LITTLE ROCK We last reviewed Curry in a Hurry less than a year ago. In our experiences, we waited too long for our lunches and thought them undersized but enjoyed the cook’s penchant for piquant and declared the fare “authentic,” as only a Yankee writing for the South about Indian subcontinental cuisine can.
Then, not long after, owner Sahil Hameerani absquatulated from North Little Rock for a busier and more bourgeois 72211 ZIP code, even though he’s still in a strip mall.
So recently we enlisted a small special forces team of Indian aficionados — read, “Indian’s the one with the red chicken, right?” — to give the new Curry a thorough enjoying. Separately but unanimously we concluded that everything wrong about the last experience went right (speed, por- tions), while what once was right (lots of flavor) seemed lost.
In our last review, we brayed about our hour-long wait for a made-to-order lunch. They’ve solved that by laying out a small but diverse lunch buffet (a reasonable $8). In fact, if you’d prefer to wait an hour for something made-to-order, forget it — there’s no menu.
So the food is as fast as you can get through the line, and the portions are self-determined.
Unfortunately, we were unimpressed with the naan and curries.
Naan, a kind of grilled flat bread traditionally baked in a tandoor that leaves it bubbly and blackened in spots, can of course be flavored any which way, but this naan was wan, flat as a pita and plainly flavored — a touch of butter, a poke of sucrose.
The beef and chicken curries are bathed in a feisty pepper heat, but as one of my crew said, “There’s heat but not rounded-out flavor.” Another called the chicken Makhani — large chunks of chicken awash in a bright orange tomato-yogurt masala — “Indian-bland.”
There’s no lamb or goat offering on the buffet, which was a staple at previous tenant Amruth. (This is remarkable only because Hameerani bought it.)
The best meat on the buffet is the tandoori chicken. This is the red chicken, and while I’ve had better — tandoori chicken should never be bland or dry, so if it is, it’s not carefully marinated — this one had a wonderful charredsmoky profile. I could really taste the 800-degree orange glow in this chicken.
Similarly uplifting are the several vegetable dishes. One, a corn medley tossed with minced bell pepper and onion, big cilantro leaves, dry spices and a lemon spritz, was a cool kick beside the heavy curries.
Another great vegetable plate was the braised collard greens — not exactly native, but then, neither are the diners.
If we were disappointed by the lunch buffet’s absence of distinctive preparation, my dinner experience had me switching gears again.
I began with the Khima Samosa ($5), two phyllo dough triangle pouches carrying steamy ground beef and onions sprinkled with dry seasonings. Though a little oily, and very hearty, the textures and flavors here had me mmm-ing to myself.
Lamb is a part of the dinner menu, and the masala ($14) is not to be missed. My single-serving steel cauldron had at least a half-dozen large chunks of lamb amid a heavy stew, brown from not just spices but a process of slowcooking. With a small serving tray of basmati rice and a side order of garlic naan, my tastebuds were harried midmeal.
There are Asian cuisines noteworthy for their subtle conflation of natural flavors and delicate seasoning — Indian is not one of them. Curry’s chef de cuisine is Hameerani’s father, Salim Hamirani (he spells it differently), and, excepting the buffet, he really gets this.
Unlike lunch, there are many, many varieties of naan on the dinner menu. I gave the garlic a go, and not only was it so much livelier than the lunch buffet naan but the texture even was crispier, bubblier, and altogether closer to my expectations.
Though I don’t see desserts on the menu, Hameerani assures me there’s rasmalai (sweet cream soup) and gajar halwa (carrot pudding) for $4, and galub jamun (dumplings) and kheer (rice pudding) for $3. There are also three lassis for $3 — sweet, salty, and mango.
I’m not anticipating a quick return to the lunch buffet, but I will head up there for supper soon. Hamirani’s touch has Hameerani’s Curry in a Hurry slowly growing on me.
Curry in a Hurry
Address: 11121 N. Rodney Parham Road, Little Rock
Hours: Wednesday-Sunday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V
Alcoholic beverages: Beer and wine
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Weekend, Pages 33 on 11/29/2012
Print Headline: Curry in a Hurry heating up