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On the lamb 

See what's been hiding out at Mirch Masala

click to enlarge New owner Rajan Gurung displays tandoori wings, - baigan bharta, shrimp saag and, in the back there, some - killer lamb chops. - 2006 LAURA MONTGOMERY
  • 2006 LAura Montgomery
  • New owner Rajan Gurung displays tandoori wings, baigan bharta, shrimp saag and, in the back there, some killer lamb chops.

Since I started working for the Indy, people often have wanted me to try a restaurant or dish they like, so I can write about it. Some tips pan out; others ... not so much. Over time, I've become skeptical, even of friends with trusted palates.

Take recent arrivals Eric and Ann. Like me, they are afflicted by food mania. Unlike me, they have discriminating taste. And yet, when Eric told me he'd eaten "the best lamb chops ever" at Mirch Masala, I raised a suspicious eyebrow.

Don't get me wrong I like Indian food. But with a few notable exceptions (Ruchi, in, of all places, Overland Park, Kan.), I'm unimpressed. Flavorful? Yes. Interesting? Yes. Spectacular? No.

Hunger and coincidence brought my wife and I to Mirch Masala one Sunday night. We'd not been in over a year. Rumor was, it had declined under new ownership, but in we went. As I settled into the comfortable booth, Eric's voice rang inside my head. I ordered the lamb chops.

While the suspense builds, it should be noted that a resourceful mix of savory spices, fresh herbs and hot peppers are the hallmarks of Indian cuisine (if it is even fair to condense the food of a country with more than a billion inhabitants into a single sentence). In fact, that's why many people don't like Indian food it can be overwhelming.

No need to fear at Mirch Masala. Rajan Gurung's chefs deploy heat and seasonings like coaches, helping each main ingredient achieve its purest expression. No less impressive, they find success with both animals and vegetables.

Try Mirch Masala's rich and creamy shrimp saag ($13.95), and find the clean flavor of fresh spinach, the base of all saags, shining through. The expertly cooked shrimp suspended within punctuate the texture and contribute a lovely sweetness. An alluring blend of savory seasonings ties shrimp and spinach together, taking this dish miles beyond the ubiquitous lunch buffet version.

Equally indicative of the kitchen's expertise is the luxurious baigan bharta ($9.95), made from eggplant that has been roasted, peeled and smashed to a near pure. Chopped tomatoes, hot chiles and a secret mix of herbs and spices create a spicy and aromatic backdrop against which the aubergine's deep, earthy flavors croon their siren song.

And now, to Mirch Masala's splendid tandoori lamb chops ($16.95). Eric's right. It's the best lamb dish ever, and maybe one of the best plates in Colorado Springs. It's an entire rack, butchered into double- and triple-chops, soaked in yogurt, ginger, garlic, garam masala, and red chile powder, laid on a cast-iron skillet atop a bed of thinly sliced onions, doused with lemon juice, and fired in the tandoori oven.

The dish arrives sizzling, broadcasting a heavenly aroma that previews the charred, smoky, almost fruity flavors that have penetrated the meat. Nevertheless, the succulent, perfectly mid-rare lamb remains the star. I've now had this dish on three occasions, and it has blown me away each time.

I recognize that this river of platitudes may spark a skepticism as profound as my own. But I ask you to trust me. Go to Mirch Masala, try the lamb, the baigan bharta, or anything else. (The clever and exceptional tandoori wings, perhaps?) I promise you'll like it. Eric's almost never wrong.

capsule

Mirch Masala

5047 N. Academy Blvd., 599-0003

Lunch, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; dinner, 5-10 p.m., daily.

  • See what's been hiding out at Mirch Masala

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