Aahar  (727 Churchill Ave, Ottawa - aahar.ca)

Jay

My introduction to Indian food is directly attributed to an episode of Kitchen Nightmares with Gordon Ramsay, where he sought to transform a struggling UK restaurant from a curry serving disco-diner to a successful business.  Naturally, to those of you who know the show, there were some unappetizing moments, but nonetheless, my ignorance to this cuisine had been broken.  I quickly learned that the highly regionalized nature of the Indian culture amounts to great variation in common dishes from one restaurant to another.  For lovers of the grape, curries are to India as wine is to France, and just like a full bodied Burgundy red, butter chicken quickly caught my attention. 

Aahar is my absolute preference for butter chicken, as I look for a mikhani that is simple, cream first, and spicy.  This is in contrast to other restaurants that overemphasize the tomato base or get too complicated with additional ingredients, which in my opinion, ruin the charm of this popular dish.  Butter chicken prepared spicy, however, is a rare find.  Straight off the menu, Aahar is serves it mild, but the staff welcome the opportunity to add a little fire – but just a little.  No more.    

Understandably, the term ‘spicy’ can be quite subjective and difficult to pin down, but attempting to order truly spicy food from the kitchen is exceptionally difficult.  I tend to give the restaurant and its staff the benefit of the doubt, however, as I recognize that they are simply attempting to protect their customers from the spice-fury-inferno that can accompany traditional Indian food.  As a white, seemingly naïve middle aged man, how much spice could I possibly handle?  

The short answer is a lot.  I’m no competition eating pain user, but on the rare occasion that we actually cook, I frequently add extract from the infamous Bhut Jolokia (interestingly enough, grown in India) to my portion of the meal.  I’ve resorted to asking for my butter chicken to be prepared ‘Indian spicy – not white person spicy’, and racist/derogatory undertones aside, I actually get what I want. 

The staff at Aahar are great, but be prepared to take your time.  Nothing happens quickly.  Our meals regularly take two hours or more, and it’s not particularly inexpensive.  Nonetheless, when I’m considering eating Indian in the Naitonal Capital Region, Aahar is my only choice that comes with a satisfaction guarantee.

Sue

There’s something magical about Indian food.  The ingredients are nothing special, and there isn’t anything mystical about the preparation of a curry.  But try as I may, I have never been able to replicate the unique taste of an authentic Indian dish in my own kitchen.  So, if we’re craving a serious curry, Jay and I inevitably end up ordering out.  And the best place in town to do that is a tiny little restaurant called Aahar. 

In terms of space, Aahar is ridiculous.  Several massive wooden tables, placed in the most awkward positions possible, take up all of the space in the restaurant, so that you end up practically sitting on a stranger’s lap.  And the servers seem to think that they know what you want better than you do (I once had a server who refused to bring what I ordered because 'You people don’t like that dish').  And, on a busy night, the wait is really long.  But Aahar serves up such delicious Indian dishes that none of this even matters. 

As a rule, my order starts off with vegetable pakora.  This deep fried and breaded vegetable dish provides the perfect texture to complement the tangy sweetness of the accompanying tamarind sauce, and the fresh citrus of the cilantro sprinkled on it.  It’s difficult to choose a main from the plethora of options available, but I usually end up with either the lamb or beef curry, and poach some butter chicken from Jay.  I love them both because they come a little spicy, yet packed with so much savoury, meaty flavour that I salivate just writing about it.  A Cheetah beer is the ideal candidate to wash down all of this spicy goodness, and by this point, I never have room for any kind of dessert.  As Jay always says, if you have room, why not fill it with more meat?  And that’s exactly what we do. 

The only downer about Aahar is the price point.  Sixty dollars for a dinner for two is fairly steep, and so we don’t visit regularly.  But on days when we crave a great curry and nothing else will do, we brave the price tag and head down to Aahar.

 

(Click to enlarge pictures)

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