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Indus Modern Kitchen wisely pulls a page from Panda Express 

Appetite

click to enlarge Indus' owners are hands-on and smiles-forward. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Indus' owners are hands-on and smiles-forward.

Think Panda Express, but for Indian food.

Make that really good Indian food, locally owned, and you've got Indus Modern Kitchen, a fast, fresh, notably friendly eatery that I wish was located within walking distance of our office. I'd frequent it often, with three entrée choices and either white or brown rice or lo mein-like Masala noodles as a side costing only $8.99. You can also pay $6.49 for one item plus side or $7.99 for two plus side, and tack on extras like garlic naan ($2.49), tandoori-charred roti ($1.99; flatbread from unleavened wheat flour) or a pleasantly aromatic and under-sweet hot or cold chai ($2.99) or nice, natural-tasting mango lassi ($3.49).

Whichever combos we put together, we were happy, with no complaints other than we weren't in love with a kheer (rice pudding) and we wouldn't have minded a truly spicy option; you can disregard the chili pepper icon next to six of 10 available entrées. That's the only comment I gleaned too from a nearby table of satisfied and supportive Indian gentlemen, who preface that they go to Denver for the real thing.

But therein lies an intentional difference of intent with Indus: Its three owners (husband-and-wife Mukesh Khatri and Gayathri Chelvadurai, and their friend Bonmayuri Kalita) say they wanted a healthier menu, utilizing antibiotic/hormone-free chicken and "natural products." Less cream in their butter chicken for example, plus removing ingredients like sugar and food coloring. Though they may be playing it conservatively, to a more American palate, the dishes suffer none for flavor despite a lack of heat kick.

The saag paneer exemplifies the kind I'm always hoping I'll get on the buffet lines, but rarely find, dark and rich but not overly creamy as a purée, punctuated by cubes of soft homemade curd cheese. The less-heavy butter chicken still sings with Indian spices, as do the chicken tikka masala, curry chicken and tandoori chicken, all served pulled from the bone. And standard vegetarian options — loose lentils; garlic and gingery chickpeas; turmeric-tinged cauliflower-and-potato; or coriander-, cumin- and garam masala-exuding peas, cheese and potatoes — all make a case for a meatless any-day. Only coconut shrimp ($1.49 extra) departs from the cuisine, tasting exactly like a Thai red curry, which isn't a bad thing.

Chutneys, offered free at the register, like a piquant mint relish, sweet yogurt, sour pickle and ginger-strong chili paste, should be liberally applied. And that chili paste, in volume, does add good spice to dishes.

Chelvadurai has cooked for 20 years, which includes The Broadmoor culinary apprenticeship, and Khatri, 34, has cooked since he was 13, including in New York and at the former Taste of India here. He's also a former Olympic Greco-Roman wrestler who competed in Athens in 2004. Kalita cooks at Indus too, holds a master's degree in finance, and teaches at the local Natyasangam Dance Academy.

Indus' clean space feels modern, with metallic accents all over, including a large menu hung above the open kitchen. White walls host a bit of colorful native art, in part a nod to the eponymous, ancient Indus Valley civilization. And each owner comes out of the kitchen when service lulls allow to touch tables and check-in, displaying a clear sincerity and engagement. Their collective talents show, beyond the fine food, in an overall smart design, even if it be inspired by said Chinese fast-food joint.

  • Appetite

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