IT CERTAINLY must have been a holiday gathering when our city's sage, Ben Franklin, came up with the expression that guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.
If you still have holiday houseguests hanging around and you are beginning to tire of cooking for them, consider takeout from Ekta, the new Indian eatery in Fishtown opened by co-owners Rabindra Sharma and former Tiffin chef Raju Bhattara. You can feed a range of tastes a lot of food with minimal expense.
There are two tables at Ekta that offer a fun vantage point of the kitchen. But, rather than being a restaurant, Ekta is best designed for takeout or delivery. For now, delivery extends from Fishtown to Northern Liberties, Old City and south.
The Vegetable Samosa ($2.75 for two) was perhaps the best I've ever eaten. The dough tasted like there were cumin seeds sprinkled throughout, and it was a tender wrapping for the potato and pea mixture that was infused with just the right amount of coriander seed.
While the samosa was a huge appetizer hit, the Kali Mirch Ka Machhli ($3.95), or marinated fried tilapia fish appetizer, disappointed. It was heavy with thyme and salt, and seemed more like something from those days of bad blackened Cajun fish.
Vegetarians will be thrilled with the range of options. We ordered the Bhindi Masala ($8.95), a blend of okra, onion, tomato sauce, chopped ginger and pomegranate seeds. This is a dish that was celebrated in song by the late Joe Strummer of the Clash.
The version we had was delicious and the layers of flavors definitely there, although we were expecting a slightly spicier dish. Still, this had something to sing about.
The Lamb Rogan Josh ($10.95) (not to be confused with Josh Groban or Seth Rogen) was an example of a signature Indian dish. With so many other new dishes to try, this was good, but didn't hit the charts.
The Tandoori Chicken ($8.50) was the signature, deep red from the marinade and tender, yet expertly charred. Too often this high-heat method makes for dry chicken, but not so here. And the little bed of bell peppers and onions added not only to the presentation, but also the flavor.
My two favorite dishes were the Mutter Paneer ($8.95) and the Goan Shrimp Curry ($11.95).
Paneer is a dairy product that tastes something like a cross between cottage cheese and tofu. In this dish, the paneer was served with peas in a cashew sauce. In other words, Mutter Paneer is a protein bonanza for vegetarians. What really worked was the texture of the cheese contrasted with the creamy sauce.
Goan dishes are rapidly becoming my favorite style of Indian cuisine, and I'm happy to see more appearing on menus around town. Goa is located on India's west coast and the fish dishes from there are considered among the best. This version of the dish boasted large shrimp, and the sauce was a wonderful explosion of spice that was tempered by coconut milk.
While the breads were good, there's just no way to do Indian breads for takeout and delivery. Either eat the breads there just as they come out of the oven or order the papadum chips ($1.50) which, to me, are like a potato chip made of lentils and go well with the mint chutney.
We also found the use of rosemary on one of the naans a bit strange, but applaud the chef for trying to fuse the flavors he's discovering here.
The pickle relish is not made at Ekta, but delicious nonetheless. Sauces are made in-house and include a vibrant mint chutney and a tamarind sauce that is surprisingly reminiscent of A-1 Steak Sauce. I'm guessing India had it first.
A lovely surprise with our order was dessert - an Indian rice pudding redolent with cardamom. On any given day, the chef includes a complimentary dessert that might be rice pudding, mango pudding or fruit cocktail.
Now, if only houseguests had such a nice touch. *