Options have always been limited for Indian food lovers in the Central Valley, aside from the standby Taj Mahal restaurant in the western suburb of Escazú.
But since November, diners have been able to get their garam masala fix at Ganesha restaurant in Heredia, north of San José.
Since starting out at its original location 75 meters east of the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE) in Heredia Centro, the restaurant has moved to the Hotel América, just south of Heredia’s Central Park.
The large menu offers tastes from India, the Middle East and the Mediterranean. This may be an unusual combination, but owner Suni Talwar explained the idea behind the selections: “I decided to put a unique restaurant together that has food not only from India but also from other areas, and that has a variety of vegetarian and nonvegetarian dishes … I wanted to give my customers that choice.”
Talwar based many of the dishes on his mother’s traditional northern Indian recipes and trained his partner, Nohemy Jiménez, how to execute them.
The menu offers a variety of beverages, including lassis, traditional yogurt drinks, with creative combinations and twists. A favorite was papaya with ginger and cardamom.
The extra spices are an excellent addition that make these drinks definitely worth a try. Also available are coffees, teas and homemade Indian chai.
Appetizers range from ¢1,400-2,900 ($2.70-5.90) and include popular dishes from several different regions. Falafel, hummus and baba ghanoush served with pita bread can be sampled, as can portions of many Indian dishes, from curries to chicken tikka masala. Other smaller fare includes sandwiches and a vegan burger.
On our visit, we elected to start with the vegetable samosas that come two to an order. Jiménez graciously brought an extra one free of charge, as there were three in our party.
The potato filling was tasty, though the pastry was soft and not the traditional crispy snack expected. The accompanying green chutney and tamarind sauces tasted fresh, though the green sauce lacked any spice; a touch of chili would have been nice.
Entrée choices are diverse, including pasta, lamb, fish and many traditional dishes representative of India’s various regions.
Three kinds of thali (a selection of different dishes) – vegetarian, nonvegetarian and Mediterranean – allow diners to sample a variety of dishes. Entrée prices range from ¢3,600-7,900 ($7-15).
We sampled the classic Indian spinach dish, saag paneer, and a chicken curry. The basmati rice, ordered à la carte, was flavored with caraway seeds. The chicken curry was well spiced without being too hot; however, the saag paneer was a little oily. The homemade naan had a different texture than that of the traditional Indian bread, but it was good nonetheless.
A side dish of cucumber raita was perfect – fresh and delicious. Talwar said the restaurant makes its own yogurt, cheese and ghee.While the yogurt in the raita was a hit, the cheese in the saag paneer was somewhat chewy.
Another successful dish was the baba ghanoush. The eggplant spread had just the right amount of garlic and tahini. This dish, which comes with a small cabbage salad, would make a perfect light lunch.
Desserts include traditional Indian sweet treats such as gulab jamun and kulfi, but we selected the homemade baklava, a representative of the Mediterranean portion of the menu. This was the one complete miss of the night, as the anticipated light and flaky pastry was anything but. The honeyed, sticky sweetness of the dessert was correct, but it was not made with phyllo dough, which makes it hard to even call it baklava.
Aside from this minor letdown, the experience was quite positive. Ganesha has been open only a few months and is sure to improve as it hones its recipes. The options are plentiful and definitely warrant more than one visit to sample the diversity.
Location: Inside Hotel América, 50 meters south of Heredia’s Central Park.
Hours: Daily, 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. On weekends the restaurant closes later, between 9:30 and 10 p.m.
Phone: 8379-7951, 8880-9238.