Mica Grohn
India Oven

3862 SE Hawthorne 872-9687

Growing up, I had a friend named Amee. She was a gorgeous Indian girl and lived with her strict Indian parents in a ridiculously large house my own parents snidely called "Hotel Amee." Amee's parents were notorious jerks, and hated me because I did not have a 4.0 grade point average and was also suspected of making out with boys. Even though I was at her house every day, the only time Amee's parents ever spoke to me was when they were trying to force-feed me Indian food, which I probably ate once. After that, it was my habit to reply to their offer with, "I'm sorry, I don't like Indian food."

Although my plan worked great and Amee's parents came to hate me more than they ever dreamed they could, I unfortunately came to believe I didn't like Indian food. I'd say things like, "It's too mushy" or, "I don't like curry, it's gross," even though I had no idea what I was talking about. It has only been within the past three years I've come to realize I was being a moron and that Portland is loaded with great Indian joints. Proof of this is the India Oven. Even my picky vegetarian friends agree.

With authentic chewy Nan and delicately separated Basmati rice, the dishes are always served with quality base components. The specialty Nan selections are also great bets, giving you the option of garlic, onion, or butter flavors if you don't want plain bread.

My personal preference is to order a bunch of vegetarian entrees and split them. The mixed vegetable dish combines potatoes, carrots that aren't sweet and gross, plump green peas, onion, ginger, and garlic into a chunky, spicy stew that could be a meal in itself. The Eggplant Bhartha, simmered to a thick paste and topped with green onions, cilantro, and tomato, has a mild but lovable curry flavor. This dish and the crispy seasoned okra are both great, but need to be shared or else you'll get sick of the same thing bite after bite. On the whole, the India Oven manages to serve delicious stews but without the layer of grease you find at a lot of Indian places. This makes you feel better about really packing it away.

The Tandoori chicken is a theatrical dish, served loudly and sizzling, right from the oven, with reddish, glazed pieces of dark chicken. While popular, this isn't one of my favorite dishes because the marinade doesn't seem to have enough flavor. I will say, however, that because of the Tandoor Oven cooking process, this dark meat is practically devoid of fat, yet still tender.

Besides Indian beer, great drinks include the Oven's Nimbu Paani--a refreshing lemonade with a bit of rock salt--and the chai tea, which is spicy, creamy and great for after dinner.

A minor complaint about the India Oven is that the ambiance suffers from bright lights, a terrible paint job, and very quiet service. So it's far from fancy. It's the sort of place you go with an old friend or a lover who has seen you in your sweat pants; a place where you'll just want to eat a lot of great food, and not be dazzled with impressive farberware.