Exploring a new ethnic cuisine can be intimidating to the inexperienced. Sometimes, trying an unfamiliar style of food is better when accompanied by someone with a little bit of knowledge. Frequently, when experiencing a new ethnic restaurant, I like to try an assortment of appetizers for a good sampling. It is also a great way to start the meal.
At the Red Hook Curry House, you could start with an Assorted Indian Hors D'oeuvres basket ($5.95), but be advised it only contains one of each appetizer. This is great if ordering for yourself, not so great if sharing. It came with one meat samosa, a chicken pakora, a bhujia, a medley of veggie pakora and one papadam. Pakora are battered and deep-fried morsels, generally a vegetable. The jewel in the basket was the bhujia. Shredded onions, heavily battered and fried, shimmered with a red-orange color.
Order an extra Papadum ($1.95). This is the lentil wafer bread that is generally placed on tables for munching with the accompanying condiments of mint/cilantro, onion chutney and tamarind sauce. It is addicting with its crunch and mild flavor, which is the perfect complement for the table sauces.
If you would like to try an appetizer that is not fried, the Chana Bhaji ($5.95) is a good bet. The menu read "fried chickpeas," but this was more of a braise. Chickpeas were served in their braising juices and this came with a big, puffy piece of poori. The light and pillowy bread portions out nicely to wrap around anything you have ordered into bite-sized pieces.
Beverages are presented in a limited menu, which consisted primarily of teas, lassis, fruit juices and soda. I was told toward the end of our meal that guests are welcome to "bring your own bottle," though it does not say that on the menu or website.
For a savory entree, order a standard Chicken Curry ($12.95). This is a good entry-level dish for someone new to the cuisine. Fork-tender pieces of chicken were simmered in a brick-colored sauce that both flavored and tenderized the protein. This curry presented no discernible heat, but was big on traditional flavors. Paired with fragrant basmati rice, it was a great dish.
If a sweeter dish is your desire, try a korma. This classic dish is customarily cream and almond-based. The Lamb Korma ($13.95) was pallid in color, but hearty in flavor and satisfaction. Biryani is also a good introductory dish, if only because it is rice-based. Similar to stir-fry, the Curry House combines basmati rice that held the very faintest of saffron tones with whatever protein you have selected. The biryaniis also served in a sweeter profile than other establishments. Almonds, cream and raisins combined with lamb were almost monotone. A heavy hand of green peas and barely chopped cilantro capped the bowl, almost as an afterthought.
Sample the breads! As previously mentioned, the papadam is a must and the poori is fun and easy to eat with any meal. For a little more "tooth" to the bread sampling try a filled naan. The Vegetable Naan ($3.95) was about a half-inch thick, steaming hot and bursting with aromatics. Pashwari Naan ($3.95) was a sweet, filled flatbread — minced nuts, raisins and sweetened coconut could be seen when tearing pieces off this yummy fare. A sweet way to end a meal.
The Poughkeepsie Journal pays for the meals that are the subjects of restaurant reviews and reviewers do not identify themselves prior to the end of the meal. Theresa J. Marquez, Web producer for the Poughkeepsie Journal, graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in 2005 with high honors. She has worked for Cooking Light magazine and is a local personal chef and culinary coach. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Red Hook Curry House
28 East Market St., Red Hook; 845-758-2666; www.redhookcurryhouse.com; northern Indian cuisine. Hours: 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m., Monday-Sunday, lunch; 5-10 p.m., Saturday-Thursday, dinner; 3-10 p.m., Friday, dinner; reservations recommended for larger groups; Visa and MasterCard accepted; vegetarian entrees on menu; no gluten-free offerings; catering services available; handicapped accessible, but phone ahead
Price range: $12.95, buffet lunch; $12.95 to $18.95, dinner; no children's menu
Directions: From Poughkeepsie, drive north on Route 9. Continue about 22 miles, staying on Route 9 north through Rhinebeck and into Red Hook. Turn right onto East Market Street. The restaurant is on the right side of the street and offers off-street parking.
Theresa J. Marquez, Poughkeepsie Journal
October 31, 2014