Spice up your lifePublished on June 25, 2008

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Sampling Indian fare in Ottawa can be a risky proposition. The capital's clutch of Indian restos, while varied and diverse, often pander to a somewhat plain Western palette. Hitting up a lunch buffet? Better prepare for oodles of food, but a noticeable lack of spice. Arriving for dinner? Choose your menu items carefully, or you could end up with sauce from a store-bought jar.

With this in mind, Ottawa At Home's resident Indian connoisseur - and former sub-continental traveller - Jim Donnelly embarked on a journey across the city to find the best of Ottawa's Indian eateries.

Haveli Indian Restaurant (ByWard Market)

I'd almost lost faith in Ottawa's collective Indian cuisine until I tried Haveli Indian Restaurant, at 39 Clarence St. in the ByWard Market. After being disappointed by more than a few places around town - places that seemed to simultaneously skimp on décor and spice - Haveli's ByWard Market location is like a cool breath of Himalayan air. The décor is incredibly rich, the menu tantalizing and diverse (and featuring the best madras in town), and the kitchen is flexible - they made my dish extra spicy, and with a smile. Also featuring a fully-loaded lunch buffet, served daily, at both the Market locale and their new store on Robertson Road in Nepean.

Rangoli Indian Cuisine

After a number of referrals from friends, I tried the take-out lunch special at this quaint resto at 2491 St. Joseph Blvd. in Orléans. While the desserts were excellent - they feature a fully-stocked sweets menu or "mithai," including Bengali sweets ghee ki, khoya ki and kaju - the sauces in the main course meals were somewhat plain, though still enjoyable. The naan bread was light, fluffy and huge, always a handy thing if you enjoy "scooping" your Indian grub with your hands.

East India Company

Ottawa's version of the East India Company - there's one other owned by the same folks in Winnipeg - at 210 Somerset St., has only been around a couple of years, but has already garnered a reputation as one of the tastiest places in Ottawa. Not only do they use their own, homemade garam masala to spice up their recipes (also available for sale in 80-gram individual bottles for $10), but the service is friendly, fast and always efficient.

Ceylonta Restaurant

Ceylonta's original location at 403 Somerset St. has been pleasing Ottawa diners for years, and now that they've got a second restaurant at 2920 Carling Ave., fans of good, well-prepared South Indian and Sri Lankan fare have another reason to celebrate. As most Ottawa Indian joints feature Northern Indian grub, a trip to Ceylonta can be a refreshing change for addicts of sub-continental victuals. The staff are always friendly and the menu features a somewhat non-traditional, but very handy attribute - the group menu, featuring plate after plate and perfect for large packs of diners. The kitchen is always willing to prepare custom dishes for diners with an aversion to spice - a South Indian or Sri Lankan entrée can be a fiery proposition, after all.

Host India Cuisine

Nestled in a Spanish-style, turreted casa at 622 Montreal Rd., Host India features one of the tastiest tandoori ovens in the city and some of the friendliest staff, as well. While their lunch buffet leaves a lot to be desired - the one time I tried it, the buffet featured just two main course items both lacking in punch - Host India's regular menu is one of the best in Ottawa. Their madras and vindaloo are spicy and full of flavour, the biryani is succulent with just the right amount of coriander, and they feature lightning-fast take-out service.




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