IN 2007 I spent a month in India.
I travelled alone mostly though the north of the country, traversing a 1,500 kilometre span from Delhi to Kolkata. During that time I pursued a program of unreserved consumption of regional food specialties, from humble street fare to celebrated restaurant cuisine; if a dish looked or smelled good, or if it had been identified as a signature recipe of the region, I ate it. The result was that I experienced some of the most memorable meals of my life on that trip. Remarkably, despite my voracious appetite, I returned to Canada nearly eight kilograms lighter. Also of note was my newfound appreciation for vegetarian food. During my entire trip to India I ate meat on just five occasions, but at no point did I feel like any meal was deficient.
I think that Indian cuisine more than any other does a phenomenal job of transforming vegetables and pulses into dishes that sing. There is a complex interplay of spices and seasonings at work and subtle differences in the blended proportions of the exact same ingredients can radically differentiate the culinary style of one region of India from the next, or even the traditional recipes of one family from another. It is this unrivalled proficiency in the art of blending flavours that keeps me coming back for Indian food time after time and that recently prompted me to try the cuisine at Maurya Bistro in West Vancouver with my frequent companion taster, DJ.
Maurya has been open for about nine months now.
The interior of the restaurant is elegant and inviting, with hardwood flooring and tasteful décor. On my visit the service staff told me that the restaurant has begun to develop a steady following for its northern Indian dishes.
I am glad to learn that they have carved out a niche audience for themselves as I think West Vancouver must surely be a challenging market for a new Indian restaurant.
Anyone who has spent any time on the North Shore can confirm that the area enjoys some truly exceptional Indian food, with well-established favourites like Palki Indian Restaurant, Handi Cuisine of India, and Mumbai Masala offering up consistently delicious fare.
Our meal at Maurya consisted of two vegetarian and two meat-based dishes. When assessing the quality of northern Indian food I tend to use one commonly prepared dish as a yardstick: palak paneer. This ubiquitous dish consists of spinach (palak) and paneer, a firm, traditional Indian fresh cheese that lends itself exceptionally well to cooking as it doesn't melt. The spinach is typically transformed, with the addition of a handful of spices and seasonings, into a thick curry with a surprisingly robust flavor; morsels of seared paneer add texture and richness. In my opinion, palak paneer is a reliable measure of a restaurant's culinary prowess as it is an easy dish to mess up. Poor examples of the dish abound, typically marked by a thin, watery texture or a bland and forgettable flavor profile. Maurya's palak paneer was excellent, with a dense, silken texture and a notably generous amount of golden seared paneer.
The second vegetarian dish was chana masala, or chickpeas in spicy tomato sauce. The chickpeas retained a pleasant al dente texture and the masala, which we requested to be prepared "hot," delivered just enough chili bite to warrant the steady flow of nicely sweetened chai.
On the non-vegetarian side we sampled Shrimp Vindaloo, a hot and tangy curry made with plump, juicy prawns and potatoes in a coconut-based gravy. The final dish was an extraordinarily rich lamb shahi korma, tender morsels of lean and tender lamb cooked in a cashew sauce. The sauce on the lamb featured dominant, but not overwhelming, flavors of black cardamom and garlic, which provided a nice contrast to the other, principally tomato-based sauces.
Lovely strips of hot, buttered naan bread helped mop up the spicy sauces, while a tart and chilly raita, yogurt prepared with cucumber and spices, helped temper the heat. I learned while eating in India that raita is an integral part of almost every meal because the active ingredients in the yogurt apparently help to preserve the stomach's natural flora and can temper the adverse reactions to fiery and fragrant spices that some eaters of Indian cuisine experience.
It must be said that Maurya's portions are exceedingly generous; our dinner of four curries and naan fed us on two more occasions after our initial meal. Maurya's biodegradable take-home containers make re-heating meals a snap.
Our bill, before taxes and gratuities, was $65.
Maurya is located at 1734 Marine Drive, West Vancouver. Phone: 604-922-8007. mauryabistrorestaurant. com
Chris Dagenais served as a manager for several restaurants downtown as well as on the North Shore. A self-described wine fanatic, he earned his sommelier diploma in 2001. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
News Photo Cindy Goodman / MAURYA Bistro offers a menu brimming with fare from northern India, including a dense and silky palak paneer and rich lamb shahi korma.; News Photo Cindy Goodman / CHEF Nihal Rawat, manager Surendra Kumar Lama, owner Dharam Pal Sharma, and chef Ravindra Raturi bring Maurya's eclectic flavours to Marine Drive diners.;
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