Passage to India Opens in Portland, ME
My husband and I tried the new Passage to India restaurant a try earlier this week. Located in the former location of Soffrito on Wharf Street, this restaurant shares common ownership with the nearby Hi Bombay.
My husband started with a bowl of Mulligatawny. Passage to India's version was made with lentils, tomatoes, finely sliced strips of fresh ginger, diced chicken and parsley. My Dal Soup held split peas, lentils, Indian spices and plenty of fresh cilantro. The chunks of vegetables, lentils and peas were in-tact, much preferred to the fully pureed versions I have had elsewhere.
Garlic Naan was generously garnished with parsley, the least oily version of the unleavened bread that I have had. Tamarind sauce and red pepper chutney accompanied the Naan; the chutney was a bit dry, likely from too much time left uncovered in the refrigerator so we requested a side of mango chutney (a $2 surcharge). Sweet and filled with mango chunks, it complimented the Naan perfectly.
A large portion of Baigan Bharta consisted of clay oven roasted eggplant, green peas, onions, and Indian spices (cloves, cinnamon, cumin, turmeric and coriander). Similar to the Dal Soup, I appreciated the fresh vegetable chunks and whole green peas, in sharp contrast to the mushy texture of most Indian food I have had in the States. The Shrimp Tandoori Masala held large meaty prawns in a creamy tomato sauce, spiced with coriander. The Basmati rice was brought to the table steaming; it contained sticks of cinnamon and cardamom fruit, both of which added fragrance and flavor to the nutty grains.
Passage to India is a welcome addition to Portland's food scene, serving the best Indian cuisine I've had locally.
I'm happy to add further endorsement. Three of us ate there Saturday evening. Opening veggie pekora were crunchy and tasty, relatively mild. My only disappointment of the evening was the poori, which were quite bland in taste, slightly undercooked, and oily.
The entrees, on the other hand, were all delicious, each in its own way. My SO had shrimp saag (would have been better with Maine shrimp, which are still available): sauce was a nice marriage of flavors. Our friend had the most delicious garam masala I've had in Portland, with lamb. The sauce was wonderfully rich, so that I soaked up her remaining sauce after I had finished with something I don't always see, lamb vindaloo. While I love the flavors of vindaloo, it's often so hot that one can't taste. In each case, our waitress asked whether we would like mild, medium, medium-hot, or hot, and in each case (one each of the first three) there were prepared as requested--and not just by the addition of some hot sauce or other: the heat was well blended with the spices of each dish.
Service was OK: friendly, but our server was sadly overworked, and couldn't attend quite as quickly (for instance, in taking the check for payment) as we might like.
But definitely at the top of the somewhat limited Portland Indian list, and worth a return.