I remember the very first time I tasted Indian food. I was maybe 14, and it was on a visit to California to see my sister who was living there with her husband. During our stay, my new brother-in-law, who grew up in New Delhi, arranged a special Indian feast prepared by some family friends. I think I fell in love with Indian food with that first bite of fiery red tandoori chicken. Over the years, we’ve always had some family in India, and I hope to get there soon to visit my niece, who lives there with her husband, Adil Hussain, an Indian actor. Missing her — and in honor of seeing Hussain in “Life of Pi” — we decided to go out as a family for Indian and took a chance on Chatni, which opened on Bloomfield Ave., in Montclair at the end of December.
Chatni’s menu features the usual suspects — korma, jalfrezi, vindaloo, tikka masala — as well as one of my favorite, hard-to-find breads — the one stuffed with sweet fruit and nuts. What we tried and liked: chicken korma ($13.95) cooked in a creamy onion sauce and studded with cashews and raisins; the bindi masala ($12.95), nuggets of spiced okra, onions and peppers; and the sizzling Chatni special sampler ($9.95) a mix of chicken, lamb and fish all roasted and serve with mint and raita. The kids tried and loved – samosas and of course, tandoori chicken.
On a second visit for takeout we discovered the biryani. This Indian comfort food is done exceptionally well at Chatni (this rice dish can get monotonous if not made properly, but this one was). Each bite burst with flavor, tender chunks of meat, savory vegetables and lots of spice throughout, all topped off with the traditional hard boiled egg.
All the dishes we tried at Chatni Montclair were beautifully presented and the service was very attentive — maybe even a little too attentive, as new restaurants eager to please can sometimes be. To end the meal, the menu offered traditional Indian desserts, but we opted for the mango ice cream, a perfect cooling finish to the meal (we like our Indian food spicy, but Chatni will ask your level — mild, medium or hot).
A test of a good meal for me is how well you can remember the flavors when you try to days later. If I use my powers of food memory, it’s easy to conjure up the dishes we tried at Chatni — so easy that I almost taste the spice, the warmth. It’s a memory that makes you want to taste some more.
Chatni, 381 Bloomfield Ave, Montclair, 973-337 5753. Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday. Closed Monday.