It's been hot, way too hot. How many times do we need to feel that our body temperature is cooler than the outside air to know it's time for a change? But until then, when it gets hot, I say eat hotter. For this, I turn to Indian food, which has always been my go-to cool-down summer food.
Eating well should always be effortless — especially if it requires getting into a meltingly hot car — and you will eat well at Chingari Fine Indian Cuisine, a new restaurant with long culinary roots. This is the second venture for owner Amandeep Singh, a New Delhi native who opened Maharani Indian Cuisine in midtown eight years ago.
The 80-seat Chingari is named for a famous Bollywood movie and means "spark." Indeed, sparks is what the kitchen hopes to bring to the table. The extensive menu features northern Indian dishes and notes the tandoor oven burns mesquite wood. I know what you're thinking: Mesquite is from North America. And it is, but chilies are, too, and India has used chilies to remedy the summer heat since they were introduced centuries ago. In fact, today India grows the hottest chili, the Bhut Jolokia pepper, which is four million times hotter than Tabasco and, if you need to know, alternatively can also be used as a defense against marauding elephants.
The dishes at Chingari can be ordered as hot as you like, but you'll need to order the third level of heat (med-hot) to break into a sweat. Their highest level is "Indian hot." When I asked for a comparable from my server, she just instructed me that "Indian hot" is not for me.
Chingari's space has been refined from its former life as another Indian restaurant. The interior has been updated to include trendy light fixtures, art and modern Indian music. With this upscale design, I expected more from the service staff; they lacked a clearly defined division of effort and meal pacing. Our dishes, and those at other tables, arrived haphazardly.
But the kitchen has a way of doing things that will get to you. First, you'll be taken in by the cascade of little goodies from the app list. The fresh-tasting samosa sided with slices of cucumber dashed with spices is a clear winner. The tandoor threesome of marinated chicken, lamb and shrimp tastes of the time they had spent languishing on a smoky grill.
Then comes the bread. The real highlight of any Indian meal is the basket of delectable breads. Chingari's stuffed kulcha and naan are tear-into terrific.
Chingari offers classic north Indian dishes that are both graceful with spices and distinct. The Bombay saffron bhuna lamb dish, an intricate mix of stir-fried spices melded together, quickly brought quiet to the table as bits of roti and naan scooped up the sauce. The nicely tweaked chicken vindaloo packed some heat and cooled us off a bit. But we still needed a round of Kingfisher to bring the temp down.
Deny yourself dessert? Your mouth will thank you for a cooling mango kulfi reward.