Sunday, January 15, 2012

Restaurant review and cultural confession

My children delight in pointing out the many flaws in my “nativist, xenophobic” attitude towards other countries. Whenever I refer to Germans as “Kr****ts” or Japanese as “N**s”( usually while watching WWII movies) they both roll their eyes and exchange knowing glances. Poor Dad is hopelessly racist, and needs to get with the “we are the world” program. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the area of cuisine. Whenever the family has suggested going to a new Indian restaurant, for example, I have always let out an exaggerated moan and turned up my nose. This has always been followed by the usual accusations of provincialism or, “ Dad, you’re SOO meat and potatoes” or some such internationalist nonsense that their heads have been filled with by the university education that I paid for. Never mind the fact that I adore German beer, eat prodigious amounts of Mexican food, and am a regular at Yen Ching. The fact that I have drawn a line in the sand at the Curry Palace somehow makes me a knuckle-dragging Neanderthal.

Well, in a moment of weakness last Sunday, I consented to have lunch at Anokha with the family and the Forts. This is an Indian restaurant that my wife loves. Since Leigh Ann and the girls were coming, I would have to overcome my fears. Since the Forts spent many years as missionaries in Zimbabwe eating grubs and raw turnips, I would have to suck it up and do my best not to look like Barney Fife trying to choke down a plate of tofu. Now I will have to endure a lifetime of “ I told you so”. The food was ridiculously delicious.

I was expecting to walk into a dimly lit dump that reeked of curry, where everyone sat on dusty throw pillows, drinking chicory coffee from tiny porcelain cups. Some old guy with a white goatee a foot long would be over in the corner smoking a hookah pipe, and I would have to ask the waiter to repeat everything three times. Wrong on all counts. The inside of Anokha was beautifully decorated, and expertly lit. The only goatees to be had were found on the middle management Dad with the three blond kids in the corner. On its website Anokha represents itself as “a groundbreaking restaurant across from the hip Short Pump Town Center serving signature Nouveau Indian Cuisine”. Although I wouldn’t classify the mall as “hip”, whatever Nouveau Indian Cuisine is…count me in. I ordered the Tandoori shrimp and chicken Malai Kebabs from a waiter, who with impeccable grammar asked me to repeat myself several times. I finally pointed to the menu whereupon he smiled..”Yes. Number 9. Good choice.”

My first bite of the chicken dipped in the beautiful burnt yellow sauce was like being assaulted by all twelve bottles from the spice rack at home. Although I had requested the “mild” version, very soon my mouth was on full simmer and my eyes had begun to water ever so slightly. It was an absolutely perfect level of kick and I was thankful that I hadn’t ordered the medium. The shrimp was a triumph and my only regret was that there were only three of them. Once all the meat was gone I began to sop up the generous sauces and rice that remained with warm naan, which is this heavenly yeasty flat bread that’s salty and moist, and looks like it was baked in a frying pan. Just like homemade rolls at my Mom’s table, I could have made a meal of them all by themselves. I was charged an insanely cheap $11 for this feast. Five days later I was back for dinner. The Tandoori chicken Tikka I had was over the top fabulous, and the chunk I took home tasted even better heated up in the microwave for lunch the next day. My multi-cultural dining experience was a raging success.

So, now I must endure the eternal internationalist condescension of my two smarty-pants children who will never let me forget that I once turned my nose up at Indian food, blinded as I was by my nativist upbringing. Kaitlin herself told me this not an hour ago, as she loaded up her belongings in the Honda Civic that her Japanese-slurring father bought her. When Patrick reads this he will no doubt laugh uproariously, and then drive over to his friends’ house in the Volkswagon Jetta that his jingoistic German-slurring father bought him.

Actually, there does not exist on this planet a father more proud of his kids than I. In many ways they are far smarter than I was at their age. Their views on many things are in fact more enlightened than my own. I guess we will have to agree to disagree on what constitutes xenophobia. A healthy suspicion of our rather recent historical geo-political enemies is in my view no vice. Not being willing to overcome Hollywood stereotypes to try Indian food was pretty lame in retrospect. They were right, I was wrong.

There. I said it. Happy now??