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Zaika Indian Cuisine brings fine flavors to Centennial Boulevard corridor 

click to enlarge Lamb Kali Mirch presents beautifully spiced, tender meat. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Lamb Kali Mirch presents beautifully spiced, tender meat.
This eggplant is owning us. Four out of five heat level, we said, confidently. Now she’s on her third glass of water and I’m making pufferfish faces, inhaling basmati rice (“so aromatic with cumin seeds” my brain thinks, to calm my mouth’s panic) and scrounging the bottom of the papadam basket to see if any of the lentil crackers’ crumbles remain. Yes, we should have ordered a side of raita (yogurt sauce) or a lassi at that point to coat our tongues. Instead, we savagely returned for more: baingan bharta, eggplant roasted in a tandoor oven, then mashed with tomatoes and onions, spiced with garlic and ginger. Zaika Indian Cuisine makes a damn good version.

Newly opened, it marks owner Ganesh “Eddie” Adhikari’s fifth Colorado location inside as many years — Broomfield, Littleton, Castle Rock and Lincoln Street, Denver — and the Nepali native opened Mehak India’s Aroma in Cherry Creek last year as an upscale arm. And though Zaika does feel a bit like a chain with its familiar corporate orange/green colors, I’m not complaining. The service is excellent, and fast — our first appetizer arrives before we’ve even finished talking with our server, as he’s punched it in on a mobile POS system. The allergy-friendly menu is well-conceived, too. Example: Whereas many places will feature pages of dish styles, repeating all the protein options under each, Zaika’s neatly arranged a section where you choose the bulk first (tofu, vegetables, seafood, etc.) then pick a preparation (korma, curry, saag, etc.). Tandoori and biryani are broken into their own categories, as are “Zaika special offerings” like our baingan bharta and a khatta bhindi, okra mixed with bell peppers, onions and what’s listed as “mango powder” but isn’t overtly fruity or sweet, and clearly holds a whole list of spices. Both pop with a side order of achar, the highly potent, sour, spicy pickle condiment.
Location Details Zaika Indian Cuisine
4661 Centennial Blvd.
Northwest/Rockrimmon
Colorado Springs, CO
599-7337
11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5-9 p.m., Monday-Saturday
Zaika also eschews rigid traditionalism with a short list of cocktails that incorporate some Indian element. Their version of a mojito with Flor de Caña rum spikes the usual mint-lime combo with a pinch of chaat masala, itself a combo of many spices, tasting like it belongs in an entrée but fun to have as an aroma and faint flavor. It’s unique, as is a rim of “star anise coconut infusion salt” on our Jose Cuervo Zaika Margarita, which pleasantly lingers after sips, and actually succeeds in elevating this from novelty to meal enhancer, although we’d dial down the syrupy sweetness on both.

We’d also work on a better execution for the garlic-green chile Lasooni Shrimp, whose mushiness detracts from the otherwise fine curry flavor, including mango pulp garnish. Hash brown-like onion pakora are oily by nature as chickpea-flour-battered onions, and they host a nice crunch, delicious dipped in bright mint chutney and tamarind sauce. Lamb Kali Mirch, our final appetizer, arrives on an excessively oily plate but bears lovely flavor, the meat’s gaminess totally tamed by notes of garam masala, curry leaf, chiles and whole peppercorns.

Having learned our heat lesson on visit one, on visit two we dial a chicken vindaloo down to three, where it still smolders, to our delight, as tangy as listed from its vinegary sauce. But this time we chase it with homemade mango kulfi, a denser Indian-style ice cream. Satisfied, we can see how Zaika, which means “flavor,” has managed to spawn quickly, its fares familiar but well enough made and priced, with some personalizing touches.

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