If I'm to be stuck anywhere awaiting tardy dining guests, I could ask for no better place than an Indian restaurant with a David Sedaris book. I was the only one in the Shaan dining room, save a steady stream of carryout customers. I had a pile of complimentary papardumm (fried, crisp, lentil wafers) and delicious accoutrements such as sweet tamarind, a pureed mint and a spicy onion chutney to keep me busy as I plowed thorough Sedaris’ new masterpiece. Luckily, as I was the only one there, my guffaws were less embarrassing and, with my server more than happy to keep the papardumm and water coming, I was happy.
Looking at the same low-pile dark green carpet I see in many Indian restaurants in the area, I realized I'd never had bad Indian food in Cincinnati. I appreciate the variety of restaurants in the area: North Indian, South Indian, purely vegetarian, casual, more formal and even fusion. They offer Indian cuisine lovers a place for each day of the week. I might have not have had a bad Indian meal, but some certainly produce better food than others. Now, Shaan is now in my Top 3.
Once my companions arrived (ahem, 45 minutes late), I was forced to put my book away and get down to business. Our server was one of the best I've had, be it Indian cuisine or otherwise. He loved his place of employment, believed in its food and had a great sense of humor to boot.
I was looking forward to a beer, but Shaan offers no such libations, so we ordered three Mango Lassi ($2.49). Not a bad trade-off. As we slurped the last of the delicious mango and yogurt concoction through our straws like three kids in an ice cream parlor, our Assorted Vegetable Platter ($4.99) and Chane Ki Chat ($3.49) arrived.
The platter is a sampling of Shaan’s vegetarian appetizers: pakoras, vegetable fritters that were unfortunately over-breaded and oily; fried Indian cheese called paneer, which was perfect and crisp with a smooth, firm center; and samosas, triangular pastries stuffed with mashed potatoes, peas and Indian spices.
Chane Ki Chaat (chat or chaat means a snack or street food) is a warm mound of spiced chickpeas, fruit and onion. Sounds odd, but is light and delicious. I ate mine with a spoon, but, when I make it at home, I am certain I will eat it with my hands like I would a bowl of nuts.
Our server was clear in his recommendation: saag is Shaan’s specialty. Spinach cooked down to concentrate its flavor, laced with cumin and other spices and spiked with cream might not sound appetizing to some, but when done right is the most comforting, deeply rich, silky dish around.
We ordered Chicken Saag ($10.99) and another suggestion, Kadai Ginger Lamb ($12.99), and the Vegetarian Combo Dinner Special ($13.99). The Kadai Ginger Lamb has a tomato gravy with sweet bell peppers, ginger, garlic and spices. Unlike many other lamb dishes, this lamb was tender and had the taste lamb should have. The gravy was rich with just a hint of ginger. The Chicken Saag was just as promised and the chicken was delicious.
Usually, when one orders a Combo Dinner, you get a small sample of three different meals, some rice and Naan bread. Not at Shaan. At Shaan your Combo Meal is just shy of three meals. I really like Vegetable Korma (a rich, creamy, spicy sauce with vegetables, nuts and paneer), and I knew that our server would allow me to substitute it for the Chooley (chickpeas in a spiced tomato sauce). We had just spent 45 minutes together, for goodness sakes!
Once delivered, and as I made room for the three bowls of food, we enjoyed Saag Paneer, Vegetable Korma and Matar Panner cheese cubes cooked in a lightly spiced tomato sauce with peas. Can you tell that I am a fan of cheese from any and all countries?
As he boxed our leftovers, our server asked us why we thought Shaan was so generous with its serving size. The sound of crickets was too much so he informed us they do it so customers will have leftovers for lunch.
Picture it: As I heat up last night’s meal, my co-workers ask, “Ohhhh. Where’s that from?” “Oh, this?” I reply coyly as I lick the saag from my spoon, knowing they covet my meal and that said party might have stolen the last of my eggplant parmigiana from the shared fridge last week, “Shaan Indian.”
And then, said co-workers make a plan to meet there at 5:15 p.m. on the dot. Pretty sneaky, Shaan.
Go: 3880 Paxton Ave., Hyde Park Plaza
Hours: Lunch: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday and 11:30 p.m.-2:30 p.m. Saturday; dinner: 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 5 p.m.-9 p.m. Sunday
Entrée Prices: $9.99-$14.99
Red Meat Alternatives: Varied
Accessibility: Fully accessible