Indian spices can be intimidating to the uninitiated. Chilies and garlic, hot peppers and cloves—the ingredients found in masalas and curries may conjure up a single impression: hot, hot, hot. But there’s a sweeter side to Indian cuisine, an undernote present in almost every spice mixture. It’s flavorful, but not too hot, comforting but makes it presence known. Cinnamon may just be the gateway spice for newcomers to Indian cuisine. And you’re sure to find it simmering at Cinnamon Kitchen in South Asheville.
Opened since last October, Cinnamon Kitchen has brought Indian cuisine back to the south side of town, where it has been absent since Mother India closed a few years back. Located in Gerber Village on Hendersonville Road, the restaurant has a casual, contemporary feel, with a bar and modern fixtures. Co-owner Baljit Singh, who also co-owns India Garden on Tunnel Road with his brother Baljinder, says that the restaurant is intentionally different from the white tablecloth atmosphere of their other place. “We didn’t want people to feel like they had to dress up to come out to eat,” he says.
While the Singh’s India Garden restaurants (both in Asheville and in Blacksburg, Virginia) emphasize the buffet, Cinnamon Kitchen has table service in its more intimate dining room. The brothers started Cinnamon Kitchen with partner Harjinder Singh who does most of the cooking at the new venture. The emphasis on being a welcoming, relaxing place extends to the menu, and indeed is expressed right there in the name. Cinnamon is a spice that most everyone enjoys, says Baljit.
On our Sunday night visit, the restaurant was busy and lively, but there was no wait for a table. We started with the papadum accompaniment ($5.95), the traditional crispy, thin bread that’s eaten with a chutney or sauce spooned on top. The heat level is medium — even our typically spice-averse four-year-old ate it. The bread basket ($6.95) that came out next included an assortment of flat breads: garlic naan, roti and plain naan. The bread was fluffy and light — good for dipping in the raita (yogurt sauce), tamarind or mango chutney that comes out with it. With both meat-eaters and vegetarians in our group, we each had plenty to chose from.
Each of the entrees came out in a deep bowl (almost a tureen) with basmati rice. The malai kofta ($13.95), described as vegetable cheese balls cooked in mild zesty sauce with a touch of cream and nuts, consists of the dumpling-like balls in a smooth, creamy sauce with a delicate blend of spices. Neither too hot or too heavy, the sauce can be poured over rice and/or sopped up with naan. The sabji korma ($12.95) offers a choice of vegetables (eggplant, cauliflower or mixed vegetables) in another creamy sauce flavored with a touch of saffron. Most dishes are served with rice and the portions, while generous, aren’t overwhelming. There’s a wine list and a few Indian beers available. Lamb is a specialty of the house, and the lamb kolhapuri ($17.95), cubed lamb in cinnamon, clove, coriander, cumin and chilies with a touch of coconut, is representative of the blend of spices and flavors that Cinnamon Kitchen does so well. The flavors are balanced and complementary, to create a savory dish.
While our four-year-old was willing to try the papadum for an appetizer, he drew the line at an entrée. Luckily, there’s a kids menu that has American entrees like chicken fingers (cooked with a slightly Indian flair), but also has mild-flavored Indian specialties.
Fans of traditional or spicy Indian food will not disappointed—dishes can be ordered mild to hot. But a range of options extends an invitation to those who may not have sampled Indian food before. “We’ve had some people who have come in who are in their 70s and have never tried Indian food,” he says. “And they’ve found something they really like.”
Cinnamon Kitchen 838 Hendersonville Road, (in Gerber Village) South Asheville, 828-575-2100
Monday – Thursday, 11am – 9:30pm Friday – Saturday, 11am – 10pm Sunday, 11am – 9pm