Jaffrey and spent some time gathering special ingredients at the International Grocery so I could attempt to make my own. Ron & I like pretty much anything sprinkled with curry powder (hot, of course), garam masala and cardomom.
I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to duplicate the delicately flavored sauces at Sitar, though. I have tried about all the different sauce flavors. You can get chicken, shrimp or lamb with the sauce that you like. I prefer the chicken but have tasted the lamb and it was tender and delicious. My absolute favorite thing I have tried there is the Chicken Tikka Masala. However, it is only available in a dinner portion so I usually don’t get that at lunch.
Today I had the chicken curry, medium spicy, with nan. The curry was $5.95 and the nan an extra $1.99. My nose was running and my face felt hot a third of the way through which equals AWESOME. I am not a spice fanatic, but if a thing says it’s spicy, I expect some heat. I can’t seem to get much heat from the little chili pepper designated items on the Chinese menus, Thai food does a much better job with heating up the dish. If you want full flavor and a sweaty brow – go Indian. I heard Bobby Flay say in an interview once that Indian food is where the flavor is and I couldn’t agree more.
Just the smell when I walk in the door makes me anxious to dig into the pretty oval-shaped silver dish. They have white linen tablecloths adorning the tables, comfortable chairs and cloth napkins. I enjoy these fineries. They bring you a papadam to get things started. I liken it to a large Indian-style “tortilla chip”. If you dare, put some of the Indian -style “salsa” on it. It’s some type of onion chutney, I think, bright red in color, and very, very hot. They left a pitcher of water on the table for us. Smart thinkin’.
If you don’t like or can’t handle very spicy food, don’t worry. When your order is taken you will be asked “how spicy?” to which you can reply “mild, very mild, just waive the spices over the pan but don’t pour any in”. Misty (the girl who thinks milk is spicy) successfully eats there by using this tactic.
No matter what you order for your appetizer and/or entree. You MUST, I repeat, MUST get nan. (Sometimes spelled “naan”.) This is a seriously yummy pita-looking round of bread baked in a tandoori oven. They have many different flavors including one with peas and one with coconut. I usually get the plain nan. A colleague ordered the garlic nan and it was super-garlicky. Good, though.
I have never tried anything at Sitar I didn’t like. If you are at my table, I will stare you down until you ask if I’d like a taste of whatever you have just so I can expand my experiences in this cuisine. Today, I tried Daniel’s meat samosas, his Peas Pilao, and Jeff’s garlic nan. I have already tried Misty’s Aloo Matter (peas and potatoes) so she was off the hook today.