Leonard: Is it racist that I took you to an Indian restaurant?
Priya: It’s okay, I like Indian food.
Leonard: Or as you probably call it back home, food.
~Big Bang Theory (Season Four, Episode 18)
Queen Rania of Jordan cautioned against judging “through the prism of our own stereotypes.” Ill-founded stereotypes were very much in evidence after my team successfully landed an especially challenging project at Intel…and as with most stereotypes, they were based on faulty assumptions, overarching generalization and lack of experience. When we deliberated where to celebrate our achievement, my suggestion that our repast be held at an Indian restaurant was met with such comments as “Indian food is…too spicy, too rich, too much curry, too vegetarian” and worse, it “causes heartburn and (to put it mildly) gastric distress.” Prying more deeply revealed only one of my colleagues had ever actually ever tried Indian food.
In truth, when it comes to Indian food, if we don’t subscribe to such stereotypes, even the most open-minded among us tend to generalize about it. Much as we do with Italian food, we compartmentalize Indian food as either “Northern” or “Southern,” generalizations which are inaccurate and which don’t do justice to one of the world’s great cuisines. India is a very diverse country in which practically every province boasts its own unique cuisine. Culinary taxonomists tell us there are 38 major kinds of cuisine in India, but my friend Kishore tells me there are local variations from village to village.
Still, when we found out about the Curry Leaf, an Indian restaurant which opened its doors in August, 2016, we were elated at the prospect of a restaurant purporting to feature both Northern Indian cuisine and Southern Indian cuisine as well as a number of Indo-Chinese options. Generalization goes out the window when our minds’ eye pictured spicier, more piquant entrees, the type of which aren’t common in Albuquerque whose Indian restaurants tend to focus on Northern Indian cuisine. Even more rare in the Duke City is Indo-Chinese cuisine, the Indian adaptation of Chinese cooking techniques and seasonings. Not since Paddy Rawal’s OM Fine Indian Dining has Albuquerque been able to enjoy the preternatural fusion of Indian and Chinese cuisines.
With owner Narenda Kloty at the helm, Curry Leaf has the pedigree to succeed where other restaurants might fail if endeavoring such broad offerings. Mr. Kloty is no stranger to the Land of Enchantment having previously owned and operated Albuquerque’s much-missed Bombay Grill as well as Santa Fe’s India Palace. Until recently, he also owned a restaurant in Milpitas, California in the heart of Silicon Valley. Today his sole focus is on Curry Leaf, a magnificent restaurant whose appeal to New Mexicans will grow as savvy diners discover flavor profiles very similar to our own beloved cuisine. He is a peripatetic presence at his restaurant, a true gentleman whose goal it is to ensure all diners have a great experience at Curry Leaf.
Though sporting a Montgomery Boulevard address, Curry Leaf is recessed from the busy artery and isn’t easily visible until you turn into the retail development in which it sits. Ironically, it’s situated next door to the familiar space which for nearly three-and-a-half decades housed the India Kitchen, Albuquerque’s very first Indian restaurant. The Curry Leaf’s rather humble exterior belies an expansive and attractive dining room. Visit for lunch and your immediate view as you walk in will be of burnished copper vessels in which the day’s buffet offerings are kept warm for you. The wall art is not only visually spectacular, it’s thought-provoking. An incomplete drawing of Buddha, for example, may have you contemplate that man, too, is a work in progress.
If you love buffets, this one is among the very best in the metropolitan area. Quite simply, it offers off-the-menu entree quality offerings at buffet value prices. In fact, there are several items on the buffet this blogger already considers the best in the city (yes, even better than at the fabulous Namaste). After my first two visits, I accorded a rating of “23” for Curry Leaf, a rating heretofore not bestowed upon any buffet restaurant. As expected, that rating increased when we got to order off the menu (which isn’t available during the lunch hour: 11:30AM to 2:30PM daily).
Ah, that menu! It’s magnificent! The appetizers section alone offers several items you won’t find at any Indian restaurant in the Albuquerque area–sumptuous starters such as chili paneer (cubed Indian cottage cheese sauteeed with onions and bell peppers in a spicy chili sauce) and chili chicken (marinated, batter-fried chicken sauteed with onions and bell peppers in a spicy chili sauce). Homemade bread choices include not only naan of several types, but roti, kulcha and poori. Tandoori specialties are absolutely the best in the area because the tandoor ovens burn charcoal. The soups, several of which are available on the buffet, are wonderful (and will hopefully be entered into the Roadrunner Food Bank Souperbowl event in 2017). Other menu categories warranting exploration are rice, chicken, lamb and goat, seafood, vegetable, dosa, Indo-Chinese and desserts.
Among the “best in the city” offerings at Curry Leaf are garlic naan, one of several homemade breads available. The intense heat (approaching 900-degrees Fahrenheit) of the tandoori oven fired with charcoal imparts a magnificent flavor to what is probably my favorite form of bread (even over my mom’s flour tortillas) Thin yet fluffy, the naan is amazing, inviting you to dip it into the tamarind chutney with its sweet, sour and just slightly piquant flavor or the raita, a yogurt-based sauce with a blend of spices. Then there’s the mint chutney, an Indian “salsa” with an intensely fresh flavor. It goes without saying that the naan is wonderful without amelioration, too.
If asked what the national food of England is, you’d probably answer fish and chips or Yorkshire pudding and roast beef. In 2001, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook British declared chicken tikka masala as the new national dish of the United Kingdom. Restaurant-goers seem to agree as they’ve made it the most popular restaurant dish in the country. Tikka, a Persian word for “bits and pieces” aptly describes the dish which showcases boneless chicken pieces in a creamy spiced tomato sauce. Curry Leaf’s rendition is fantastic, so full-bodied, rich and delicious it warranted a second helping. So did the Chicken Makhani, a dish sometimes called Indian butter chicken. It’s a dish so good it should be registered as a repeat offender for deliciousness.
Ubiquitous in virtually every Indian restaurant’s buffet offering, tandoori chicken is a take-it-or-leave-it item for me, but not at Curry Leaf which serves the Duke City’s very best rendition. What makes this chicken so much better than any other is the fact that the tandoor oven is heated with charcoal. That charcoal penetrates deeply, imparting smoky sweetness to the chicken which is rendered a bright reddish-orange color by a spice blend that includes cayenne pepper, paprika and other spices. The Colonel can have his blend of eleven herbs and spices. This chicken is better than finger-licking good.
Regardless of culture, soup is one of the most gratifying dishes on the face of the Earth. Indian soups are among the very best. They’re diverse, healthful and delicious. Curry Leaf includes at least two soups on the daily buffet. You’ll be tempted to ferry the entire tureen of Madras Tomato Soup to your table though a ladle or two will have to do. This tomato soup is made distinctive with the addition of coconut milk and spices. This is unequivocally the very best tomato soup I’ve ever had. Nearly as good is the Sambar, a vegetable soup with a piquant bite. It’s fiery red in appearance with fresh vegetables for every spoonful.
Two other noteworthy buffet staples are the Saag Paneer and the Aloo Gobi. Rumor has it that Popeye the sailor man emigrated to Indian when he heard about Saag Paneer, a rich, delicious dish of creamed spinach and cubes of soft farmer’s cheese. If you’ve never enjoyed spinach, this dish will change your mind…and if there’s one vegetable even more reviled than spinach, it might be cauliflower. Aloo Gobi (potatoes and cauliflower sauteed with chopped onions, garlic, ginger and tomatoes in a rich blend of mostly seed-based seasonings) presents cauliflower in the most delicious manner you’ve ever experienced this cruciferous vegetable. Those seasons render this dish pleasantly piquant and superbly flavored.
11 July 2020: My friend Schuyler likes to use the term “special kind of stupid” to describe behaviors that he considers beyond comprehension. Normally he reserves the term for drivers who lack the manual dexterity to use turn signals, but he’d probably also use it to describe such behaviors as dining on a restaurant patio on the record-breaking hottest day of the year. In our defense, Curry Leaf has a delightful shaded Dude-friendly patio and finally, I could order off-the menu (a concession the restaurant made during the Covid lockdown).
Curry Leaf still offers buffet dining, but diners are no longer allowed to waddle on over multiple times to the buffet table to serve themselves. Instead, buffet-goers are given a gleaming cafeteria-style metal tray and the amiable wait staff will make repeated visits to your table to fill every compartment on that tray. For my Kim, our server could have deposited a coop’s bounty of tandoori chicken and a few pieces of garlic naan and she would have been very happy. Your adventurous blogger was happy studying the menu in search of items I’d never before had.
11 July 2020: There are a number of such items on the appetizer menu including several Indo-Chinese options. After much deliberation and consultation with our server, I opted for the chilli chicken (marinated batter fried chicken sautéed with onions and bell peppers in a spicy chilli sauce). Popularly known as “desi chicken,” this distinctively bold, spicy and pungent appetizer is is made with lightly battered crispy chicken chunks lightly tossed in a spicy chilli (SIC) sauce. We discerned soy sauce, ginger, garlic and chilli, but there could have been other ingredients. At any regard, it’s the type of dish heat lovers will enjoy most, especially if they don’t necessarily want the sweet and sour elements so common with Chinese food.
11 July 2020: From a flavor perspective, my entree, the malai kofta (vegetable and cheese ball cooked in mild creamy sauce with cashews, almonds and raisins) was in diametric opposition to the piquant chilli chicken. The chilli chicken can peel the enamel off your teeth with its heat, while the malai kofta will make sweet, mellow love to your taste buds. What I found most intriguing about this dish is that all my previous experiences with kofta have been with minced or ground meat orbs mixed with spices or onions. Malai kofta is a vegetarian entree showcasing paneer and potato balls in a rich, creamy sauce. It’s one of the few vegetarian curries in Indian cuisine. It’s one I’ll have again.
11 July 2020: Curry Leaf’s homemade breads menu lists not only five types of naan, but roti, kulcha, poori and paratha, too. Everyone who loves Indian breads will be hard-pressed to decide just which one to enjoy. My current affections are directed at keema naan (freshly baked white wheat bread with delicately spiced ground lamb). Because the lamb is cooked with aromatics and Indian spices, those flavors are imparted to the naan. From among the chutneys with which you can pair keema, the raita (a classic Indian yogurt sauce) seems to work best.
As wonderful as the buffet is, savvy diners should also order off Curry Leaf’s menu which really opens up with spicy deliciousness unlike any you’ll experience in the Duke City. Now, if only Curry Leaf offered breakfast…
6910 Montgomery Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
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LATEST VISIT: 11 July 2020
1ST VISIT: 1 October 2016
# OF VISITS: 4
BEST BET: Garlic Naan, Mango Lassi, Tandoori Chicken, Chicken Tiki Masala, Saag Paneer, Vegetable Pakora, Dosa, Chilli Chicken, Malai Kofta