Secluded Sitar deserves arduous trek

For a group willing to go to extraordinary lengths to avoid doing schoolwork, Yalies can be surprisingly lazy. Many are staunchly unwilling to get up off the futon and walk somewhere unless the futon in question is on fire. If you suggest to a Central Campus resident that he go to TD for one reason or another, you’ll get a look that suggests you asked him to take a quick jaunt to the Crimea.

There are people who only sign up for classes offered in LC, and there are people who think that SOM is a kinky distress signal. The notable exception to this inertia is Group IV majors, whose inability to shut up about their daily trek up the hill disqualifies them from consideration. All in all, Yalies hate to walk.

And it is for this reason that I fear for the success of Sitar.

Sitar, on the corner of Grove and Orange, is a very good Indian restaurant that would do quite well if it were located downtown surrounded by shops and dorms, instead of near the highway, surrounded by parking garages and despair. Though the restaurant offers satisfactory Indian cuisine at reasonable prices, they’ll need to go the extra mile to keep anyone outside of TD coming back.

The menu at Sitar is composed of the traditional litany of curries, kormas, vindaloos and masalas. There was nothing I hadn’t seen before, but nothing I’d hoped to see was lacking either. Nearly every dish at Sitar is very good, but none is outstanding.

The Vegetable Samosas ($2.50 for two) — seasoned fritters of potatoes and peas — are crunchy on the outside and creamy on the inside, with just enough spice to keep you interested. Try them with some tamarind sauce for a good mix of sweet and savory.

The Katchumber Salad ($3.50) — cucumbers, tomatoes and onions in a tamarind dressing — looked sickeningly overdressed when it came to the table; but the dressing was watery enough not to be overwhelming, and the dish was more like a slaw than a salad. Hints of tamarind livened up the otherwise pedestrian vinaigrette.

Lentil Shorba ($2.50) — a pureed lentil bisque — is a hot and hearty soup that’s the perfect coat-your-tongue and warm-your-belly appetizer for the upcoming cold winter months.

If you haven’t had your fill of lentils, give Dal Makhni ($8.50) a try. It’s lentils cooked in onions, tomatoes and ghee — the clarified butter that gives Indian food its characteristic creaminess. The sharp onions contrasted well with the creamy sauce, and the dish was perfect poured over rice and sopped up with naan. For you carnivores out there, try Makhni Murg ($10.50) — tender chicken prepared the same way.

Another good meat option is Rogan Josh ($11.00) — cubes of lamb stewed in yogurt and onion. The lamb is tende and not gamey, the sauce not too heavy. The dish is seasoned with paprika and cumin, while spicy ginger gives it a nice kick.

Sitar’s worst effort was Tandoori Chicken ($10.95) — chicken seasoned with curry spices and barbecued in a Tandoor oven that’s the perfect dish to order for your eight-year-old. I’ve never seen the appeal of Tandoori Chicken, and Sitar’s version certainly didn’t change my mind. The two drumsticks I was served, though they were admirably red, were oily and rubbery.

The Naan ($1.95) was superb, while the Raita ($1.50) — an Indian condiment made from yogurt, cucumber and mint — was a watery disappointment. Poori ($2.50) — the Indian version of frybread — was tasty, if a little greasy.

The best way to try a little bit of everything is to order a Thali or combination platter ($13.95-$16.95), which comes with a selection of appetizers, entrees and condiments. The platters also include Gulab Jamun ($2.50), a popular Indian dessert consisting of a small, spherical donut served in a sickeningly sweet sauce flavored with rose water. I’ve yet to meet an American who likes this dish (please prove me wrong), but Sitar’s version tasted no better or worse than others I’ve tried.

The waiter didn’t ask how spicy we wanted our food, but the dishes came perfectly spiced. But if you want your food wimpily mild or tongue-torchingly hot, you should be ready to take the initiative and notify your waiter. Service is very friendly and fairly efficient, though we were left waiting for the bill long after we were done eating.

When we left the restaurant, in a bit of a food coma, my dinner companion looked around for a moment and asked bewilderedly, “Where are we?” A reasonable question. Where were we, indeed? We were outside a very good Indian restaurant, relegated (much to its detriment) to a dark, untrafficked section of New Haven, and for this nice little restaurant’s sake, I hope you’ll find yourself there too.

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