More Than a Menu
Curry Leaf’s fare is expansive, creative and supremely gratifying to eat
From the unassuming parking lot of the strip mall on Montgomery—where many of the storefronts are still under construction—we made our way into Curry Leaf, one of Albuquerque's newest restaurants serving up Northern and Southern-style Indian dishes seven days a week. To push through the glass doors of the restaurant is to be transported. The interior is like that of an upscale hotel lounge—the walls are a soft purple, and modern, orb-shaped white lights hang from the high ceilings. The spacious room is filled with tables in all manner of configuration, all bedecked in crisp white table cloths.
My dining companion and I were quickly greeted and led to a table against the west wall, where a large geometric mural was sketched out in black paint against the contrasting wall. The staff promptly placed a menu in front of me, and a glance confirmed that deciding on an appetizer, let alone a main course or dessert, would be a challenge. The expansive menu lists a huge variety of naan, creative entreés, samplers and dishes of every sort—meat-based, fish-based and vegetarian, traditional and modern variations on every stripe of Indian dish, and the backside of the menu even advertised a small selection of Indo-Chinese plate options like fried rice and egg noodle dishes.
After much debating of the taste and nutrient profiles of each appetizer listed in the blocky black font, we ordered up the vegetable Manchurian ($7.95) as a first course. These battered and fried vegetables came out well ahead of our main courses (thank god) and filled that perfect space between hunger and anticipation—totally satisfying without being overly filling. The vegetables themselves were fried to crisp perfection, while the Manchurian sauce they were doused in—a thick salty layer of tamari-like dressing with green onions on top—weighed it down a little bit and overpowered what could have been the more delicate flavors of the vegetables. Still, as an appetizer should, it quelled my hunger and left me excited to try the other dishes we put on our ticket that night.
For me, that was baingan bhartha ($10.95), a dish consisting primarily of minced eggplant. At Curry Leaf, their version of this traditional dish wiped my memory of all the other times I've had it in the past. The eggplant itself was imbued with a smoky flavor that added dimension to the dish overall. Awash in coconut milk blended with cilantro and a much-appreciated dose of chile, each bite improved upon the last as the heat built. As a stand-alone dish, Curry Leaf's baingan bhartha was fantastic; pairing it with some of the naan we ordered made it irresistible.
To complement our respective choice of food that night, we ordered two styles of bread (of the more than seven offered here). Those were fire naan and onion kulcha ($2.95 each). Despite its bro-y sounding name, “fire” is actually a perfect descriptor for this distinctly New Mexican take on the ubiquitous Indian bread. You might have a guess bouncing around in your brain already as to what makes this naan so fire. You're probably right—baked with green chile—and not that mild kind, either—this bread is on-point, especially if, like me, you are of a fan of the fine cuisines of both India and New Mexico. The onion kulcha was equally satisfying. Kulcha, a bread native to Punjab, is similar to naan in all appearance, but it is, in fact, made with a maida flour, a more refined and bleached wheat flour said to be similar in texture to pastry flour. This bread, stuffed with green onion, was delicious by itself, while also being a perfect vehicle for every other dish on the table. Soft, tearable, stuffed with onions—which, to my palate, never overpower, only add to the tastes already there—this kulcha was even more fire than the naan.
At this point I began declining the bread and rice that my companion, trying to be equitable, kept trying to evenly split between us. I was making plans to ask for a box and throw in my napkin when a dessert menu landed at the table as if dropped from heaven. The options were too creative to pass up a try—saffron pudding, pistachio ice cream, mango custard. We ordered the beet halwa ($4.95) and leaned back in our chairs. Halwa is a sweet, dense confection that can take many shapes. Here, plated before me on clean white china, were brilliantly red shaved beets that had been charred and sugared, garnished with a few slivered almonds. The textures—chewy and dense—were striking in such a sweet dish. Perhaps more so was the lingering earthy taste of the beets, which became more of an afterthought than at the front end of the dish's taste. Here was a root vegetable billed as a dessert, making that designation seem like not quite enough, because the tastes were so complex.
Perhaps that observation could be applied across the whole varied menu of Curry Leaf. What's certain is this is a restaurant worth visiting—probably many times—in order to sample their interesting dishes which are rooted in India and amalgamated with the tastes of New Mexico. Both culinary adventurers and your average lover of Indian food in its purest forms will find this new Albuquerque establishment to be highly enjoyable.
6910-C Montgomery Blvd. NE
Hours: Sun-Sat: 11:30am-2:30pm and 5-10pm
Vibe: Hotel lounge-y
Alibi Recommends: Baingan bhartha, fire naan, beet halwa