It wasn’t New Mexico’s Chamber of Commerce winter weather that enticed Chef Pramad “Paddy” Rawal to remain in the Land of Enchantment. In fact, when he first landed at Albuquerque’s International Sunport, he wondered if he had gotten on the correct flight. Albuquerque was as frigid as his home in Michigan which he had left just hours prior. Attired in clothing more appropriate for a balmy spring day, Paddy had certainly not anticipated the winter snap that kept New Mexicans indoors for several days on that uncommonly cold December in 2010.
Paddy was in New Mexico to visit his artist friends Dick and Jane in Santa Fe. Michigan transplants themselves, his friends had long tried to influence Paddy to leave the Wolverine State and open up a restaurant in Santa Fe. They wined and dined their guest and did their best to point out the charms of the capital city, but Mother Nature would not cooperate. Then they took him to a couple of New Mexico’s most highly regarded Indian restaurants. That’s when he came to the conclusion that what passes for good Indian food in New Mexico wasn’t good enough for his friends. Four months later, Paddy opened up Raaga Fine Indian Dining in Santa Fe.
From day one Raaga has been a huge critical success in The City Different, beloved not only by a very grateful Dick and Jane, but by Santa Fe’s savvy, well-traveled dining public. The feeling is very much mutual. Paddy has fallen in love with Santa Fe and sees himself as potentially retiring in New Mexico. Considering the well-traveled Paddy has worked as a chef in India, Egypt, Dubai, Australia and Michigan, that’s quite a testament to enchantment and to much better weather than what first welcomed him to the state.
With the November 1st, 2012 launch of Paddy Rawal’s OM Fine Indian Dining Restaurant, Duke City diners have begun to experience for themselves what Santa Fe diners now know and what East Lansing diners have been missing since Paddy closed his two Michigan eateries. OM may be in a class of its own in New Mexico when it comes to fine Indian dining! A number of infatuated patrons, including Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, have already become confirmed habitues. In short order, OM will have legions of pleased patrons.
The main reason, of course, is the cuisine. Boasting of rich, intricately flavored dishes prepared with the finest spices, freshest herbs and highest quality ingredients, OM takes Northern Indian fare to new heights, even incorporating local Southwest elements as well as Chinese dishes to create imaginative and sophisticated fusions of deliciousness. There are two aspects of Indian cuisine at which OM exceeds. One is in the use of spices, the true legacy of India’s culinary heritage. While the primary function of spices is to enhance the flavor of food, it is experience and tradition which determine their optimal use, whether it be to season food, enhance its texture or introduce color. The other aspect is in the preparation of sauces, each one designed to bring out the finest qualities of the ingredients on which they’re used.
The other reason OM will, in short order, become a Duke City favorite is Paddy Rawal himself. A peripatetic presence, Paddy is the consummate host and a veritable whirling dervish who is seemingly everywhere at once. He wears the stains of spilled sauces on his chef’s coat as a badge of honor, evidence that he himself is preparing the incomparable cuisine himself. Expect him to check up on you frequently to ensure your dining experience is as good as it can be. Paddy is a very engaging, charming and modest fellow, quick to turn compliments about his cooking into something praiseworthy he noticed about you. Interacting with satisfied customers is imperative to him.
The OM menu offers an exciting culinary journey into superior taste and flavor, into subtle nuances and exotic complexity, into delicate spice blends and rich, creamy sauces. All dishes can be ordered mild, medium, hot, hell or any variation thereof (medium plus for example). A daily lunch buffet–at a ridiculously low price considering the quality–features various vegetarian, vegan and meat dishes as well as rice, salad, naan and dessert. Now if you’re sniggering at the seemingly contradictory notion of a fine dining restaurant offering a buffet, you’ll salute Paddy’s prowess at making all-you-can-eat a sublime offering. With a menu that showcases vegetarian and vegan options as well as seafood and meat entrees, there truly is something for everyone at OM.
12 November 2012: Thus far, Albuquerque’s favorite OM appetizer is chana chaat, one of the most popular of Indian street foods and not only because it can be served as a side dish, snack or salad. OM’s rendition combines chickpeas, cucumber, blueberries, whole wheat crisps, tomatoes, mint chutney and sweetened yoghurt. It’s a refreshing adventure in bright and lively flavors and textures, an absolute delight because so many flavors coalesce on your taste buds. Those flavors are both contrasting and complementary, flavors that play off each other.
My mom, a tortillera in the most traditional sense may disown me for this, but I’ve come to prefer naan to tortillas, even those she prepares with love on her seasoned comal. OM offers nine varieties of naan, a flat, leavened bread made of white flour and baked in a tandoor; and roti, its wheat counterpart which is cooked on a flat griddle. Now, three baskets of naan is far too many for a meal for two, but when you can’t make up your minds, order to your hearts’ content because you’ll have wonderful naan for later. Three distinctive varieties with which we fell in love are the rosemary-olive oil naan, stuffed cheese naan and stuffed dried fruit naan. Each has its unique flavor profile with the commonality being a pinto pony-like char and a light burnishing with clarified butter (ghee). Whether you nosh on the naan, dip it into a chutney or use it to sop up a superb sauce, you’ll savor every bite.
While Ancho and Amchur in combination may sound like a suppressed sneeze, they’re actually spices which Paddy employs. New Mexicans are more familiar with Ancho, a powder made from a type of chile that lends a rich, subtle piquancy to foods. Amchur, a greenish-yellowish powder of dried mangoes, lends the quality of fruity-sweetness, but not to a cloying degree. The qualities of these two complementary spices are well in evidence on the Ancho-Amchur Crusted Tandoori Chicken. The spices penetrate deeply into the bone-in thigh and breast, imparting a slight piquancy and tanginess to the tandoor grilling. As if the moist, tender, delicious chicken isn’t wonderful enough, OM includes a sauce which also utilizes those spices. It makes a terrific dipping sauce for the chicken or for the naan.
Korma Sutra might be an appropriate descriptor for the Seafood Korma which just may have a foodgasm effect on your taste buds. Korma, a Northern Indian specialty, is a mild and creamy curry sauce with a distinctively rich, almost silky flavor. The basis for Korma is a mixture of yoghurt, cream and pureed cashews blended with toasted spices. OM prepares it to your specified level of piquancy, however, ask for any potency beyond medium and you risk degrading the rich, complex flavors of the spice and sauce meld. The seafood–scallops, shrimp and mahi mahi–is slowly simmered in the sauce so it’s infused with flavor. This may well be the most memorable Korma dish I’ve had, besting my previous favorite from an Indian restaurant in London. The portion size is generous so you’ll be taking some home. You’ll luxuriate in the aromas that fill your kitchen.
Desserts, if you manage to save room for them, are outstanding! The carrot pudding (halwa), a wonderfully unique dessert composed of grated carrots and ground nuts prepared in butter and boiled milk then lightly sweetened with raisins, is my early favorite. Served warm, it showcases the natural sweetness of carrots while removing any residual bitterness. At the other end of the spectrum texturally is mango kulfi, an Indian ice cream that is more dense and “more frozen” than American ice creams. Besides mango, the most pronounced flavor comes from sweetened condensed milk complemented with cardamom.
18 February 2013: Paddy pays tribute to the Land of Enchantment with a stuffed Poblano, a New Mexican-Indian fusion appetizer served with a side of mint-coriander chutney. You’ll recognize the “innards” as the contents with which Indian Samosas are stuffed: spiced mashed potatoes and peas. The Poblano barely registers on the Scoville Scale of piquancy, but the chutney seems to bring out whatever heat is inherent with the pepper. While this is a nice dish, my native pride would have preferred a nicely roasted New Mexico Hatch green chile.
As noted above, OM specializes in naan, the wonderful Indian flat bread prepared in a tandoor. Roti is the whole wheat alternative, a wedge-shaped bread often found in Malaysian restaurants, too. OM’s roti is quite good though not as moist and buttery as the naan. Still, it’s not a bread any diner would kick off their plate. As with naan, the roti goes very well with chutneys, especially the tamarind.
OM’s menu includes a number of Indian-Chinese fusion dishes. Ask Paddy why he would combine the flavors of two ancient culinary traditions and he will remind you he’s a chef–not a chef who specializes in Indian food, but a chef formally trained in more than ten different cuisines. He hopes someday to launch, perhaps in San Francisco, a restaurant showcasing a fusion of Italian and Indian food. Paddy has already conceptualized several dishes he hopes to introduce to intrepid diners.
You don’t have to be an adventurous diner to appreciate OM’s Chilli (SIC) Chicken, boneless chicken sauteed and cooked with ginger and garlic then finished in a tomato-based Szechuan sauce. Appearances can be very deceptive. At first glance you might think the crimson sauce will be as cloying as most Chinese sweet and sour sauces, but that’s certainly not the case. The sauce has a savory-tart flavor profile, emphasizing the sour (but not overly so) aspects of sweet and sour. The all white meat boneless chicken is tender and moist. Vegetables–red and green peppers, onions–are perfectly prepared.
Diners who enjoy Thai curry, but who don’t necessarily appreciate the qualities of Indian curry will almost certainly enjoy OM’s Chicken Madras, perhaps the one dish most responsible for winning over converts to Indian cuisine. Named for the city of Madras, it’s a dish as varied as the hundreds of recipes from which it’s prepared. This hearty tomato-based curry is redolent with the spices of curry leaves, ginger, mustard, coconut milk and peppercorn. It can be prepared to the degree of heat you desire, but too much piquancy and you might not appreciate the richness and sophistication of the flavors. Chicken Madras may be the perfect winter entree, as heart-warming an entree as your favorite winter soup.
OM, by the way, is not an abbreviation. It represents a mystical Sanskrit sound of Hindu origin, a sacred chant considered the “primordial seed” of the universe. Om is considered the “root mantra” from which all other mantras emerge. Ancient sages believed that through chanting om, one can experience the infinite within themselves.
In 2012, Raaga was selected as one of the best new restaurants in America by Kunda Eats, the only restaurant in New Mexico honored. It will surprise absolutely no one if OM garners a similar accolade in 2013. Duke City diners will beat a path to this restaurant, already one of the best in the city in any genre–and the path is familiar, too. OM is located at the former site of Annapurna Ayurvedic Cuisine.
Paddy Rawal’s OM – Fine Indian Dining
7520 4th Street, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 18 February 2013
1st VISIT: 12 November 2012
# OF VISITS: 2
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Chana Chaat, Ancho Amchur Crusted Tandoori Chicken, Seafood Korma, Carrot Pudding, Mango Kulfi, Mango Lassi,