Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Eating Out: Diwani in Ridgewood

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Eating Out: Diwani in Ridgewood

Article excerpt

If your idea of an Indian restaurant includes color-saturated decor and an atmosphere that's alive with the resonant drone of sitars, you might want to give Ridgewood's modest Diwani a pass. Beyond the colorful East Ridgewood Avenue facade, you'll find a bland foyer used to store chafing dishes for Diwani's lunchtime buffet. Beyond that, the dining room offers one mirrored flank among beige walls that are only minimally punctuated by Indian portraits. But those don't really matter. You'll be hard-pressed to notice anything in Diwani beyond the massive widescreen TV that irradiates the narrow dining room with music-filled Bollywood-style videos -- that is, unless the programming is hijacked (as it was during one of my visits) by a 30-minute infomercial advertising a very suspicious- looking erectile dysfunction treatment (much to the amusement of Diwani's diners).

There were some gaffes at Diwani, but there were also some rewards. Who doesn't love piles of sparklingly salty and crisp pakoras ($4.95), those vegetable fritters that offer the barest suggestion of health? In these, golden crisp exteriors yielded to carrot-flecked, pea-studded interiors; my table mate swore to eat only one, yet after crunching in, ate the entire plate. Also good, the pyramidal samosas ($4.95) offered a daring sting of spice in their potato-and-pea filling. Plus, their crisp, virtually greaseless pastry offered a pleasurable contrast in texture.

On good nights -- say, when the monolithic TV is tuned to the Retro station and diners are entertained by kitschy Bollywood musical numbers from the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies -- eating at Diwani can feel homey, like dining in front of the tube with takeout. Sadly, pacing at Diwani can get out of whack for such a casual restaurant. Though there are no cloths on the tables (and Diwani is BYO), long pauses between courses can get tedious.

While Diwani's samosas were a great hit during the first visit, they were less successful when they reappeared on another visit as aloo tikka chaat ($5.95). This starter comprises a couple of samosas, quartered and then topped with tasteless, mushy chickpeas, a few cilantro leaves, yogurt and a drizzle of two chutneys that had already made their entrance with Diwani's gratis papadums, a thin, crisp Indian bread made of lentil flour. This dish missed the vegetal crunch and herbal brightness that marks better versions.

Similarly, mains at Diwani can be hit-or-miss. On one visit, a chicken vindaloo ($14.95) was marred by dry chicken and a sauce that lacked the mouth-watering tartness that makes this hot-and-sour Goan dish so compelling. On another visit, the chicken in the Anglo- Indian favorite, chicken tikka masala ($14.95), could not have been more moist, delicious or, apparently, freshly fired. Don't miss classic condiments to help doctor your plate at the table. I loved a cooling, dairy-rich raita ($3. …

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