Friday, April 25, 2008

Nirvana Mississauga

Barbeque is different everywhere. In the southern US, where they use tomato sauces and plenty of sugar, the meat has to be basted on late in the grilling process -- otherwise, it gets bitter -- and the result is a wet sticky coating that some people affect to like -- perhaps they have never tasted anything else; perhaps, they like sweet, sticky stuff. (See the posts on Cluck, Grunt, and Low, and Miga, below.) In Brazil, it is tender and sweet.

In India, tandoori dishes -- Indian barbeque -- have two essential ingredients. First, they are marinated in spices and yoghurt -- the spices include ginger and garlic, as well as cumin and red pepper, and other things depending on taste, including coriander seed and the like. Second, they are cooked in a tandoor, a pear-shaped clay oven that is typically situated underground. People make a big deal of how specialized such an oven is, but I remember that in my high school, when a bunch of Indian Army officers visited, they constructed a tandoor on the spot, especially for their meal. (Indian Army engineers would do wonders for restaurant cuisine in far-away North America, where there are still cities that haven't experienced a tandoor. Come take Canada: please!)

Nirvana Mississauga is to be found on the east side of Hurontario Street at Brunel Drive, one block south of Britannia, which in turn is just south of the 401. As you park, you hear the heavy traffic coming in to runway 06L at Pearson Airport, every two minutes another big Airbus or Boeing. Inside, the restaurant is attractive enough: I suspect the paintings are pretty bad, they do exude an early 20th century elegance. They never hung in any haveli; they may be laser reproductions; but they are pleasant to look at anyway -- at least for me.

The tandoor is manned by a chef who rolls out the dough for naan, spreads it on a convex plate covered by a wet cloth, and uses this contraption to affix the dough on the inside of the incandescently hot tandoor oven. The result is slightly crispy flatbread, quite different from the spongy stuff you get in most restaurants and in Loblaw's (President's Choice Naan, or whatever they call it.)

Here is the tandoor chef, though I didn't catch him very sharply:

He also has long skewers of meat, which he inserts into the hot oven. This man moved slowly and deliberately. He clearly was a man of method.

Andre and I went to Nirvana for the lunch buffet. As Sergio says, Nirvana's contribution to the buffet-concept is to negate it. What you get is better called a prix fixe: appetizer plus four dishes with naan, plus dessert for 12$. No choices. In our case, the appetizer was tandoori wings. (Andre is not eating in an Indian-approved way. I'll explain another time how that is done.)

Here, tandoori cuisine was at its best. The yoghurt marinade had penetrated deeply into the meat which was tender though slightly friable. A nice crust, tender inside, and a gingery overtone to the chicken. At least A-, perhaps that's a little ungenerous.

The buffet included a pleasant but unmemorable saffron rice, potatoes with okra (aloo bhindi), makhani dal (quite good), and chicken curry. A solid B: maybe that's a little generous, but it is a prix fixe. We washed it down with two Kingfishers (each). The main meal didn't match the tandoori chicken, but it was a fun afternoon.

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