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Sitar plays Indian safe, does it very well

Let’s get this out of the way, we usually go to Karavalli in Latham for Indian food.  But we did finally get around to trying Sitar at 1929 Central Ave.  The first thing that I noticed was the absence of any obviously-Indian diners.  At Karavalli it’s pretty well guaranteed that there will be Indian families there eating.  Just an observation.

The menu is a lot slimmer than Karavalli, with just a few dishes for each of the various meat options, plus a decent number of vegetarian options.

My wife went with her standard Chicken Tikka Massala.  I decided to try to Lamb Rara, which sounded closest to the Lamb Rogan Josh I usually get at Karavalli.  It wasn’t, but that’s ok.  Entrees come with rice or nan, we both got rice and added an order of nan to go with it.

The chicken was nice and bereft of heat.  The sauce had a lot of flavor and it seemed to be a mix of both white and dark meat.  My wife is not a fan of hot spices, but remarked that this didn’t even have the bit of warmth that Karavalli’s version has.

The lamb was definitely different.  Also with no heat whatsoever, the tomato-based sauce had a lot of rich spiced flavor and was full of peas.  This surprised me completely.  It all worked and was, simply, delicious.  The lamb was cooked OK, just the slightest bit dry, not quite able to be cut with a fork.  Each piece was about large enough to be cut into 3 reasonable bites.  The peas, also to my surprise, had a definite snap of firmness.  Not hard, but distinctly unmushy.  With the toothsome meat and thick gravy, it was a nice textural complement.

The nan was good.  Quite good.  One order was plenty for the two of us.  Warm, soft, and leaning towards bread-y instead of crispy, it was just buttery enough.  Only one piece had a bit of char from the tandoor, so someone was keeping an eye on it.  I really liked it.

The rice was fine, well cooked and mixed well with the dishes’ gravy.  Not of the sticky variety.  Each had one or two cardamom pods hanging around in them.  The serving size was plentiful.

The restaurant itself is quite attractive.  Neat and clean, with generally tasteful wall adornment in both quantity and quality.  Service was attentive enough and accurate, although we were never offered drink refills.

The absolute low point, though, that I must mention is the speed that food came out.  It was not particularly busy and the diners already there were not all waiting for food already.  I didn’t check the time when we sat and ordered, but it was no less than 30 minutes from order to service and might have been closer to 40.  Given the number of diners and seeming simplicity of our order, this seemed pretty inexcusable.  It’s not like that’s why we’re unlikely to head back soon, but it certainly doesn’t help.

So, all in all, it’s just not the sort of place that floats our boat.  Two soft drinks, nan, and two entrees were well over $50.  We did take enough leftovers home for at least one more meal.  Again, not a deal breaker for well-prepared food, but it just didn’t work for us.

All in all, I’m just a bit torn about Sitar.  In their favor – nice decor, friendly service, flat out delicious flavors, convenient location.  They’re hurt by – a bit expensive for food that doesn’t feel as authentic as promised, extraordinarily slow food prep, lack of heat.

I won’t say we won’t go back, but generally speaking I can’t see us opting for Sitar over Karavalli.  But if you want what I have to think is somewhat ‘Americanized’, toned down Indian food that is, nonetheless, delicious, and can handle the wait and price, I think it’s at least worth checking out to see if it hits the spot for you.

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